Navigating Life After Music School: Free Yourself from the "Shoulds" with Julia Broome-Robinson
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
I first met Julia Broome-Robinson when I attended a presentation she gave with Dr. Andrew Glendening, "The Art and Science of Trombone Teaching", at the 2018 International Trombone Festival. I knew Julia was currently the Trombone Studio Teaching Assistant at Arizona State University, a position I had held 2013-2015, so I was curious to talk with her, see how she liked ASU, and the current happenings in the trombone studio. In 2019 I saw Julia perform several times at the International Women's Brass Conference, including a lecture recital of Nadia Boulanger songs. I was truly impressed by her beautiful sound and musicianship! More recently I've enjoyed Julia's wellness and inspirational quote posts on Instagram.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. JBR: I’m currently finishing up a DMA in Trombone Performance from Arizona State University, where I worked as a Teaching Assistant and studied with Dr. Brad Edwards while I was completing my coursework. Before that, I did an Artist Diploma with Dr. Andrew Glendening at the University of Redlands (and worked my butt off on ITF 2017!), and before that, I did my Masters in Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m from the Pacific Northwest, and did my undergrad degree at Pacific Lutheran University.
My hometown is a gorgeous place called Gig Harbor. I actually moved during COVID! I had been living in Gig Harbor with my family, and am now located outside of Chicago with my partner. In Gig Harbor, pre-COVID, I was actually teaching elementary music...! That’s definitely not something I EVER thought I would do, but the kids were remarkably inspirational—preschoolers especially. Now that I’m living in Illinois, I’m doing a lot of private teaching. I feel super fortunate to have as many students as I do during a pandemic, especially given how new I am to the area. I’m teaching piano as well as brass, and I currently have about a dozen students. A handful of the students are doing virtual lessons, but many of the pianists are comfortable meeting in person with masks. Outside of teaching, I’m working to finish my doctoral research project, which consists of interviews with three women trombonists who I greatly admire: Emily White, Kirsten Warfield, and Jennifer Wharton. Fingers crossed, but the plan is to be completely finished with the doctorate before Christmas. Woo!
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? JBR: One of the best things was a class on entrepreneurship for musicians, taught by Dr. Deanna Swoboda at ASU. This was one of the only courses I ever had that focused on the practical side of building a career as a professional musician, and I’m so glad I decided to take it. I’ve also found the interviews I’m conducting for my final project to be super helpful, because I’m getting a closer look at what life is like for these working professionals. It really takes the mystery out of it, which is great, AND I get to see that these totally badass women also struggle with insecurity and anxiety from time to time. It’s super encouraging.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school?
JBR: Lack of motivation, burnout, disillusionment. I looked up the definition of ‘disillusionment’ to make sure I was using it correctly, and found this: “A feeling of disappointment, akin to depression, arising from the realization that something is not what it was expected or believed to be, possibly accompanied by philosophical angst from having one's beliefs challenged.” I have thought, often, that the thing I love most about music—the utter joy and beauty and transcendence of performing a major work with a high-level large ensemble—is the thing I will never be able to experience again. Whether or not this is actually true, I’ve felt a profound disconnect from the joy of music for a while now. I think it comes from realizing that the university large ensemble is a very special, unique bubble, and it’s not something that really has an equivalent outside of school. Professional orchestras are wonderful, but the audition circuit can be impenetrable for even the best players, and the jobs are so rare. I have no interest in the military, and I think my ultra-high music school standards will keep me from ever enjoying a community band or orchestra. Basically, my biggest challenge is figuring out what to do with all my degrees and skills, and how to enjoy doing it—at least until I land that elusive university teaching gig, which could be years down the line. What should I do, what do I even WANT to do, what can I do that will make any kind of difference to the world, etc. These are the questions that keep me up at night.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? JBR: My career goal, since my junior year of undergrad, has been to teach trombone full time in a university setting. I’ve always imagined myself as a university professor, teaching and running a studio, but also pursuing my own performance, composition, and research projects. This is still my primary goal, but there are so few of these positions available right now that I’ve started to think more outside the box. These days, I’m more interested in pursuing all those side projects FIRST, to build a reputation for myself (and continue my search for personal fulfillment). Hopefully when one of those university jobs comes up, I’ll have spent enough time doing interesting things and teaching that I’ll have a shot at success!
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? JBR: So far, focusing on my mental and physical health has been very helpful. I took an online course offered by Yale, through Coursera.org, called ‘The Science of Well-Being.’ (Highly recommend!) I’ve also tried to be mindful about my social media use. I’ve been unfollowing people that don’t resonate with me, and also generally trying to limit the amount of time I spend on my phone. I’ve been making an effort to stay connected to the real world, especially during these COVID times.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career? JBR: Attending the 2015 Pokorny Low Brass Seminar at the University of Redlands. It was something I did on a whim, and it completely altered the course of my life. I went on to study at the U of R, where I dramatically improved my playing, worked alongside Dr. Glendening on the 2017 International Trombone Festival (which was the single best thing to ever happen to my resume), and met my partner. So many unbelievable opportunities have emerged because of my choice to go to the seminar that year; I truly believe it was fate.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? JBR: I would say, free yourself from the "shoulds." You might feel pressure from your teachers, your parents, other musicians, society in general, or even from your own old goals—none of that matters. Figure out what you want to do, in your soul, and ask yourself whether the things you’re doing in your daily life right now are getting you to where you want to be.
ER: Anything else you want to add?
Vote!!! (And diversify your bookshelf — I’m currently reading books by Layla F. Saad and Reni Eddo-Lodge.) And, thank you to Emmy for all these great questions!
ER: How can people find you? JBR: I’m most active on Instagram! @juliabroomerobinson