Navigating Life after Music School: Dreaming Big with Caitlin Edwards
Today I am happy to share my interview with violinist Caitlin Edwards. Caitlin and I were roommates in Chicago for a short time. Whenever we got a chance to talk she always seemed to have exciting musical projects going. I can see that is still very much the case! I am inspired to learn about all that Caitlin is doing and her passion for music and helping others.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. CE: I began playing the violin at the age of 8 through a non-profit organization in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. I then attended junior high/high school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts where I received free private lessons, theory education, support to attend music festivals, and more. I attended undergrad at the University of Louisville and then moved to Chicago for graduate school at DePaul and a fellowship with the Chicago Sinfonietta.
Pre-COVID, I was actively recording in studio orchestras, performing with my ensemble D-Composed Chicago, teaching, giving recitals, taking orchestral auditions, and traveling/concertizing lol. During COVID, I still do most of these things (thankfully)! I'm doing some remote recording work from home, occasionally recording in person with D-Composed, writing my own music, arranging strings for myself and other people, creating content lol, and also teaching!
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? CE: That's a good question, haha. When I think back on undergrad and even grad school, I don't think I practiced or did enough, or reached my potential. But, I do remember wanting to take advantage of every opportunity that was placed in front of me. So In undergrad, I studied jazz with the jazz guitar professor, and also played in contemporary and Brazilian jazz ensembles, while also singing in the college's gospel choir. I also began promoting myself online, through websites like GigSalad, so that I could become more established in the community and gig regularly. I also reached out to personnel managers at various regional orchestras so that I could generate another source of income. When I moved to Chicago, I was involved in different ensembles and organizations outside of school, and travelled frequently performing/gigging. This really propelled my mindset forward about the business of music and the possibilities that are out there. It also taught me how to juggle different facets of my career, which has really helped me even through the pandemic.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? CE: My biggest challenge was adjusting to being a full time freelancer and coping with not having work for a week or several days. When I was freelancing as a student, I always had school to fall back on when I wasn't performing elsewhere, so it wasn't a huge deal when I didn't have a gig for a week or so. After graduating, I was pretty busy through the summer and early Fall, and finally in November, I had 2 weeks or so where I had no gigs or concerts. This really impacted me emotionally, because I'd been used to constantly being busy or on the go. I felt purposeless and lost. That's when the question came. . . what am I really doing with my life and what do I need to do? With guidance from close friends and my therapist, I've learned to use those empty days/weeks for rest and to do fun creative things!
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? CE: Like many musicians, I've lost auditions, or played performances where I wasn't pleased with how I performed. I won't lie, these things can really get you down, especially if it's a situation where you've traveled and spent money on fees, hotel, etc. Over the years, I've developed a mindset of "what's for me, is for me". So if it's meant to happen, it will happen. So I "shake the dust off of my feet", and move on, having faith that regardless of if I win this job or am asked to play on this gig, God will continue to supply my needs.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? CE: While in school, I wanted to get a job in an orchestra, be a professor at a college, establish an organization that makes string education more accessible to Black and Brown kids, and make gospel-jazz fusion albums. Yes, my career goals have changed and are continuously evolving. Right now, I really want to expand my network for remote recording. I think it'd be cool to get into recording for video games and films. I want to become a pro at Sibelius lol, and really get my arranging chops together so I can arrange music for my favorite artists, commercials, and even films someday. Right now, I am a mentor with the Chicago Musical Pathways initiative which provides many resources to talented students from underrepresented backgrounds. I would like to continue that work later down the line, preferably in my hometown of Birmingham, providing resources to the kids there. I am also working on an EP, the first of many projects I hope to release in my lifetime. I want to travel frequently, performing and teaching and make connections with people across the globe.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? CE: I developed a network of friends, family, and colleagues wherever I traveled or performed. Maybe this was anxiety driven, but I made sure to be super prepared for whatever gig or performance I had. I wanted to make sure that everything on my end was tight and together, so things could run smoothly. I try to stay out of the mess haha, and stay focused on the task at hand, or my goals. I also continued to make sure I was taking advantage of as many diverse opportunities as possible, as long as it made sense financially and time-wise.
ER: I think it's so cool that you played on the soundtrack for the 2019 Lion King film. How did this opportunity come about and what was the experience like? CE: It was truly an amazing experience! I received the email while packing up after a DePaul Concert Orchestra rehearsal, and honestly I thought it was spam. I randomly called a friend to tell him about it, and that's when he told me he received an email as well. This was maybe one of the happiest days of my life. I was contracted as part of the Re-Collective Orchestra, an all Black orchestra started by Stephanie Matthews and Matt Jones. It was a beautiful experience being able to connect again with these amazing Black players from all across the country for this exciting project. It was also really cool to meet the players from LA and also to meet Hans Zimmer! My stand partner regularly played with the studio orchestras there and she was a delight to play next to! It was a fast paced environment, and I believe we recorded for maybe 10 days from 10-5. Being in LA, having fun, occasionally seeing stars like Pharrell and Don Cheadle at the studio, and just the musical experience in itself, really changed my perspective on my life. It felt surreal, and to this day it still does.
ER: You're a member of D-Composed Chicago. Tell us about this ensemble. CE: D-Composed is a chamber experience that champions Black creativity and the work of Black composers in everything we do. This ensemble was founded in 2017 by Kori Coleman and Danielle Taylor. We seek to defy the status quo of what and where classical music should be performed. The ensemble seeks to make this music more accessible, especially in the Black community and artistic spaces outside of the traditional concert hall. We have performed and collaborated with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Garfield Park Conservatory, Stony Island Arts Bank, SOHO House, Apple, Google, and more. Most recently, we made our national TV debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, performing with the artist Jamila Woods. We also host family concerts, catered to the minds of children, sparking their creative understanding of music through cool selections of music, comfortable environments, and our D-Composed coloring books.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? CE: Whatever it is that gets you out of bed, or motivates you to create, follow that! Make sure to show your best self at whatever rehearsal, gig, or performance you attend. No gig is smaller or bigger than the next. Show respect to yourself and whoever hired you by being fully prepared and early to the gig haha! Your time is precious so only fill it with things that fulfill you or makes sense financially. No dream is too big, especially these days. If you have a dream or a vision, no matter how crazy it is, work towards it!
How can people find you?
Coming very soon: www.caitlinedwards.com