My previous article "The Master Pedagogue” addressed various aspects of teaching using data collected from master teachers across the United States. There were many common threads between responses, but rarely did everyone surveyed answer unanimously. One of the few concepts every survey participant agreed upon was this: Developing yourself as musician is at least somewhat important to developing yourself as a teacher (67% said it was crucial). One of the other points everyone agreed on was that having a vast depth of knowledge was also crucial to being successful in teaching.

After the results of that survey and a reflection on my own development as a musician, I believe that developing ourselves as musicians and professionals is key to the success of our careers and increasing our knowledge. Below you will find two strategies for professional development that I think every musician needs. I certainly need them!

Attend Conferences as Often as Possible

Before I began attending conferences, I thought that most people did it for the line on the resume. And while it is true that conferences give you more professional accolades (along with other stock cv/resume content), music conferences are unique because music is an art. One of the joys of building a career in music is that we are doing what we love, even if it hurts at times. We can go to bed at the end of the day with the comfort of having done something that truly matters to us. Another joy of having a music career is meeting people who feel the same way.

Last year, I applied to perform at the 38th International Saxophone Symposium and the 2016 North American Saxophone Biennial Conference, both nationally and internationally recognized saxophone conferences in their own right. Along with my colleague Courtney White, I submitted a recording of Gregory Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata for alto saxophone and clarinet, expecting to get into one or the other (or none). Sure enough, in December I received notice that we had been invited to perform at the International Saxophone Symposium. However, to both of our surprise (and joy!) we later received notice that we had also been accepted in the NASA Biennial Conference. After some consideration, and after consulting our respective budgets, we decided to travel to both conferences and perform. Later we made contact with Greg and he informed us that he would be attending both conferences and the beginning of a collaboration was formed.

Performing at both conferences proved to be a daunting (and exhausting) task that stretched us both beyond our musical abilities and grew us as professionals and musicians. We discovered firsthand the demands that travelling and performing puts on us and had the wonderful opportunity to get feedback from Greg and continue to improve our performance and deepen our understanding of the work. In addition, the performances that we heard were amazing and presented inspiring moments that will continue to affect us throughout our careers. I heard many great ensembles and soloists, had meaningful conversations with professionals, and got to experience “the life” outside of school. I met Victor Herbiet after hearing his performance of his composition The Four Elements and ended up programming the work on my graduate recital, which gave us the opportunity to collaborate and develop a professional relationship.  

Now I have returned from Canada, having participated in the Edmonton International Academy of Music at the University of Alberta. I made many great friends, formed professional relationships with saxophonists from around the world, and had amazing experiences working with top professionals in the saxophone world, just as I did when I participated in the 2015 Frederick Hemke Saxophone Institute in Maine. I’m so glad that I decided to invest in these opportunities to travel and learn more about the art of what we do as musicians. I thought I knew in advance what results these projects would yield, but I really had no idea the depth of the advantages that these events provided me. All that to say - you never know what an experience can lead to, so make as many experiences happen as you can!

Develop a Side Project (Or Two)

I have two degrees in saxophone performance – a BM and an MM. What does that mean? Simply put, I play the saxophone and work really hard, so sometimes people like hearing my performances. Beyond helping me recruit students for private lessons and getting my foot into various doors, my degree does many other things for me, including: 

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If I am to make a career in music I have to develop other facets of my musicianship to make me more marketable. Thus, I have many side projects that I spend my time on outside of practicing, performance, or teaching. This blog is one of those projects. Another one of those projects is arranging. I spent a portion of my time in my undergrad arranging music for saxophone quartet, along with a couple small compositions that will hopefully never see the light of day. But by doing those projects I have developed skills which I can put into action by offering music arrangements as one of my main selling points to directors, studio teachers, and other saxophonists.  

My other ongoing project is developing a database of unaccompanied saxophone works, including sheet music, audio and video recordings, papers, etc., in the hopes that I will build a substantial body of knowledge that I can share with others. Once I have a decent amount of information, I can begin marketing myself as a specialist on unaccompanied saxophone and begin arranging lecture recitals, tours, etc. that will lead to more experiences and opportunities.  

These projects help me refine my skills and build a unique repertoire that I can distribute to other potential clients. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make money off this (eventually)! Even if I don’t, these projects will help me build connections, expand my inner circle of professional relationships, and contribute to the musical world so they are worth the time and effort.

Be Different!

As musicians, we get to engage in the arts in new ways, always learning and bringing fresh perspectives to broad concepts, and creating relationships that can yield unexpected, wonderful results. I challenge you to find new ways to stretch yourself beyond the practice room. Find a topic that really interests you and research it to death, or figure out what your non-musical talents are and see if you can incorporate them into what you do. Professional development can simply mean anything that helps you grow into someone who stands out from the crowd. What does professional development mean to you? Share in the comments below!