“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.
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?"
"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.
By Hannah Thorp-Davis
Leaving school and joining the real working world is a huge change. I am so grateful to have a job not just in music but working with clarinets specifically. While I’ve only worked this job for one month as I write this post, and still have plenty to learn, I have already learned quite a bit. So, I came up with a list of five big things that I have learned and would like to share with those who are interested in music careers beyond the classroom and stage.
I also learned the value of playing on different brands of instruments. I grew up playing Buffet and I now own a Selmer Bb and a Yamaha A clarinet. In addition to my own clarinets, there are a variety of brands and models of clarinets that come through our shop. Brian also makes and sells his own barrels, so I have learned to assess the barrel’s effect on how a clarinet responds and sounds. Because of my experience playing on different instruments, I can decide with clarity what factors make a clarinet sound and feel the way they do.
3. Language & Communication
I had to learn which words to use to describe different factors that I was hearing or feeling in a clarinet. This may sound obvious, but it is actually very complex. Speaking the language is crucial because this is how we decide what we need to do to make the clarinet feel and sound the best that it can. Brian and I try to use objective language when discussing a clarinet. For example, rather than saying “this clarinet feels hard” or “this clarinet sounds bright”, we instead talk about response, resistance, back pressure, resonance, flexibility, and control. We have had many conversations about how we define these words and what specific aspects of the clarinet they do and do not refer to. Everyone seems to have a slightly different definition for these words, so getting on the same page has been a fun challenge. Although speaking the same clarinet language between the two of us is important, it is equally important for us to be able to communicate with clients about their clarinets. This means that we ask many questions to clarify and accurately understand how we can best help them. I think it is fascinating that our language and the clarinet itself is constantly developing, which means these conversations about the intricacies of communication will never be complete.
4. Factors & Diagnosing
Learning about how many different factors can contribute to one aspect of how a clarinet sounds and feels has been my biggest learning curve. For example, let’s pretend that you feel that the right hand joint is more resistant and you hear that the right hand notes take longer to respond. One factor could be a leaky pad on the bottom of the upper joint or maybe the top of the lower joint. We see this a lot with the infamous "1+1" Bb/Eb bridge adjustment. A chipped tone hole may prevent an otherwise perfect pad from sealing properly. Maybe there is weak spring tension somewhere that doesn't allow for the necessary light pressure on the tone hole. Another factor could be that the middle tenon and cork are not sealing properly. Those are several potential factors that could contribute to one symptom. In addition, I have learned to use different tools and methods to help me determine what exactly the issue is. For example, I have gotten very familiar with a tool called the feeler gauge which helps me assess how well a pad and tone hole are sealing together. However, every tool has limitations, and a feeler gauge may won't tell me if there is a chip in a tone hole that's preventing a proper seal. A visual inspection is necesasry. In addition, Buffet clarinets are not built the same as Selmers, Royal Globals, Yamahas, etc. I continuously adapt and am sure to be thorough and observant when working with a variety of clarinets and getting to the bottom of any issues that arise.
5. Working in Music
There are many great music jobs beyond the mainstream professor job and/or orchestral job, and this is one of them. I work with people who value honesty and integrity which shows in their craftsmanship and the way they do business. This seems like that should be a given, but these qualities should not be taken for granted. I get to play many clarinets and clarinet accessories which helps me serve the musicians buying and selling Royal Global clarinets, our refurbished / rental inventory, and all of Brian’s products. I will get to network and meet so many new people who also work to serve performing musicians at all levels. When I am play-testing instruments and accessories with Brian, we will play duets at the end of the night. We will record bits and pieces and post it to social media as well.
Despite having already learned a lot, I still have so much to learn about this aspect of the music industry. And in addition to these five points, I’ve learned to be incredibly grateful to have a job working with and around clarinets and music, because not everyone gets an opportunity like this after graduating. This job is great because it has a little bit of everything to offer, and it's all about clarinet.