Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. Normally graduation speakers speak at graduation, but we here at Horninsights have a different tradition: we give you your graduation speech on your first day of graduate school. We find that it reduces the occurrence of the moment that happens some time after graduation where you smack your forehead and say, “Man, I wish I would have known that before I graduated.” So, without further ado, here are the Horninsights Insights into what to keep in mind as you wend your way through these last years of formal musical training. Takes notes; there will be a quiz after class. Note: we do apologize for some of the points, which might seem blindingly obvious, but which, we have learned, are not always obvious to everyone.

1. Get really good on your instrument.

•Work up a very very good audition (ca. 30 min.) recital of standard repertoire until it shines like a new penny. Your playing audition will be a big part of what gets you the job when you go in for your interview/audition day at a prospective college employer.

•Before you leave school, make a CD (30-60 min. of music) of your playing. No mistakes! Ideal: 2 CDs: 1) recorded (i.e. edited) 2) live (no editing, but selected from many performances – your best stuff.

•If you’re going for an orchestral job, be able to play the top three or four dozen excerpts consistently very very well. OK, let’s say: perfectly. Organize a lot of mock auditions, take a lot of auditions, enter mock auditions at workshops, take lessons & get feedback from pro players. If you’re really serious about taking pro orchestral auditions, at some point your preparation will closely resemble a full-time job. Don’t be discouraged by not winning the job. That is normal. Remember this: your preparation for an audition was the same whether you win or lose. You have enriched yourself by the preparation no matter what happens and you are that much closer to a win in subsequent auditions. Don’t give up. Tenacity is one of the virtues almost all winners share.

•Enter contests/competitions whenever you can. Same advice/reasons as above.

•Record yourself. All the time. And listen to it! The feedback you get is essential for your improvement.

•Get all kinds of performing experience. Natural horn. Both brass and woodwind quintet & other chamber music. Horn ensemble. Improvisation.  Jazz band – ask if you can play the parts of 4th trumpet, 4th alto, 4th bone.

•Perform every chance you get. Don’t wait for that one recital a year to get out there. Make your own opportunities. Play at schools, hospitals, churches, retirement homes, malls; other colleges. Play for friends, relatives, passers-by, pets, stuffed animals, anybody who can be cajoled into sitting still long enough for you to play. Ideally, your degree recital should be the 4th time you have played the program in public.

•If you have the right people (a match of personalities, ability & instruments), start a chamber music group. Work up a repertoire, perform all over the place, enter competitions, apply for grants, commission works. Do a lot of marketing. Find ways to be original. With luck, perseverance, and a lot of work, this could turn into something (see: Atlantic Brass Quintet, Imani Winds, Genghis Barbie, American Horn Quartet, Quadre, etc.).

•In your spare time, read more books about the horn. Become a real expert on its history, and not just for comp questions.

•Buy music. Music is expensive, but 1) buy a little bit all the time and 2) check out the IMSLP and other sources for free (public domain) music.

2. Network.

The more people in the field you know, the luckier you will be!

•Go to horn workshops, either private (Kendall Betts Horn Camp) or organizational (International Horn Society – regional/international). Make a point of talking with as many people as you can, peers, stars, vendors, teachers, everybody.

•Ditto music festivals: Aspen, Tanglewood, Blossom, etc. etc.

•Join professional societies. Examples: The International Horn Society. The College Music Society. Volunteer to serve in any way they’ll have you. Present/perform at conferences whenever possible. Meet people!

•Have a business card with all your information on it. Hand it out at workshops and conferences to everything that moves.

•Write letters to famous people. Tell them how you appreciate their work. Ask them questions, make them part of a research project, survey, etc, perhaps mention in passing about the cool stuff you’ve done that might interest them, like this great encore piece… Networking is meeting people and letting them know you’re there (judiciously; don’t be obnoxious or a stalker, etc.).

•Have a blog/web site. Web sites work better when you’ve done some stuff that you can point to. A blog is great because you can start right now and work it up over time and you don’t have to be a Somebody to start. You can become a Somebody by doing one. One caveat: blogs are a bit like puppies: they are rewarding, but they take fairly constant attention.

•Be a nice person. All the time. Smile a lot. Don’t complain. Make other people feel good about themselves. No one wants to work with a jerk, narcissist, or complainer. If you are a finalist for a job, the final result may come down to personal chemistry. They will say that they are rating you only on your CV, etc. but they really want to feel comfortable around you. It matters. Really. Trust me on this. Postscript: A supporting report from the field on this topic. There was a grad brass player from here a few years ago who was an excellent player, did well in school, was resourceful, got into conducting (with a couple of his own groups outside of the music school), and did some adjunct work. He got a one-year position at a smaller university… and when it came time for the permanent position, they didn’t take him. It’s just a guess, but probably an accurate one, that he didn’t get it because of, well, his personality. Sort of. This person is a perfectly fine and nice human being, but he has a (seemingly) gruff, even grouchy, exterior or repertoire of facial expressions. New freshmen players of his instrument cowered in the corner, simply fearful of his apparent brusque/prickly attitude. The prejudice is undeserved – when you get to know him – but there it is. People want to work with other people who are easy to work with. I have heard stories of orchestral players who didn’t get tenure because they were insufficiently sociable with colleagues. The reasons given officially will list something else, but the nice/easy to work with factor can’t be discounted. Keep this in mind when you apply for or even get a job. It may not be possible to change your personality (nor should you), but most personalities have enough leeway in them to allow agreeableness in daily social interaction without severe strain. It’s nice to be a great player. It’s also nice to be nice. Both count, in the end. You can be a jerk after you get tenure if absolutely necessary, but really, make a distinct effort until that day (but don’t make it look like an effort).

•Never, ever say anything negative about anyone. Even if they are a jerk. Just walk away. It will come back and bite you if you do. Sooner or later. Guaranteed. The jerk or the jerk’s best friend might end up on the search committee where you’re applying. You never know. So be nice.

•Go to different schools for undergrad, masters, DMA, no matter how great any of them are. At each new place you meet new people, learn new approaches.

3. Do other stuff.

OK, you’re (getting) really good on your instrument. So is everyone else. What will distinguish you from the herd? A.: Other stuff. No time, you say, I am spending my time getting really good on my instrument. A.: You can’t play all the time. Brass players have to rest. Use this time to be creative and industrious, explore other fields (perhaps become an expert over time in another area (e.g. composition, arranging, improvisation, music software, another language, music history/theory, another nonembouchure instrument, sports psychology, music entrepreneurship, web site design, etc.). Your pursuit of personal enrichment should be ceaseless, and thus your production of new lines in your CV. Employers want to see that you are imaginative, energetic, and ambitious, and they want to see 1) you’ve done all the regular stuff and well and 2) you’ve done a lot of other (creative, etc.) stuff besides so that they are really getting their money’s worth.

•Write articles and/or blog (this also comes under networking). It’s relatively easy to write an article (recycle those assignments/papers!), costs nothing to send it to a journal, and you want and need to have folks know who you are. It’s easy to get ideas if you look outside your field (horn): what are the other brasses doing that we’re not? Woodwinds? Guitars? Pipefitters? What could we learn from percussion? Sports? Business? Psychology? Read (and/or listen to audio books) books or magazines outside horndom, at least occasionally. Look through study material for the other instruments and bring it back home, adapted for horn.

•Compose. Composition is a Swiss army knife to produce all kinds of stuff. One good piece will get your name everywhere, especially if you write it for some superstar and he/she digs it and plays it everywhere. There is a great need for interesting material for younger players. It’s easier to get published these days, since the internet has broken the monopoly of the big publishing houses; you can even start your own without much ado. If you don’t want to compose, arrange. Go down to the music library and pick out some early choral music. Put it in Finale and make it for horn ensemble. Tweak the range, add markings and rehearsal numbers, and voilà, you are a certified arranger.

•Apply for grants. The ability to get grants is always an attractive part of a CV. Employers want to know that you’re any good. The sheepskin is your union card that gets you in the door. Your sterling tape/audition will put you among the select finalists. The Other Stuff (including grants) is the icing that will win your cake the blue ribbon.

•Learn about the business side of music. Read David Cutler’s The Savvy Musician (see also and Angela Myles Beeching’s Beyond Talent. All the stuff they don’t teach you in music school (but should) is here: music entrepreneurship, coming up with a “product”, business plan, marketing, budgets, advertising, working with the media, press releases, promotional materials, resumés, marketing on the internet, web site, blogging, social network sites, internet resources, recording, demos, radio, people skills, self-employment, royalties, non-music income, taxes & insurance, saving/investing, freelancing, getting gigs, management, unions, educational work, workshops, composing & arranging, private teaching, music technology, grants, fund raising, stage presence, staging, stage attire, and more.

4. Teach.

Best way to learn is to teach, and you can earn a few coppers besides. •Teach at any level available to you: elementary & middle school, high school, college. It is a significant plus to a prospective college employer to see that you have already taught at the college level (TA, adjunct). Be aggressive about finding such opportunities while you are still in school.

•Teach at music summer camps.

5. Persevere.

Rejection is normal, the default answer for attempts in the arts. If it were easy, everybody/anybody could do it. Auditions, articles, compositions – any creative making will encounter rejection. Expect it. But don’t give up. Keep at it, somehow, some way (see below). Remember what we said about tenacity earlier.

6. Have a Plan B.

That being said, don’t have just one basket for your eggs. If you are finishing your horn degree track and no job appears, you could, e.g. get another degree or specialty: a performer’s certificate, another masters in history or theory, conducting, arts administration, library science, etc. You could do this in another country (Europe, Hong Kong, etc.) You could apply for a Fulbright. You could move to Texas and have fifty students and freelance. You could join a military band (great benefits, travel, etc.). You could learn web site design and freelance in Chicago or NY. Build your own list!

There you have it, new grad students. Forewarned is forearmed. Now let’s go have some pizza. Speeches always make me hungry.


There is a terrific post on this subject by Angela McCuiston: Skills You Didn’t Learn in Grad School – a great complement to the above post. Check it out!

Post Postscript – more links on this topic

See also:

Gerald Klickstein’s posts “Applying for faculty positions” and “Career strategies that drive creativity” on his excellent blog The Musician’s Way (two of many great posts on this blog – do yourself a favor and check out all of his content).

Four Excellent Habits:  Four subtle skills that will give you a permanent edge in shaping your career or starting a new one

The CV Doctor Returns by Julie Miller Vick and Jennifer Furlong

Job Seeker Blog on