"Where did you think you would be five years ago, where are you now, and where do you think you will be in five years?" These three questions could be answered with three simple responses, but the fun part of reflecting and answering these questions is describing how I got to be where I am now. I'm sitting here writing this because I am not exactly where I predicted I would be, and I am glad for it. In my opinion, our career paths are defined by a series of unique decisions influenced by impactful experiences. The best way for me to answer these questions is to share my personal thoughts, decisions, and experiences that led me to be the clarinet specialist I am now, starting from five years ago.
“5 years ago, where did you think you would be?"
I think many young musicians share the same dream: win an orchestral job and become a clarinet professor/teacher. Five years ago, I shared that dream too, and I hoped to be in graduate school preparing to win that orchestral job. However, life happens on the way to your plans. To give you some context, in 2017 I entered my third year of my undergraduate degree in music education at Baylor University. I majored in music education instead of performance to have more job opportunities just in case I got injured and could not perform. I was excited to perform my first ever recital that year, but I did not know that this recital would also be a major turning point for me. I prepared as best as I knew how to prepare, and I performed with confidence. However, I was not satisfied with my performance. Reality hit me, and it hit hard. Not only was my recital underwhelming, but in addition I had not made it into any major music festivals. I had not won any competitions. I was not even on the sub list for the local orchestra despite being one of the top players in the studio at the time. I felt like I should have been flourishing, but I was not. I was not performing at a high enough level to make it as a performer, and that had to change.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am persistent and I don't give up easily. Performing was my dream and I was not about to give up. After taking time to reflect and having some brutally honest conversations with myself, I decided that I needed to trust myself and my instincts, which requires me to be more honest with myself than I’ve ever been. I needed to trust my own expectations for myself and not settle for anyone else’s expectations. I was told growing up that I was too hard on myself, and that I should lighten up or be kinder to myself. My first few years of college I was getting loads of positive feedback and I thought I could afford to cut myself some slack. However, too much positive feedback fogged my mind and created a false sense of being on track. I found that the most honest feedback comes from a recording device, a metronome, and a tuner. So I took my trustworthy devices and got to work.
I decided to spend the next nine months preparing a second recital that was not required for the degree, but I required it for myself. I took every opportunity I could to use the resources I had around me to make me a better musician, including taking on an apprenticeship in a woodwind repair shop which wound up being an invaluable experience. I took this apprenticeship very seriously, and I absorbed loads of knowledge from my mentor. The things I learned about woodwind repair helped me understand the clarinet on a deeper level and contributed to my growth as a clarinetist. This recital was a test of my potential growth and to see if my expectations were enough. I picked my own program. I prepared the hell out of it using my three trustworthy devices and my knew knowledge from the apprenticeship. And I killed it. I felt like I had redeemed myself and like I was starting to catch up to where I wanted to be. I am grateful for all the woodwind professors and my woodwind repair mentor who helped me achieve that performance. I knew there was so much more I needed to learn, so I decided to pursue a master’s in performance.
Indeed I had much to learn! I learned that there are far more factors involved in winning an orchestral job than just performing your best, and I failed to win an audition or even get on the sub list. I learned that there are far more factors involved to get into a music festival than submitting your best recording and resume, and I failed to get into any of the big festivals. I learned that working in academia was not a good fit for me, and I did not understand the complex games. Despite my failures, I was grateful to learn sooner than later that perhaps the "dream career" wasn’t so dreamy after all. In addition to this educational journey, I married the love of my life whose career as a military musician requires him to move duty stations every three or four years. At the time, we had been in a long distance relationship for two and a half years, and there was no end in sight if I continued to cling to the professor/orchestral career path.
So what was my new career path? How do I balance my career with my new marriage and his career? What do I value? And of course there were the crippling questions like “what if I disappoint the people who helped me by not pursuing the teacher/orchestral career path?” I hate to admit that I struggled with this question. I deeply feared disappointing my mentor and the teachers who believed in me, even though they wanted whatever was best for me. Besides, I knew I had to continue to live up to my own expectations. “What do I value?” It was time to re-evaluate my long term goals.
Half way through my master’s degree I decided that the military band career path closely aligned with what I valued: performing at a high level for a living and being with my husband. My new goals were set. I took a few military auditions, and I actually won one audition which I decided not to pursue. They could not guarantee that I would be allowed to finish my degree (they can put a position on hold for only a limited amount of time, which is understandable). I chose to finish what I started, and I am proud of my decision because, as I predicted, the knowledge that I gained from my master's degree was invaluable. Five years ago I thought I would be performing with local orchestras and taking every orchestral audition I could while I made ends meet with teaching private lessons. Not to mention that getting married was never part of my plan. However, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing because I love where I am today.
“Where are you now?"
So, I graduated in May of 2022, and I had not won a military job yet. However, because I took every opportunity I could to open doors in different music related careers, I was able to have a career in music right out of my master’s degree, and I am so grateful for my current job with Brian Corbin and Royal Global. At the end of a long day, Brian and I test clarinets and play duets together. I get to be part of the process of supplying high quality clarinets to dealers all over the world. I get to work with people full of integrity and honesty, which should not be taken for granted. I get to work with clarinets, I get to make music, and most of all, I am happy to have a career in music.
"Where do you think you will be in 5 years?"
I am still taking auditions for the military bands because I want to pursue a career in which I can perform for a living. However, I love the job I have now, and I could see myself as a clarinet specialist for my career as well. Five years from now, whether I am performing with the military or not, I hope I am still working in music and with musicians. I have learned that if I continue to work hard, create opportunities for myself, stay positive, and am always honest with myself, then I will have a good career in music, whatever my end career goal may wind up being.