Six weeks ago, as I packed the car and drove halfway across the country to grad school, my mom gave me an ominous warning on what lay ahead:
“It’s going to be weird for a few months.”
When I got here, at first, I thought everything was fine. I figured if I’d managed alright in college, grad school would be no problem. But as the semester has gone on, I can’t say she was incorrect.
So far, there have been moments when I’m so thrilled to be here and so high on life that I wish this time would never end.
But then there are moments when I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, life is a disaster, I’m not even a good composer, and I can’t possibly make it through the coming week—let alone the rest of my degree…
Welcome to grad school, everyone!
Suffice it to say that it’s been a bumpy road so far—though there have been many good times as well. I’ll skip over the worst parts and just talk about some of the highlights and what has kept me busy:
I’m only taking two classes, which is much less than in undergrad. One semester at Belmont, I had to take fourteen classes—yes, you read that right: fourteen, though several were zero-credit seminars. I did have a great experience at Belmont, but this is a welcome change.
I do have additional responsibilities that I didn’t have in undergrad because I have an assistantship, which involves maintaining the electroacoustic studios and recording. So instead of doing audio projects for a class grade like I did at Belmont, now I do them as my school job. Pretty neat.
Stage-Managing an Opera
A couple of weeks into classes, I had the opportunity to stage-manage an opera world premiere: composer Daron Hagen’s Orson Rehearsed.
Shows are always stressful, and sometimes you’re not sure if or how everything will come together (especially when you’ve never managed an opera before), but somehow it always does. It ended up being a great experience working with some very talented people who became like a family.
Experiencing the Chicago Arts Scene
The great thing about living in Chicago is that there’s some kind of world-class performance or arts event every weekend—most of which offer student tickets.
So far, I’ve seen the Chicago Symphony, the Chicago Composer’s Consortium, and the unveiling of Art on the Mart. I’m also hoping I’ll finally get to visit the Art Institute now that there aren’t so many tourists. I haven’t had time to do as much as I would like, but now that I’m getting settled, maybe I can get out more.
Meeting New People
Although I had some friends and connections in the Chicagoland area before I moved, I still feel like I’m mostly starting over when it comes to building a professional reputation.
Nashville was a much smaller town, and Belmont had its tentacles in every area of the music business, which made it easy to get plugged in. The entire town revolved around music, and if you didn’t know someone yourself, you weren’t far from a person who did.
Contrarily, Chicago is enormous and overwhelming, and it takes a little more digging to figure out where to go and who you should meet.
Although I’m certainly going to concerts and meeting other musicians like I did in Nashville, I’m also making an effort to meet people who aren’t necessarily directly in the music business, too. It’s so easy to get stuck into your little music school bubble, but it’s important to remember there’s a whole other world out there—and to be a part of it.
My New Composition
I’ll be honest… Many of my difficulties over the last few weeks have been caused or at the very least exacerbated by the new composition I’m writing. It was one of those pieces that, for a while, refused to move forward no matter what I did.
I’m unflappable when it comes to anything else that happens to me, but give me a section of a piece that I’m struggling to work out, and the whole day (or week or month) might be ruined until it’s right. When I get to that point where there seems to be no solution, I forget about all of the solid pieces I’ve written in the past, and suddenly I’m not even sure I’m a “real” composer or not.
But the good news is that because I’m so bothered by that thought, it’s yet another reason I make myself keep going—and I always get past these roadblocks with enough persistence.
Sure enough, I’m finally bringing in this new piece, “Internal Combustion,” for a landing. It’s for Pierrot instrumentation: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. (We refer to this as Pierrot ensemble because of Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal work, Pierrot Lunaire, which used those same instruments.)
I was going to write something tonal and melodic, like I so enjoy, but I had a nightmare which forced me to write this instead. Imagine the sequel to my piano trio, “Proceed with Caution,” and that’s sort of what “Internal Combustion” is. There’s a future post about it coming up, but for now, you can listen to its predecessor here:
Grad school in Chicago definitely isn’t all fun and games…
The highs combined with lows of self-doubt and trying to find a new normal in grad life make it very weird.
There are still times when I miss my days in Nashville, when I felt like I had a whole lot more figured out, but you know what? The good, the tough, and the weird times are all part of what makes life an adventure.