Viola Blog

May 7, 2011

Two of my wonderful viola students have just graduated – one is student teaching in the fall in Des Moines, and the other is going on for doctoral studies in viola. I also had a lengthy conversation a couple of weeks ago with a former student trying to figure out "the next step." Watching my graduates go out into the world and try to make their was as musicians, and watching one of my best friends go back on the audition circuit due to a change in career goals, not to mention watching my brother-in-law’s job suddenly disappear...all of this has made me think a lot lately about the difficulty and challenge of making it as a musician in today’s economy. I confess, with the upheaval at my university, these thoughts are not entirely about others…I have to consider the possibility that *my* job may disappear at some point, too.

So…how do we set ourselves up to have the best possible shot at making a living in this business? Here is my top 10 list, for what it’s worth.

1.     Be a really, really good musician. Practice a lot; listen to a lot of music; read a lot; be on top of your game, because if you’re not, someone else will be.

2.     Be marketable. Have a broad range of skills. Don’t be a one-trick pony. You may have to do a lot of things, well, to make a living.

3.      Be willing to take whatever jobs you can get. Sometimes even for free, if it could yield a good connection that you may be able to use later. And you never know what’s going to yield a good connection.

4.      Be responsible. Show up, on time (which means early), prepared, and do your best.

5.      Be nice to everybody. Yes, even those people you don’t like. Be a good colleague. Someday, that person you were snarky to might be in a position to offer you a job. Doesn’t matter if you were right or wrong…guess who they’re NOT going to give the job to? The snarky person. (I’m the queen of snarky people, but I try to keep it in my head and not coming out of my mouth.)

6.      Be creative. Don’t expect to have the same job your teacher had, or that I have…you may have to think of something new and different if you want to make a living. Talk to people doing interesting things, and take note of what works (and what doesn’t)…and then try to generate your own ideas.

7.      Use EVERY MINUTE of your time in school to learn, practice, and get into the habits that will give you a chance to have a career. Don’t waste your valuable time and money. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a life outside of school – but you should remember your priorities and act accordingly.

8.      Network. A lot. Join organizations that promote your trade. Get involved – don’t just pay your membership fee – you want people to know your name and think of you when something interesting comes up. Keep in touch with those people who can help you in your career, and be willing to help others as well.

9.      Keep doing things that are outside your comfort zone. This is the only way to grow. Push yourself…no one will do it for you.  You will regret the things you didn’t try a LOT more than the things you tried but failed at. Trust me on this one.

10.   Never get complacent. Never stop learning. Even if you are lucky enough to have a job, you never know when it will disappear…be ready to jump back into the job market. Which means, you have to keep doing all of these, all the time.


Please, e-mail me with comments and I'll be happy to add your suggestions to this list. Good luck!!

May 24, 2011
In memory of my teacher, Emanuel Vardi, 1915-2011

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study with Emanuel Vardi at Temple University in Philadelphia. He retired from performing and teaching not long after that, and we lost touch for a while - but we reconnected shortly after I moved to Iowa to start my job teaching at UNI. I traveled to visit him several times, and had lots of lessons and lots of fun catching up. He and his wife Lenore (a wonderful violinist and also a dear friend) came to visit me in Iowa, and Manny gave a class for my students and brought a lot of paintings to exhibit. He was a very special person in my life - a mentor, a second dad, and a great friend. I wrote the tribute below when I learned of his passing on January 29, 2011.

This afternoon I learned that my beloved teacher, Emanuel Vardi, passed away this morning at the age of 95.  I'm heartbroken, but I know that it was time...he had been ill for months and the Manny that I knew and loved would not have wanted to linger this way any longer.

Manny was an exceptional human being, as well as one of the truly great musicians of the 20th century.  I am so, so fortunate to have had the chance to study with him, and then to know him as a wonderful friend.  He was a great storyteller, and had a mischievous sense of humor.  He wasn't above being downright silly at times...every day spent with Manny was filled with laughter.  He was passionate about music and art, and about life in general...and he loved good food and conversation. So many of our visits involved a great dinner, a bottle of wine and lots of hilarious stories of his life and career...he was a character!!!

But most of all, I will think of him every single time I pick up my viola.  Of all the wonderful teachers I've had, I have to say he has influenced me the most.  His logical, intuitive understanding of the instrument, his concept of sound, and his musical ideals will always be a part of my playing, and hopefully I can do him justice as a teacher by communicating them to my own students.  When I studied with him, he always treated me with kindness and empathy, while still being a demanding taskmaster.  He couldn't stand to hear an out-of-tune note, and heaven help you if you weren't LISTENING and paying attention...and don't even THINK about an unnecessary noise in a shift!!!  (Sorry, Manny....I'm still working on that!)

I saw Manny for the last time this past summer...I am so, so grateful that I was able to make that trip and have that time with him and Lenore, his wife and my dear friend.  He was already declining at that time, but was still himself -- full of life, excited to show me his latest paintings, excited to talk about music and to hear me play (if only briefly) and to see my latest viola, and we had a great visit.  He knew, even then, that his time was short...I think we both knew it would be our last visit.  I cried buckets as I drove to the airport...I guess I knew that was goodbye.  Even so, it's still hard...but I am comforted by the fact that I'm still surrounded by his spirit - which will live on in his art, his wonderful recordings, and his legacy as a teacher. 

Tonight, I'm going to get together with good friends and raise a glass to my dear friend, teacher and mentor...because that's what he would have wanted, after all. Goodbye, are missed, but never ever forgotten.