Navigating Life After Music School: Enjoying Every Moment With Hugo Saavedra
This week I am happy to hear from my Sistema Ravinia colleague and friend, Hugo Saavedra. I very much enjoy working with Hugo, both as a teacher and performer. As a teacher Hugo is creative and thoughtful. His insightful ideas and philosophy towards music inspire the students and me! Hugo is also a great person to play music with. His musicianship and sense of fun make performing with him a wonderful artistic experience.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. HS: I am originally from a musical town called Ibague in Colombia. I started to play trombone when I was 12 years old at the Ibague Conservatory with my teacher Saul Rodriguez. I played with many groups in the city and then I moved to Bogota DC where I studied my undergraduate at the National University of Colombia with Nestor Slavov. I had the opportunity to play with the Bogota Philharmonic Orchestra and then I won the position as the Principal Trombone with the Bogota Youth Philharmonic in 2015. One of the most important ensembles that helped me in my development as a musician was the Colombian Youth Philharmonic where I had the chance to know musicians from many orchestras in Europe and the USA. I toured with the orchestra for seven seasons in Brazil, USA, Germany, Austria, Costa Rica, Panama, so many memorable concerts in beautiful settings and with the actual Vienna Philharmonic conductor, Andres Orozco. My passion to continue growing as a musician took me to Festivals like the Pacific Music Festival in 2015 where I had the opportunity to know and play with excellent musicians from around the world. In the next year, 2016, I was invited to play with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, one of my favorite symphonies: Mahler's 2nd Symphony. I realized that music is a universal language and there are so many musicians in every culture. In every concert and ensemble I have had the chance to know great artists that have helped me to grow as musician and teacher. Before COVID I had many plans and concerts like many colleagues, and now, everything has been postponed. I had the opportunity to play one of the most exciting concerts ever with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Now I continue teaching in programs like Sistema Ravinia, Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative, Music and Arts and studying my Artist Diploma at Roosevelt.
ER: What was it like to move from Columbia to the United States to study music? HS: Moving from Colombia has been one of the most exciting experiences ever. To tell you the truth, It is not easy to start in a new place from zero, but it is well worth it. Everything started with the program 'Opportunity fund' by the U.S. Embassy who gave me a scholarship to apply for several schools. I was always interested in the brass tradition in Chicago so I decided to study my Masters at Northwestern University. In the first year I learned so much in terms of culture. The community at the school helped me to adapt and enjoy my studies. I was always living in many places and being far away from family is a challenge, but despite the distance the support has been always there. I am not going to lie about the food; it has been very interesting to try new dishes I did not try before. It was hard at the beginning to find the ingredients in the market. I gave my own name to all the plates I made, it was fun! Spending like three hours reading each one of the products and experimenting new recipes have been always fun. In Colombia there are not enough resources, especially in music. Buying an instrument, access to music and a musical store is so hard. Every day I wake up and I continue learning so many things which makes it very exciting. I have had the opportunity to meet great people who helped when I first came, so many friends and awesome people. I am looking forward to having more experiences here in the States!
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? HS: I was always curious about everything, not only related to the instrument, but learning about the culture wherever I go. Always listening to the best mentors at Northwestern helped me to improve and achieve my goals. I also realized that being a musician is a complex variety of qualities, different from just playing the instrument. In life we must be prepared for anything that comes and the school is the small laboratory to try things and take risks. During my masters I learned from each teacher, student, and how to work in a community. Every student at the school has a special quality in the instrument and it is amazing how much you learn from each individual. When things get challenging on the instrument or even in life, we think that we cannot solve it, but there is always a way to make it better and it gets easy once you have the discipline and a clear image of what you want. The school is the place to ask all the questions, try new paths, fail, recover and grow up. Life changes every day and the only thing we can do is to be open and take the right decision. There are things that we do not expect or we do not like to do, however, if we are doing it with a clear purpose and in order to follow what you want, it is possible to achieve it.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating with your master's? HS: When we are finishing school, we start to worry about what is next and that is a normal concern. Especially when you are an international student you start to think where to go. There are opportunities outside of school and we should be prepared, bold, and ready to go even in hard times like right now. I remember I had a time when I was trying to decide on what to do, but everything starts to take a path and you build towards your desire. It is so important to make connections and be patient with what life offers at the moment, it does not make you less of a musician, it helps you to grow and get stronger.
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? HS: I have had many embarrassing moments that at the time looked tragic, but after the time, I can laugh and remember it as a learning experience. Some concerts and performances are as expected, but as musicians we always expect more. Something that has helped me to overcome those situations is the idea that we are not perfect and we only can learn from what happens. At the end we are human and there is no perfection in music, however, we can give our best. My biggest disappointment relating to music was when I decided on moving to Bogota to start my degree. I did not have enough money and I felt like I was going to fail and change my path. At that time I got sick and I did not have money to make a living, however, things got better working hard. I was disappointed when any performance did not go I as practiced and at some point I had to reevaluate what I was doing wrong in my practice and change it. The biggest motivation is to listen to yourself and make the best sound according to the music you are playing.
ER: What are your career goals and have they changed over time? HS: When I was a kid I dreamed about playing and touring with music and it came even before I expected. The Colombian Youth Philharmonic of Colombia made this possible, its work as an organization has helped so many talented young musicians in Colombia. We live in a society where the cost of living is expensive compared to other places, so we have to adapt and do other things that we never thought. However, each experience helps us to grow and move closer to our goal. My goals are clear and every time I wake up is like I am working in order to give the best of me when teaching and performing. One of my plans was to travel to Germany to audition for some orchestras there, however, other opportunities have come and I feel very grateful and lucky with all the things that are happening right now and I cannot wait for what the future has.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? HS: There are many opportunities out of the school and we just have to work towards them. Connecting with people and researching about places you would like to be part of is a process that takes time but is worth it. After graduation I started to work at Sistema Ravinia and it has been such a great experience teaching and understanding every student. It is like coming back to when I was starting on my instrument. This is a great way to share the experiences lived and at the same time learn from them. I was also playing with some local orchestras in Chicago after graduation and I was teaching a masterclass in my hometown, Ibague. Making connections and asking for opportunities is always a good tool to start.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career? HS: The most important step that I took was continuing studying music after high school. One thing leads to another and I never thought I would have the dream of waking up in different cities, playing great music in the best settings and sharing these experiences through education. Taking auditions for programs like: Filarmonica Joven de Colombia, Youth Orchestra of the Americas and Pacific Music Festival have been some of the most important steps to understand how it feels to play in a orchestra and what the music world looks like. Working and designing goals in short and long-term have been part of my process and I always asked for advice and help from people that have had great success.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? HS: Be curious and always have a plan! The school is the best lab to explore your best you. Ask questions and analyze how you can use the information for yourself. Everyone learns from each other. Enjoy school because it is one beautiful opportunity you enjoy with other people only once in your life. Our minds are taking in information around us every second. We filter all this information and apply what is the most useful according to us.
ER: Anything else you want to add? HS: Enjoy every moment and be persistent even more in this time!
ER: How can people find you?