50 Things I Learned After Music School


The New York Times featured an article a few weeks ago titled “Don’t Go to Music School.” This has sparked quite the uproar on the web with musicians and even a music school president writing public responses to the article.

Don’t go to Music School

Our Future Musicians

Go to Music School

A day hasn’t passed that I’ve ever regretted going to music school. Sure, I wish I would have learned a lot more about the music field rather than focusing on solo repertoire.  I could have done without all those insanely difficult upper level ear training and history classes. (I’m looking at you IU!) Would it have been more beneficial to my career to learn about grant writing instead of taking a vocal chamber music literature course in grad school, obviously! But, the opportunities I had over the course of 6 years and 2 degrees are priceless! My decision was never whether or not I was going to study music and pursue a musical career, but who I was going to study harp with! I’ve been so fortunate to have so many fabulous mentors helping me along the way. Harpists with extremely different backgrounds, careers and philosophies – Sarah Bullen, Susann McDonald, Patty Masri-Fletcher, Naoko Yoshino, Elzbieta Szmyt, Isabelle Perrin, Lynne Aspenes and Joan Raeburn Holland. During my undergrad at IU some of the best classes I took were harp pedagogy and harp maintenance. I also spent a lot of time observing various masterclasses and lessons from professors of every instrument teaching at all levels. I performed as much new music as possible, worked with composers on a regular basis and had 2 regional orchestra jobs. Grad school was amazing – I was part of an orchestral audition class where members of the CSO and Lyric Opera (among many others) would give feedback to me weekly. I had hours of one on one lessons and coachings, got to observe CSO rehearsals, and made musical connections that have helped shaped my professional career.

While music school is definitely not for everyone, I don’t want to discourage or encourage anyone. This has to be a decision you make. It’s your life and you’re the one who knows you the best.

So, I put together a list of things I didn’t learn in music school in an effort to give a little guidance to aspiring harpists out there!


50 Things I Learned After Music School

You are not above or below any gig

You can say no to a gig

If you’re unhappy stop. Someone else would be happy to do your job for you

Learn, grow, practice, fail, succeed without a teacher

Harpists give harpists gigs – make friends!

If someone refers you for a gig even if you don’t take it, thank them

How to navigate through gigantic buildings, loading docks, security checkpoints with harp, gown, bench, stand and music in tow

Where to find the cheapest parking downtown to avoid $45 parking fees

Schedule practice time or everything else will take priority

How to load/unload a harp by myself in the wind/snow/ice

Design a website

Ask for donations

Run a marketing campaign

Write a newsletter

Sell/Buy a harp

Plan a tour – traveling with harps if fun!

How to do my own taxes – both for myself and nonprofit organization

How to teach students with learning and physical disabilities

What is appropriate to wear for afternoon tea/recital/new music concert/New Years gala

How to remain calm and carry on while on stage when a string/pedal rod/bench/stand breaks during a performance

How to do business with contractors/wedding coordinators/hotel and restaurant managers

How to protect yourself legally, draw up contracts, read and negotiate contracts

Ask for help

Say no to help

Move harp up and down stairs/across cobblestone/grassy hills/up spiral staircases by myself safely

Organize a recital/concert/fundraiser/studio recital

Contract other musicians

Work on a board of directors

Speak up when you’re being treated unfairly



Take time off for your mental/emotional/physical health

How to practice efficiently with little time

Sight read a concert on no rehearsal

Sight read an opera

Put together a solo recital in less than 2 weeks

Traffic in the city is a real thing you have no control over, Give yourself enough time!

Take criticism and don’t take it personally

You don’t have to take every audition or compete in every competition

Everyone really is doing the best they can

How to sustain my physical and mental health during 6+ hour gigs/rehearsals

Give a Harp presentation for school age children, college kids, elderly adults

Contractors/Brides don’t care where you went to school or how many degrees you have

Move harp through 2 feet of freshly fallen snow without a shovel

Draw up a rental contract

Don’t apologize for making a mistake in a rehearsal, don’t make the same mistake again

Negotiate with orchestra managers

Explain the necessity of harp cartage

Take responsibility for mistakes you make

Success isn’t measured by what you achieve, it’s measured by what you overcome!


About Author

I'm a founding member of the Chicago Harp Quartet and have performed with the Chicago, Sydney and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, Opera Australia Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. I’ve performed with Janelle Monáe, Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Ricardo Muti, and for the Steve Harvey Show on NBC.

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