Navigating Life After Music School: Finding Your Niche with Danielle Moreau
I first met Danielle Moreau when we played together in the pit ensemble for the musical Cabaret at Arizona State University. The musicians were visible on stage at times and I think we both felt a little uncomfortable with the revealing costumes we were supposed to wear. Danielle and I became good friends and ended up being roommates for two years! Thanks to her I know there is a percussion piece by John Cage that uses amplified sounds from a plucked cactus. I remember she had the cactus in her locker with no light for months and it did fine. Then she brought it to our apartment and it ended up rotting. I love watching Danielle play because not only does she sound amazing, but her whole being exudes the joy and love of music in the moment of performance.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do.
DM: I am a performer, educator, and arts entrepreneur based in Gainesville, FL. Prior to COVID, I was an active freelance musician in the Southeast and performed with a number of orchestras and ensembles. I am also the percussionist and co-founder of the Moreau | VanTuinen Duo alongside my wife, Danielle VanTuinen. I also serve as adjunct faculty at the University of Florida where I teach within the Masters of Music Education program, and as President of The New Works Project, an arts nonprofit committed to creating equitable commission opportunities within music. As a result of COVID, I began working on the engineering team for the LA-based media company Arts Laurate where I am a Guide Track Specialist.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school?
DM: I think taking advantage of any professional opportunity that comes about is the best preparation you can do while in school. While school allows us time to hone our craft, nothing compares to hands-on experience in the "real world". These professional opportunities could range from teaching within the public school system or at a university, to performing with orchestras in your area. Do your best to gain that experience while in school, it will be worth it!
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school?
DM: My biggest challenge upon graduating was entering the collegiate job market. I applied for at least a dozen college teaching jobs ranging from adjunct positions in music theory to tenure-track positions in percussion, and I did not hear back from a single one. It was difficult because I knew I was qualified and did "all the right things" to be considered, but because of the number of people in the exact same position, it is challenging to stand out.
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up?
DM: When I was finishing up my DMA, I developed an overuse injury in my forearm as a result of writing my dissertation...spending countless hours on the computer formatting and reformatting until it was perfect. My biggest mistake was not addressing it early on, because the injury progressed so much so that I couldn't play my instrument for months. There were a number of opportunities I needed to turn down because I couldn't even drive, let alone hold mallets. It took a few years, but I am finally getting back to how I felt before. I'll never play the same, but I know that the patience required to get back up from that was invaluable.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed?
DM: While in school, I wanted to be a percussion professor at a university. This is still true, but I am finding satisfaction in other areas of music so much more now that I am not letting this be the driving force behind my decisions. I really enjoy learning about audio/video recording and am sure this will be part of my career path moving forward. I also found that for me, performing is a real option that I have always loved but didn't think I could commit to. I am now more focused on what I want to do, rather than what I think I should do, and believe that will get me to where I want to be. It makes such a difference!
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful?
DM: During the first few years after graduating, I set up a number of residencies at universities with my duo. This gave us the opportunity to travel, meet new people, perform ALOT, and present masterclasses. We reached out to people we knew first and developed a tour based around those locations. I expected schools to turn us down, but not a single one did. It was definitely one of the best choices we made.
ER: I know you moved a couple of times since graduating with your DMA. What advice do you have for building connections and finding work in a new place?
DM: It is definitely challenging to start a career in a place where you have very few connections. Reaching out to educators and ensembles in the area is a must. For example, when I moved to Florida I asked if orchestras in the area were holding auditions for extra musicians. I took these and did well, and because so many of those musicians know other musicians in the area, I made connections as a result. When I first got to Florida, I emailed all the band directors at the middle/high-school level in Gainesville to let them know I am here and teach privately in the area. I sent an email introducing myself along with a short biography, resume, and flyer about what and where I teach. I also offered to come to their school and work with their percussionists for free, just so we could meet and chat and form a connection. It sounds simple but made such a difference!
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career?
DM: The most important step I took for my career was definitely forming my duo. Even though there are thousands of chamber ensembles in the world, we found a way to be different, to stand out, and to connect with a broad audience. Professors will tell you to find your niche - and that can sound terrifying, because how can you make your mark if your niche is like someone else's? But finding your niche doesn't mean reinventing the wheel, it is just reimagining it a bit.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school?
DM: Employers want diversified employees. They want people with experience in a variety of areas, not just expertise in one. So do what you love and explore outside that box and continue trying new things - you will never know what you love or what you are good at if you don't give new things a shot!
ER: How can people find you?
Duo Website: www.moreauvantuinenduo.com
Duo Instagram @moreauvantuinenduo
Duo Facebook @moreauvantuinenduo