Navigating Life After Music School: Making the World a Better Place with Lauren Rudzinskas
I'm really excited to feature Lauren Rudzinskas for this blog post. Although I vaguely knew of her as the person in charge of the International Women's Brass Conference, it wasn't until I was lucky enough to be roommates with Lauren at the 2021 International Trombone Festival that I got to meet and spend time with her. Now I know she is a fun, kind person with a dog named Sushi! I also know that she does many amazing things to better the musical community and our world. I can't wait for you to learn about all of her wonderful projects!
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. LR: I am currently the trombonist in Calypsus Brass and General Manager of the International Women's Brass Conference. I'm also the founder of the Virtual Trombone Workshop and previously was a part-time professor of trombone and euphonium at Mansfield University. I have a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music where I also received a Performer's Certificate and minor in Pedagogy. Like many people, I started the trombone in elementary school. I went on to get an undergraduate in Jazz Studies and received a masters and doctorate in classical trombone pedagogy and performance.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? LR: While it made it challenging at times, I am most glad that I rarely said no. I constantly pushed myself to be actively working in the field while in school. When I was in undergrad, this meant teaching lessons and running a jazz combo that gigged a few times a week. As a graduate student, I had multiple assistantships, a large private and collegiate studio, and arts administration work. In both ways, I made opportunities happen for myself so that I could get real experience while still being surrounded by a support system of colleagues and teachers. So, when I graduated, not much changed for me because I had already been doing all of the things. I was already experienced at managing my time and interacting with people as a professional and not a student. I am also so glad that I worked in arts administration and had incredible supervisors who introduced me to a lot of useful programs and gave me experience in graphic design and web design/management. Those skills have come in handy so much, especially in the past year!
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? LR: Definitely my biggest challenge was graduating during a pandemic. My last semester of coursework was in March 2020 when everything first shut down. Like everyone else, I had masterclasses, tours, and recitals cancelled due to the pandemic and found myself finishing out my time as a student in a very unexpected way. Once the degree was finished, I struggled a lot - and to be perfectly honest - still struggle with the uncertainty of the music field right now. I am so grateful for the job that I have now, but I do sometimes wrestle with how different my life looks than what I had planned. I think that, since the pandemic, I have been working to find ways to provide focus in my projects and work towards my goals despite the restrictions and lack of opportunities happening now. It has been easy for me to look at what other people are accomplishing and feel inadequate and worry that I am not doing enough to get to where I want to go. We all went into music school with an idea of how it would go and what would happen when we got out, so adjusting to the new normal was definitely, and is still, the biggest challenge I've faced post-graduation.
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? LR: Before the pandemic, I had finally gotten to a place where I genuinely was not upset when I was not chosen for something. In 2020, I was a finalist for the University of Denver trombone position and when I walked away from that experience, I honestly was just proud of myself for going in, playing my best, and giving it my all. While I did not win the job, I learned so much from that experience. The same is true for every other time I have been a finalist whether for college teaching or orchestral auditions. This being said, for many years I would do something I referred to as "going dark." I would have something happen, and as someone who has always been extremely hard on myself, I would go to such a negative place that it would be quite hard to crawl out. One of these times happened after I had messed up my face practicing incorrectly and had a poor run-through of a dress rehearsal for an undergraduate recital. My jazz trombone teacher pulled me aside after the rehearsal and could see that I was going to that negative place. He recommended that I step away from it all and walk around a park. All I wanted to do in the moment was go back to the practice room, but as we all know, that would have been the worst thing to do. So, instead, I took his advice, rested my face, and played so much better in my recital. Since then, I've tried to make more of an effort to prioritize my emotional well-being. For me, that often means taking a walk, calling a friend, or baking. But really, it's about finding what relaxes and rejuvenates you, and making space in your life for those things.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? LR: I have known for as long as I can remember that I want to be a studio teacher at the collegiate level. I was fortunate to be able to teach at Mansfield University for three years and that experience solidified that, without a doubt, my dream is to teach full time. I love arts administration and performance and always see that being a big part of my life, but my heart has always been in teaching and I hope to return to it soon.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? LR: While I haven't had too many years to look back and see whether the choices that I made were successful for my long-term career goals, I have taken some actions that I am proud of since graduation. When I stopped being a student, I found that I had much more time to devote to the musical interests that were important to me. Because of that, I've been able to get involved in a great deal of organizations working to promote equity and inclusion in the music community. These include the Virtual Trombone Workshop, an organization I am proud to have founded and directed whose mission was to create an inclusive, diverse community of trombonists to bring people together during the pandemic. I am proud to serve on the advisory board for both the Chromatic Brass Collective and Future in Music Program, as well as being involved with Diversify the Stand. Through my job with IWBC, I have been so excited about some of our projects including the Mentorship Program, Brass Flexibilities, and conference initiatives. These organizations are doing so many incredible things and I feel fortunate to be able to play a small part in that. I believe that as human beings, it is our responsibility to make the world a better, safer place. Throughout the past few years, I have striven to use my time and resources to support endeavors that align with this mission.
Since I graduated during the pandemic, my post-graduation path in terms of performances was atypical of most young professionals. It has consisted of a lot of virtual collaborations, commissions, and premieres of new works. I recently have been invited to do more in-person performances such as the International Women's Trombone Choir, Athena Brass, and a Big Band CD tour and recording session. However, the performance highlight is definitely Calypsus Brass, a brass quintet of which I'm a founding member.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career? LR: I think the most important step was trusting in myself and forming a more positive relationship with myself. If I had to describe my young trombonist self, I would say that I had toxic perfectionism. Nothing I did was ever good enough and imposter syndrome made me never truly believe in myself. I was able to get a handle on typical performance anxiety symptoms early on, but it wasn't until I began to trust myself and enjoy the music that I was making that I started achieving at a level I was and am really proud of. As a jazz trombonist and almost always a minority in the studio, I had a lot of voices and micro-aggressions over the years as a student that would eat away at my self confidence. It wasn't until I went to my first IWBC conference and began to develop a network of true friends that I started to see what was happening and find healthier ways to cope. I began to take a step back and look objectively at the things I was accomplishing, the way I was playing, and the insane amount of classwork, assistantships, and outside jobs that I was juggling. I'm now in a place where I am proud of the person I am striving to be. My perfectionism is a part of who I am that I love because it motivates me, but it is no longer something that I allow to control me or create fear.
ER: How did you start working for the International Women's Brass Conference and what do you currently do as General Manager for IWBC? LR: I began working for IWBC when I was a graduate student at Eastman. I had a fantastic supervisor in the Institute for Music Leadership who told me about the opening. I did not think I'd have any chance getting it but she convinced me to apply and the rest is history! I love my job because I do a little bit of everything. The bulk of it is managing day-to-day operations, planning the conference, and a lot of graphic design, web design, and social media marketing. The best part of my job, by far, is the people that I get to interact with. Not only are the IWBC members I work alongside superstar, inspirational musicians, but they are also incredible people who have been truly supportive of me.
ER: I understand you've recently been part of starting a brass quintet that consists of all females with doctoral degrees in music. What are your plans and goals for this group? LR: I have! We are so excited about the group. We are called Calypsus Brass. I co-founded this ensemble with 4 other outstanding musicians, all of whom have doctorates, the first of its kind. Calypsus Brass is committed to prioritizing recording and performing works of historically marginalized composers to uplift the highest quality of music. As such, we are proud to be the Ensemble in Residence for Rising Tide Music Press and active commissioners. This has been a way to take my desire to uplift all voices in the music community and make a tangible difference through performance so it has been such a joy.
Right now, we are actively making recordings of new works that have not been premiered or we are commissioning. We are also working hard to promote composers and encourage people to diversify the repertoire they teach and perform. It is also important to us to support other organizations with similar missions which is why we recently put on a benefit concert for the Lift Music Fund.
We have a handful of concert series performances and masterclasses in the books that we are looking forward to and are also booking virtual masterclasses and presentations so that we can help to promote our mission of equity and inclusion in the arts.
One interesting aspect of Calypsus is that we all live in different states. I hope to see this group doing in-person outreach and masterclasses in the near future as well as having some in-person recording sessions soon.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? LR: One piece of advice is to make time to connect with people both in performances and socially. However, don't compromise your values just to fit in. Find your people, the ones who you can really be yourself with, and treasure those friendships. When I was a student, I often felt pressured to go to events or do things that really felt like networking in the worst way. I thought that if I wasn't able to talk about the latest basketball game and be one of the guys, that I'd never get called for a gig or asked to play on a recital. People give a lot of different advice on this topic so feel free to take mine with a grain of salt, but I feel that it was better to use my extremely limited free time to socialize with people who brought joy to my life and did things that I found fun and relaxing.
If there is a situation you are uncomfortable in, and especially one where you don't feel safe, it is one hundred percent okay to remove yourself from that situation. There will be more gigs, more ways to interact and network with people. If a bar hang is not your scene, invite your studio friends to a quartet reading session or something else that you enjoy. You can make your own opportunities to make connections without sacrificing your integrity. The same is true of recent graduates. We all get so much pressure to go to all of the hangs, be present everywhere even if it means getting no sleep and spending money we don't have. I believe that if you are a good person, work hard, and show up as an excellent player and super prepared, that you will find the right fit both in friends and gigs.
ER: Anything else you want to add? LR: Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of the Navigating Life After Music School Blog!
ER: How can people find you?
Please feel free to reach out anytime, I'd love to get in touch!