Five Questions to Ask Yourself Transitioning from School to A Freelance Career

beccaAfter graduating from Berklee College of Music in 2014 Rebecca Patterson moved to New York City and has become an active member of the the cities rich musical community. She can be heard subbing on the Lion King and Wicked on Broadway or someone around the city with her dynamic big band with co-leader Ron Wilkins that features some of her original compositions and arrangements comprised of some of NYC’s finest musicians. An album will be recorded in 2018. Since her move to New York she has had the opportunity to perform with a diverse range of ensembles on Tenor and Bass Trombones and Tuba including performances with: Christian McBride’s Big Band, Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, The Mingus Band, John Colianni Jazz Orchestra, Birdland Latin Jazz Orchestra, Steven Oquendo’s Latin Jazz Orchestra, Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Livio Almeida’s Brazilian Dectet, Chris Potter, Kansas, Marcos Valle, The Ed Palermo Big Band, Metro Chamber Orchestra, Billy Vera Jazz Orchestra, Mariachi Vargas, and San Antonio Wind Symphony. Rebecca also maintains a private lesson studio and makes guest artist appearances with schools and programs around the country. She is an artist for Shires trombones and Giddings mouthpieces. 

Transitioning from music school to the freelance world can be incredibly intimidating. When I finished my degree, I moved to New York City hardly knowing anyone. It took a mere few hours in my new apartment to realize I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.

That was four years ago. Each year gets better and work has become steady, but that result has taken constant attention and evolution. Here are some questions that I seem to constantly ask myself throughout this journey.

1. What is your goal?

This may sound like a “duh” question, but this is something that I constantly ask myself. As my career develops I actually find that my answer changes. It’s important to have a degree of focus in your goal, but it’s also equally as important to be flexible.

You may have to journey down some avenues that might not seem so intuitive to reach your goals. For example: if your goal is to be the ultimate side-person, don’t you think it’s important to be a leader at some point to know what a good side-person looks like from a leaders perspective?

It’s also important for your goal to be an informed one. If you plan on getting into the New York Philharmonic or land a major university job right out of college, you might need to realize your goal is not a realistic one. Take a few steps back, come up with goals that act as stepping stones to achieving your dreams.

2. What sets those who are successful on your envisioned career path apart from their peers? 

You’ll find a surprisingly wide variety of variables when you start to examine the careers of others. Though it may seem noble to; don’t limit your examination to musical ability alone. I’ve seen people thrive off of their exceptional business/interpersonal skills.

While someone like Jimmy Heath may have the career you’ve envisioned, it is equally as important to look to up and coming peers that are having success. Living legends started their career in a vastly different industry climate, it’s important to study the changes that have taken place and what is now demanded. This can mean developing a skill doubling, building a small remote recording set up, or knowing music notation software.

3. What skills do you have that set you apart from your peers? If you can’t think of anything… it might be time to develop a new skill.

In today’s freelance climate, it’s important to develop a variety of skills. You may be an exceptional sight reader, but if someone puts changes on your page, can you also improvise? You may be a great improviser, but can you blend in a section? Can you conduct if necessary? Are you able to compose/arrange? Teach? Experience with music technology? There are lots of people who can do one or two of these things extremely well, but the more you can do at a high level, the better. You will also find that many of these go hand in hand. Improvisation demands instrumental proficiency, advanced aural skills, compositional techniques, and rhythmic studies. It’s also worth mentioning, that jack of all trades and master of none is not what I’m talking about. Music is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t force it. With time and effort you will begin to make connections and be able to practice several advanced things all at once.

I also include rehearsal etiquette as a “skill” which includes things like: being on time, promptly responding to emails from a bandleader, not noodling in a rehearsal or warming up super loud before a gig. One piece of advice I received that has worked very well for me is trying to call subs that are better or as good as you. It gives you a chance to call people you look up to, and also shows the band leader that your primary interest is best serving the music. If you get called for a gig and send a bad sub, the bandleader is more likely to replace you. Believe it or not: this can actually lead to contracting work.

4. What am I doing to develop my musicianship? 

Consider that your answer should include things beyond sitting with your instrument in a practice room. Music is about telling a story, and if you don’t experience life, it’s hard to have a story to tell. It is also hard to find out how to reach an audience/effectively communicate with other musicians from inside a practice room.

A big part of developing your musicianship is going to see live music and seeing how other artist connect to you as an audience member. Seek out opportunities to hear live performances of musicians performing music that you may be unfamiliar with or even ensembles that don’t include your instrument. For me, the unfamiliarity factor of the experience helps you understand how universal music is and the powerful feelings it can evoke without excessive analysis.

Take lessons with masters of your instrument. If you are doubling, take lessons from master doublers. If you live in a place where it’s geographically hard to reach one of these people, reach out for a Skype lesson.

Want to learn how to better express yourself musically on that concerto? Learn to improvise and convey your own musical ideas. If you can convey your musical abilities through your own “words”, it will come through much better when speaking the musical ideas of someone else.

5. What am I doing to actively create opportunities for myself and other musicians? 

In many ways, we all rely on each other. There are more opportunities to create work than just being a bandleader. It can be something as little as letting a bandleader know that you know someone who would do a great job on a certain chair if they didn’t already have someone in mind, or something as big as putting a music series together at a neighborhood restaurant, or even getting friends together to play in the subway. This shows that you have initiative, and that you care about the community enough to give back from which you reap benefits from.

You may find that this actual question becomes your goal. If you’re passionate about helping underserved communities, you can start a music series for women band leaders or black artist or gay artist, etc.

It is never too early to mentor. Though I mentioned generally trying to call people better than you, it’s also equally important to give new faces opportunities to learn and grow. Eventually those younger people will be a vital part of our workforce and will remember your generosity.

Five Ways to Treat Your Instrument Right This Valentine’s Day


Okay, so maybe your instrument isn’t the only figure in your life who’s important to you on Valentine’s Day. But maybe it is! Either way, our instruments stick with us through thick and thin and we owe them some gratitude. Show your horn you care this February 14th with a little TLC!  Continue reading

A Focused Approach: Interview with Donna Parkes

About Donna Parkes

donna parkes

Australian trombonist Donna Parkes has been Principal Trombone of the Louisville Orchestra since 2008 and has been Principal Trombone of the Colorado Music Festival since 2009. Prior to this year she played the 2012-13 season with the Utah Symphony and the 2007-8 season with the San Francisco Symphony. Miss Parkes was a member of the Virginia Symphony from 2001-2007 and was a member of the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas for two years. She has performed with many orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Oregon Symphony, National Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Sydney Symphony and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Miss Parkes has performed at the Arizona Musicfest, the Malboro Festival and the Grand Tetons Festival and in 2016 toured with the Australian World Orchestra.  Solo competition successes include winning the Australian National Trombone Competition, the Brisbane International Brass Competition and finalist in the Jeju Brass Competition in Korea. She has appeared as a soloist or clinician at the International Women’s Brass Conference, International Trombone Festival and the Melbourne International Festival of Brass. Miss Parkes received her Masters Degree studying under Charles Vernon at DePaul University and other primary teachers include Michael Mulcahy and Ron Prussing.


1. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do. What do you love about being an orchestral trombonist?

I am Principal trombone of the Louisville Orchestra and the Colorado Music festival orchestra during the summer. I also love chamber music and teaching but my primary focus is orchestral performance. There are many parts of orchestral playing I love, it is such a unique and awesome feeling to be a part of the sound of a full symphony. To be surrounded by and contributing to music-making of that magnitude is fantastic. Another part of the orchestra I enjoy the most is the low brass section and how we function together as a team. I have fantastic colleagues in my orchestra and we are constantly striving to improve ourselves while supporting each other and that is very gratifying for me. Having players beside you that you respect and admire, then working together to have the best low brass product we can is so rewarding and fun!

2. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

As female brass players I think our primary role is to be the best musicians and human beings we can. I have tried to simplify my approach and focus less on being a great female musician but rather to gain respect as a great musician and colleague. There is no doubt the role of being a woman brass player has many challenges and I believe everyone has to find their own path. It looks different for all of us but each woman should feel confident and supported to be her true self. I love that during my career I am seeing more women players and as there are more role models, that will only continue and grow. In the current climate of gender equality awareness I am encouraged that younger women will deal with less of the issues of the past. I strongly believe we need to support one another as women and be brave enough to speak up when situations are not acceptable. Our responsibility is to stand for what is right for yourself and for others every time. To strive to live the principles you believe in – for me that is being a dedicated, respectful and kind musician.

3. Tell us a little about what you do to stay motivated and focused in your job as a musician. How does this relate to your experiences running? (You’ve talked before in an interview with The 8th Position about the physical and emotional benefits of running to you as a person and a trombone player.) Do you feel running marathons has an impact on your daily life as an orchestral musician?

I find holding myself to high standards regardless of the situation has kept me motivated and focused. I try my best to make the best sound I can and to be the most sensitive musician I can – no matter what the environment. Having standards that you expect of yourself means you’re not as affected my all the variables that come up. I love to challenge myself by mixing up my musical diet – chamber music, recitals – anything to keep me fresh and striving for new goals. There is no doubt that for me running has a huge impact on my life as a musician. Purely from a physical standpoint there are benefits, when I am in great running shape I breathe better and playing is just easier. The mental benefits are even greater – running keeps me relaxed and energized. It requires true discipline which as musicians we all have , if you don’t put in the training miles the race will not be a fun day! Distance running in particular challenges your mental grit and having that skill developed is always valuable – if you can get through the last 4 miles of a marathon and stay positive you can achieve just about anything. For me the one the great lessons from running is to run YOUR race for that day – to focus on your best efforts and appreciate that as a success. Losing the attachment to comparisons to other runners and being able to trust your training and run the best you can, for me directly relates to being the best trombonist I can every day.

4. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or when teaching?

There are challenges for the today’s climate and it is continuing to change. Much greater flexibility is required and musicians need to be able to be far more proactive in their approaches. There are no guarantees especially in the orchestral world so having  a wider skill set and being open to different career paths is vital. I encourage all my students to be open minded and try to learn many parts of the musical spectrum. Today you can not wait for gigs to fall in your lap – you need to make opportunities and be excited to try new things. The benefit of this climate is there are now many more ways to have a career in music if you are prepared to put in the time and energy. If you truly love it you can find a way to make it happen.

5. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?

It sure would have been nice to know I was going to have the opportunities I have – but the competitive nature of the orchestral world certainly motivated me. I would have given my younger self a confidence boost of assurance that time and experience has taught me. For younger musicians I would say work as hard as you can – it always pays off sometime down the line. The hours of dedication are invaluable and will give you a sense of pride and accomplishment you can’t get from anything but focused practice. The practice room is the most important place and you need to enjoy the art of the craft itself. Love what you do passionately but remember you are not your instrument – it does not define you. Success and failure are both just lessons to be taken in stride. I would encourage every young woman to find the support to be her authentic self and to speak up loudly when situations are not acceptable. Find mentors and career heroes and ask them all the questions – take in all the information you can. Be true to your principles – because at the end of the day the only opinion that truly matters is yours.

6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life, or anything else?

I have found the Bulletproof musician website to be a great resource and an area we often don’t get enough guidance or help with as a musicians. For me, hearing new players and wildly different interpretations is inspiring. I am also loving all the new great blogs and resources online – there is great information and motivation to be found!

Five New Semester Resolutions and Challenges for 2018

877E13F4-8C01-400E-AE91-3A2669554237Casey Cronan, originally from Milford, CT, holds a bachelor‘s degree in French Horn Performance from New York University and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in French Horn Performance at Purchase College. She has been a member of Washington Square Winds, a woodwind quartet dedicated to performing and commissioning new works, since 2011. Casey recorded on Washington Square Wind’s 2014 album They’re Alive. She frequently performs in NYC with various groups such as Loft Opera, Chappaqua Orchestra, and the New York Opera Exchange.

In honor of the first week of my final semester as a student at Purchase College, I would like to share my New Semester Resolutions and Challenges for 2018:

1. Lose the valves!

One year ago, I signed out the school’s natural horns out of curiosity more than anything.  I found the natural horn to be far more taxing than my modern horn, but it was also rewarding to play classical repertoire on the horn for which it was written.  Although I have enjoyed playing without valves, this horn is unforgiving, meaning I must go back to basics.  Foremost, intonation is challenging, particularly on half stopped or quarter stopped notes, but by using both drones and visual tuning aids, I am improving my ear for natural and modern horn.  The second main challenge of playing the natural horn is that all the work put in bending pitches drains my endurance much faster than other types of playing.  This semester I challenge myself to practice smart.  Expanding my endurance will happen gradually, so I resolve to respect my embouchure instead of imposing more time on the face because I have a practice timeframe in mind.  In the end, relearning the basics of horn playing on a natural horn should directly benefit my contemporary horn playing.

2. Perform difficult, but rewarding works!

Years ago, I happened upon the Henri Tomasi Concerto for Horn and Orchestra and found this piece to be exciting to practice, but too intimidating to consider programming on a recital.  Much of the piece exists in the upper register with several prolonged notes at the top of my register.  It has strange leaps and arpeggios, but should be played as if it is easy.  This semester, I will perform my second Master’s recital at Purchase and although it may be prudent to choose safe pieces, I have decided to program this rarely performed gem in addition to Mozart Horn Concerto 3 on natural horn!

3. Comprehend intricate theory!

For my final semester, I challenge myself to analyze music that I had thought to be inscrutable.  To that end, I have enrolled myself into a course that teaches 20th century post tonal theory. My end-of-semester goal is to understand how selected atonal pieces are constructed, to describe at length the intricacies of works out of the Second Viennese School and to dive into the history.  Students of this course are also encouraged to use these methods to compose and perform works in class.  In the past, I would have dreaded such a test, but I have decided to take control of this final semester and embrace the difficulties and the progress.

4. Turn mock auditions into real auditions!

Occasionally, I would hear of an audition in the area, but I usually balk at the idea of taking an audition. I would make up excuses telling myself that there are surely innumerable people applying for the same job that have more prestigious resumes and renown, so why should I bother?  This semester, I challenge myself to take an audition.  I am fortunate to be in a program right now that incorporates excerpt classes and mock auditions into the curriculum.  With the wealth of resources available to me as a student, I resolve to face my fear of auditions and start taking those risks.

5. Being kind to yourself!

This is the most important resolution that I need to take to heart.  Any time spent talking myself down or thinking I’m not worthy compared to others is time that cannot be spent working toward goals. It is not helpful to derive self-worth from playing everything perfectly all the time, as it has in the past, discouraged me from reaching my potential because I assumed I would not be good enough compared to the innumerable imaginary people who are better than me.  Instead, this semester, I will practice waking up knowing I am already a worthy person just as I am, therefore I should play the horn to earn the life I want, rather than picking up the horn to scrape morsels of fleeting confidence.  I resolve this semester and beyond to be an unshakable friend to myself and welcome whatever the future holds.