What they don’t teach you at conservatory

The best time to learn about succeeding as a self-employed musician is after conservatory studies. But this is where the conservatory is no longer obliged to educate you or to ensure that you do make it in the real world. As conservatory students, we didn’t learn how to get gigs.

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Now that many of my musician friends are graduating, I would like reflect upon what I learned in the past two years after conservatory.

My hypothesis is that even if the following topics are taught at conservatory, students would rather spend more time on performance or composing (their main subject). The best time to learn about succeeding as a self-employed musician is after conservatory studies. But this is where the conservatory is no longer obliged to educate you or to ensure that you do make it in the real world.

Final exam concert at Utrecht Conservatory, 2 June 2008
Final exam concert at Utrecht Conservatory, 2 June 2008

The black hole after conservatory is felt by many people, including myself.

I felt this void today when I met with the director of a local residence for elderly patients with dementia.

The 600-year old building has gone through extensive renovation such that it feels like a 5-star hotel. Conveniently located in the Museum Quarter of central Utrecht, a Roman city of cobbled stones, the impressive building has a brand new concert hall that seats 80 to 100 people. The new Yamaha grand piano gives a velvety soft sound, perfect for my piano guitar duo.

Yet as I sat in her office with my various marketing material, I am confronted with a disturbing reality.

“I am flooded with enquiries from musicians and people who know musicians,” she exclaimed. “Everyone wants to play in our concert hall. I have conservatory students willing to play for free.”

A knock on the door interrupted our conversation at 10:30 am. One of her staff complained that they’ve run out of bread.

“Call the baker,” she said.

“Nothing is open until noon.”

“Call the baker after 12,” she said.

As conservatory students, we didn’t learn how to get gigs. We were happy to play for free. We didn’t know how to get people to come to our concerts unless we told them to come to the conservatory where every concert was free.

After conservatory, we compete with musicians who are willing to play for free.

What differentiates us from the not-yet-graduated musicians?

We need an income. We can’t perform in the conservatory anymore. Where can we play and get paid?

So the first thing that we should have learned at conservatory is how to get paid concerts.

We’re taught to find students to practise our teaching on. In the training for a piano teaching diploma, my teacher told me to get started early. Learn to build a piano teaching practice.

What if you don’t want to teach? What if you want to perform? What if you want to compose for a living? None of my compositions teachers told me how to get a commission, how to apply for funding, and how to get paid as a composer.

If anyone is interested in this topic, please LEAVE A REPLY below and mention whether you want your comment published or not. I have learned a lot more things not taught in the 4 years I was at conservatory. And I’d like to continue onto another blog about “what they don’t teach you at conservatory.”

Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

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