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!

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4. Theatre MDing: what I’ve learned

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Prior to coming to uni, I didn’t really know what an MD was. I didn’t know that I’d maybe like to be one, and I certainly didn’t know that I’d go on to MD 8 shows during my three years of studying. So when I applied to be an AMD for my first show at uni (thank you, Drowsy Chaperone prod team of 2014/15), I still wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for. I’d like to think that I now know a fair bit about MDing (musical directing), so here goes:

MDing is not just one job. It is many jobs.

The title ‘MD’ means that you direct the music of the show. So you tell the cast what to sing and how to sing it, and tell the band what to play and how to play it. But there’s much more to the role than just bossing people around! Most MDs also act as rehearsal pianists before the band comes in, and the conductor for when the band are involved. This means that the MD has to carry out two completely different roles between rehearsals and shows, which is TERRIFYING. When I had to conduct a show earlier this year, I felt so thoroughly unprepared because while I knew the music inside out, I was so used to playing it on the piano, not conducting it for a 12 piece band! Other jobs include leading vocal warm ups, making cuts and adding repeats, and liaising with other prod team members. So onto the next one…

The cast recording will almost definitely not match up with the score. Sorry.

There is nothing worse than coming into a rehearsal (a bit underprepared, oops), and realising that the choreographer has worked very very hard to make up a dance to suit a certain song or dance break on a cast recording… which doesn’t match up with the score in front of you. I’ve since learned to comb through the score before rehearsals even begin, but this is such a laborious task, and even if discrepancies are spotted, the MD then has to explain how many bars are added/missing, and often disappoint the choreographer in the process. I’m aware that this makes it sound like choreographers are hard to work with – they’re not and I’ve worked with some wonderful choreographers! It’s just very annoying when this happens. Argh.

Vocal warm ups will become anthems… and sometimes they will have dance routines.

Every rehearsal starts with a vocal warm up (except one time when I forgot), and these vary from the technical scaley ones to the funny tongue twister ones. I’m not really sure where we get these warm ups from – I’m pretty sure they’re sort of spread around in little MD circles as we impart our knowledge onto one another! ANYWAY, one of my good MD friends at uni introduced a warm up called Ba Bey Bee Bo, which *somehow* got its own dance. (Note: the choreographer was not involved and no bars were added or cut).

During breaks, everyone will flock to the piano.

Now, I don’t really get this one. Picture the scene: we’ve been rehearsing for a few hours, and the director announces that it’s lunch time. The MD leaves the piano stool and BAM – 5 cast members are crowded around the keyboard, desperate to get their hands on it and play some choons. Sometimes this results in an awesome jam session, but sometimes it just results in everyone else leaving the room!

No one else really understands your job.

Whereas most people know what a director does and how they do it, and what a choreographer does and how they do it, not very many know how MDing works. This seems to create an air of suspicion around MDs themselves, and I enjoy this. Not only does one get a fair amount of street cred from being able to play the piano, sometimes people seem a bit mystified by the ability to read music. It’s good fun, and sometimes makes it easier to gloss over mistakes…!

So yes, there are a few things I’ve learned through MDing 8 different shows while at uni. I have certainly learned a lot, and that’s very much down to all the other fantastic MDs I’ve worked with while doing these shows (Becky, Joe, Gem, Andy, Izzi, Ben, Dave, Robbie <3). There’s always more to learn, and I definitely hope to do more MDing in the future, but I’ll always check whether the cast recording matches up with the score first. (Disclaimer: it probably won’t).

1. So I’ve graduated… what next?

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Having graduated with a BA in Music a couple of weeks ago, I’m constantly being faced with the question: ‘what next?’. Thankfully I now have a concrete answer to that question because as of September, I have a proper full time adult job! But before that begins I’ve got a very exciting, theatre filled August – hence my (potentially silly idea) to try and write a blog post every day this month.

I’ve come to realise that this summer is likely to be my final long summer holiday, so I figured I’d better make the most of it. Having filled June and July with volunteering and working in schools to help with musical theatre projects, London trips, job interviews and flat hunting, August sees even more travelling and theatre, as well as a big birthday! First of all I’m taking part in a Youth Music Theatre UK (YMT UK) project as an assistant musical director for their show Jabberwocky, which is to be performed at the Theatre Royal Margate from 18th-20th August (plug plug plug). Having done a project with the company last summer in a lesser role I’m so excited to be involved again and have even more creative input on a fantastic piece of original writing.

I’m also going to visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time at the end of the month too. I’ve never been before, mostly due to the fact that I live in Devon, and Scotland is a very long way away from here! However, this year I’m going to deal with the lengthy travel times to go and see lots of theatre for a few days, including some shows which my friends from my (old) uni are taking up (writing ‘old’ uni felt weird. I haven’t had to do that before… *graduate crisis ensues*).

The end of August will see me coming back down to reality from the idyllic world of theatre and moving into my new house and preparing to start my proper job. It’s been and will continue to be a summer full of massive changes… I just find it a bit weird that your whole future is mapped out for you until this point: school, sixth form, uni… but then what? I’ve always been adamant that I didn’t want to move back home after uni, and although I have done that for the summer, it’s only temporary. However, when viewing places to live and being faced with adult talk about taxes and deposits and bills and pension schemes, a very small part of me wished I could escape it all and remain a well looked after child at home! But no, I love the freedom I’ve had at uni and I think continuing that immediately is the best thing for me to do – especially as my new job is close to the city I’ve lived in for the last 3 years.

So yes, expect many a blog this month. I’m excited to chronicle all my new experiences this summer and hope that no one gets too fed up with my incessant posting!

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.