What graduate life is really like

DSC_0784As I’ve definitely mentioned before, I graduated from my music degree last year, and since then I’ve had a crazy theatre filled summer, got my first professional house share, and my first full time job. I’ve also learned a lot and realised a lot, specifically in terms of comparisons between student life and adulting life. So, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past 6 months.

Early mornings are HARD.

Throughout my three years at uni I was pretty much constantly tired, but now that I get up at 6:30am 5 days a week I have no idea how that was ever the case. 9ams used to be a big deal, but now I start work at 8am every day, and have no choice but to get up and go!! I’m not saying that I leap out of bed when my alarm goes off (especially as the dark winter mornings make it SO unappealing), but I have definitely got into a routine. My former uni student self would laugh if I told her that I now go to bed at 10:30pm most nights!

It’s an all or nothing life

At uni I constantly had things I needed to do hanging over me – assignments, rehearsal preparations, piano practice – and these tasks were present in my brain ALL THE TIME. I never really felt like I got a rest from it all, because there was always something else I needed to be doing. But now that I have a job, all my work is done at work, leaving my evenings and weekends completely free! Obviously some jobs require work at home, but I’m lucky that mine (for the most part) does not. Honestly, having a totally empty weekend with no responsibilities other than, y’know, other boring adulty stuff like housework and food shopping, is so liberating. Would recommend.

Not everyone is your age

This sounds completely obvious, but hear me out. At school and uni, and all the time until you graduate, you’re mostly surrounded by people of your own age, give or take a few years. However, when you’re thrown into the workplace, there are people as young as 18, and others nearing retirement age in their 60s. It has been really nice to socialise with people who aren’t just in their late teens/early twenties, and I really do love my colleagues, but sometimes I can’t help but crave time with a big group of people who are the same age as me, and at a similar life stage to me. I definitely didn’t appreciate the social hub that was uni enough at the time.

A professional house share sounds deceptively nice, but it’s still better than student housing

So I live in a house with 4 other people, none of whom I previously knew, and luckily we get on! My landlord is 100 times nicer and more attentive than my student landlord (who, by student standards, wasn’t bad at all), and the house is *usually* in a relatively good state! Sure, there’s some mould in my room and the kitchen ceiling is a bit of a mess, but it’s a waaaay nicer living space than your average student house. Oh yeah, and it’s quite nice that when you get up at stupid o clock in the morning, other people are up and about too. Solidarity!

You’ll be in debt, but it doesn’t matter

And finally, I’m earning nowhere near the amount that I need to be in order to start paying back my hefty student loan. Props to any recent graduates who are!

My watchable and listenable dissertation

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During my final year at university, I’ve been bombarded with questions about my degree, and also what on earth I intend to do once it’s finished. My answer to the latter tends to be a mumbled ‘I’m not sure yet… I have a few ideas… it’s too early to start looking really’ until my interrogator realises that enquiring about a third year’s future plans is not a particularly good idea. However, the other most frequently asked question is about my dissertation, which is usually met with looks of surprise once I announce that I’m not actually required to do one, and instead explain that I’ll be playing a 45 minute long piano recital. Trust me, it’s a pretty good conversation starter, and hopefully it’s a pretty good blog starter too.

Music is a rather unique degree subject – final year students are required to take one double module, which can be either a dissertation, a large composition, or a 45 minute performance recital. Seeing as many music students’ main strengths lie in the practical aspects of music rather than the academic study of it, it makes sense to offer alternatives to a dissertation. I chose my repertoire in September, selecting pieces by Beethoven, Brahms and Ravel, and consequently practised them for eight months until my recital in May. That sounds like a long time, and it really was! There were times when I felt thoroughly bored of my pieces, but then I’d consider a new concept which could totally revamp my performance. It felt like my entire year was leading up to recital day.

However, performing my own recital wasn’t the only responsibility I had that day. My friend and I agreed to page turn for each other’s recitals, and his was at 2pm, a few hours before my own at 6:30. Now, the role of the page turner is hugely underrated. All you have to do is sit beside the pianist and turn the pages of their music that they are unable to turn themselves, due to their hands being understandably preoccupied. But the knowledge that you could sabotage someone else’s performance through vacantly forgetting to turn a page at the correct time is SO UNBELIEVABLY STRESSFUL. Anyway, I paid full attention to this recital meaning that it thankfully went very smoothly.

So, with one task over it was time for me to start preparing for my own recital. It took place at Turner Sims Concert Hall, which is a brilliant venue, and I feel privileged every time I get to perform there. I managed to practice on the grand piano prior to my performance, which was great preparation. Unlike other instrumentalists who carry their own familiar instrument around with them to perform on, pianists have to be prepared to adapt to whatever piano is in the performance venue, which can be a challenge when you’re used to practising on a very different instrument.

Suddenly, the nerves kicked in. Half of me wanted to perform immediately to get it over with, but half of me never wanted 6:30 to arrive! Upon arrival at Turner Sims I handed the exam marshal my paperwork and paced around the green room. The most nerve-wracking bit was waiting behind the door to walk on stage, but as soon as I made my entrance, I was greeted by the view of around 25 of my friends (and my mum!) in the audience applauding me, and I was thrilled to have their support. I sat down at the piano and began to perform. I played the pieces pretty much as well as I could have done, although I started to get a bit tired during the final two – 45 minutes is a very long time to play solo for. I played the final chord with a flourish, bowed, and walked off stage with a feeling of accomplishment and pride. I’d done it! I’d performed the equivalent of a dissertation.

Performing my final piano recital was one of the most terrifying yet rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was definitely thrilling, but I’m not in a particular hurry to do it again any time soon, especially given the amount of preparation required and how much stamina I had to build up to do it. I learned so much from studying my repertoire in detail, and my recital day will definitely stick in my mind as one of the most significant days of my uni career. And, although I now have a concrete answer to ‘did you do a dissertation?’, I’ll still have to explain to anyone who asks that l have no idea what I’m going to do once I graduate.

Holding the baton

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As I’ve mentioned many times before, I often MD shows with my university’s musical theatre society, and despite the far too common assumption that the MD’s sole job is to play the piano, there are, in fact, numerous other skills which need to be mastered in order to be a successful musical director – such as conducting. The MD is responsible for leading the band/orchestra of a show – whether that’s from the keyboard or from the baton. This was one of the reasons I chose to take a module in conducting during the second year of my music degree, and the process of mastering (I’m using the term ‘mastering’ very loosely) the skill over the last term has been challenging, stressful and rewarding.

The module I’ve been studying primarily focuses on orchestral conducting, so each week every person in the class gets to stand up and conduct an orchestra comprised of other students, under the critical eye of our tutor, who then offers guidance relating to technique, musicality, and a variety of other aspects. However, we didn’t start off conducting symphonies – in fact, we began by standing in a large circle making seemingly bizarre arm movements! We started conducting Bach chorales (devoid of batons), before moving onto pieces for string quartets and chamber ensembles, and then finally progressing onto movements of symphonies and the overture to an opera.

When condensed into one sentence like that it doesn’t sound like very much, but the progress that everyone’s made is really commendable, especially considering that many of us (myself included) had never even picked up a baton before, let alone learnt any beat patterns. So the fact that we’re all now able to step up onto the podium and lead a 30 piece orchestra, however shakily, is pretty impressive – even if I did get incredibly nervous before my turn each week!

My conducting module has generated a surprising amount of interest from my friends and family. I suppose it’s an aspect of music that everyone can imagine – and more it’s accessible to the general public than some of my other modules such as Baroque opera – because everyone’s seen an eccentric man in a suit waving his arms around in front of a group of instrumentalists on the TV. I’ve had to answer a lot of questions about learning to conduct, such as how the lectures work, how it’s assessed, what kind of music we do, whether I own a baton (um, obviously), and how I practise. The latter has created a great deal of amusement when my mum happily announces that my method of practising involves disappearing up to her room to stand in front of her full length mirror, and ‘waving my arms around’, despite the absence of any other people or musical instruments. Or sound. Except sometimes a metronome.

So that’s been my conducting journey so far. Although I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the massively demanding pieces of music like symphonies, I now feel as though I am well equipped to conduct a musical theatre show… probably. I’d definitely like to conduct one before I leave university, so hopefully I’ll be able to put my newly learnt baton skills to use before I graduate! My conducting module has been highly enjoyable and it’s been so rewarding to have learnt a whole new skill in only 12 weeks of lectures, and I think I will miss it now that I’ve done my final exam, despite the nervousness I experienced before my turn each week. But then, nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and I’m so glad that I took the chance to learn how to conduct.