Navigating Life After Music School: Making your Musical Mark with David Earll
David Earll and I first got to know each other as fellow grad students at Arizona State University. In 2019 we reconnected when we ran into each other at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. Dave didn't have to take time out of his busy schedule at Midwest to go and have a coffee and catch up with me, but he did, and that meant a lot. We had a wonderful conversation! I'm so impressed by all that he has accomplished and continues to accomplish but I can tell that this hasn't come at the expense of meaningful connections with family and friends. Dave is a great person who I'm honored to call my friend. Be sure to check out his newly released debut album with a variety of awesome tuba music! https://potenzamusic.com/product/winding-pathway/
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. DE: I work as the Assistant Professor of Tuba/Euphonium at Ithaca College, perform as a tubist in various ensemble settings and as a soloist, and work with young musicians and music educators as a brass/breathing clinician. My biggest ongoing collaboration is in the Northern Lights Duo, which is an international chamber music ensemble with Bente Illevold - a Norwegian euphonium artist based in Drammen, Norway. The Northern Lights Duo typically pursues two large-scale tours each year (although the pandemic has suspended some of those plans), and has performed throughout the United States, Spain, and Norway.
One of my missions as a tuba/euphonium professor is to both demonstrate and participate in a lot of the possible performance veins that my students might grow into after their time in my studio, so beyond the Northern Lights Duo I also maintain a performance schedule with several orchestras (including the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra and Symphoria), brass quintets (particularly the Ithaca Brass and Cayuga Chamber Orchestra Brass Quintet), and have also performed with brass bands (including the Salt River Brass and TallGrass Brass Band) and with wind groups (like the Tempe Symphonic Winds and Rountree Ensemble). This multi-faceted life as a tubist both fuels my creativity and is a very fulfilling way to stay active as a performer.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? DE: My time in music school was guided by some outstanding mentors, both in my studio instruction and in the classroom. One of my central mentors was Sam Pilafian, who's career as a chamber-musician/tubist was an absolute inspiration for me - and what drew me to study with him. He pushed me to begin touring as a soloist and working as a clinician early during my graduate work, which unlocked a lot of important skills for me beyond my playing (like grant writing, itinerary building, networking, marketing and more). Another outstanding mentor in my time in grad school was Deanna Swoboda who really helped me to approach music with an entrepreneurial mindset - looking for new opportunities as part of your ongoing work.
Beyond these great mentors, I took full advantage of opportunities to play in as many ensembles as I could. All that time working with different conductors, collaborating with so many chamber groups, and learning to have a versatile approach to playing with others is something that has been a cornerstone in my work today.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? DE: When I first graduated, I think that I struggled the most with self-doubts and the dangerous trap that we so often fall into as musicians - comparing my work to the work of others. I had moved across the country and was establishing a new network after my time in school, and I couldn't shake the idea that I was somehow behind other musicians. This is such an easy cycle for young musicians to get into, especially with how tempting we find it to follow other musicians through social media - we see our own stumbles and frustrations but feel that nobody else is facing those same hurdles. I think the most valuable lesson I learned during these first few years was to really focus on the central idea that my work had value (so does yours), that I had value (so do you), and that the struggle is part of everyone's journey.
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? DE: Most definitely - who hasn't?! I think that the biggest disappointment I can remember happened while I was in my undergrad, and it really changed my perceptions and dreams as a young musician. My undergrad institution invited in a young composer who had just won an enormous award for a new orchestral composition with a theme of "whale songs." As an impressionable young tubist, I was certain that a piece with that title would have an outstanding tuba part (I mean, after all, the first sounds we make on tuba are practically whale songs!). I went to class, sat in the front row, and was ready to be blown away by this new, award-winning, tuba-centered work... and looked through the score of this piece to learn that the composer had completely omitted the tuba from the work. Crestfallen, I asked this composer "When you had access to a full symphony when writing this piece, why did you choose to leave out the tuba for a piece like this?" His answer, "I just didn't think that the tuba would have fit in with my vision of this piece," left me completely disappointed, and shook my perceptions of what an orchestral tubist's life could be like. If an award-winning composer can simply omit my instrument when writing for orchestra - is that the career that I want to aim for?
I made two decisions and set a goal for myself that day. The decisions were:
-That I would go and I would work where the tuba and the euphonium were integral and valued.
-That I would work to show every composer I met that the tuba is an amazing instrument, and that they should be excited when they can add tuba to their work.
My goal was, and still is:
-Whenever I play for an audience I want at least one person to leave saying "I had no idea the tuba could do that!"
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? DE: I knew early on that my dream was to work as a Professor of Music, and I eventually realized that the ultimate dream was to work as an Applied Studio Professor in Tuba/Euphonium. Beyond this work, I was torn between a number of performance dreams - orchestral aspirations, touring as a soloist, or working as a chamber musician. After my undergrad, I really felt pulled toward the dream of joining or forming a gigging/touring brass quintet.
After I finished school, I won my first job as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville where I taught a variety of music courses and lessons for tuba, euphonium, and trombone. That work was really rewarding, and I also had the great pleasure of performing with the resident faculty chamber group Ensemble Nouveau (which included trumpet, horn, tuba, saxophone, clarinet, and percussion) - which began to really open my ideas about where my career as a chamber musician could evolve. While I haven't ruled out the possibility of joining an actively touring brass quintet down the road, my work with the Northern Lights Duo is incredibly rewarding and has been an incredibly musically fulfilling endeavor - I'm looking forward to our next chapters on the road!
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? DE: I focused on building a network and hustling as a performer/clinician. Beyond striving to build connections with other musicians (not just tuba/euphonium players - any musician!), I began asking my new friends if they would like to collaborate or to perform exchanges between our institutions. I wanted to get more practice not only as a soloist and in performing recitals, but also in presenting masterclasses. I remember that early in my work I performed 18 recitals in one academic year - and the benefit from those experiences was worth the hustle!
ER: Many people struggle with landing a full time college teaching position. What do you believe set you apart and led to your being considered and ultimately hired for your current position as Assistant Professor of Tuba/Euphonium at Ithaca College? DE: I think that this is such an important question - I spent 5 years after my graduation honing my application materials and preparing for these intense interview processes that are part of winning a full time college teaching position. After I won my first job in Wisconsin, I really wanted to move into a position that would allow for me to focus more on my studio teaching and performance career. I was actively applying and began really looking at the winners of recent jobs that I was interested in - I was looking into what set their application materials apart from mine. The central thread that I began to see was that the people who won the jobs that I was vying for had roughly 5-10 more years of experience teaching, touring, and working in the business than I had... this was eye-opening! I decided that I was going to try to put 4 years' worth of work into each year until I was matching my competition's CVs. I focused on making roughly a dozen solo or chamber appearances nationally per year and then organized at least one major international tour every other year in order to get "caught up."
One of my central thoughts on being a successful music professor is highlighting the versatility of your instrument, and I think that the many different things that I do as a performer helped to make my applications stand out.
ER: I understand you've done a good deal of music-related international travel. How did you find or create these opportunities and what were your travel experiences like? DE: I've been obsessed with international travel and building my international network ever since my first trip to perform in Hong Kong with Deanna Swoboda. That first tour started me down a path of expanding horizons and working to connect with other musicians around the globe.
My next tour was in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands - and I was able to make this tour come to reality after winning a competitive grant that allowed me to showcase the music for tuba and electronics by Arizona-based composers. I planned this first major tour on my own, by reaching out to a number of institutions, teachers, and tubists - and the tour formed itself with the help of many generous hosts. After that, I began to expand my network and look forward to future opportunities to return.
Now that I've founded an international duo, all of our collaborations involve a flight across the Atlantic - and this has really opened our options when planning our tours both in the U.S. and abroad. I think that my best advice for anyone starting down this path would be to just take the leap - plan a potential tour, send out emails to see if hosts are interested, and then find funding to support your trip!
ER: Chamber music is an important part of your musical life. What are your thoughts on the role of the tuba in chamber ensembles? Do you have any general thoughts or advice on playing chamber music? DE: I think that the future of our industry is in chamber music! Chamber music allows for you to be your own boss, to choose your own literature, and to design your musical mark on the world. I grew up listening to the music of Empire Brass Quintet, Atlantic Brass Quintet, and Canadian Brass. These ensembles all showcased the tuba in an integral role as a supporter, a driver, and a musical leader. The versatility and flexibility needed in chamber music is what makes it so exciting - and that is where the tuba really shines!
My advice for any aspiring chamber musicians is this:
-Find partners who you can trust, both as people and as musicians.
-Remember that compromise and communication is key. Be sure to define your roles outside of the music clearly (who manages budgets, who sets itineraries, who is the cold-caller, etc)
-Think carefully about your audience and your literature to stay relevant and attractive to multiple audiences.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? DE: Be patient and try lots of things. Say yes to new opportunities as long as you aren't losing money, especially at first! Think of everything as a chance to build your portfolio, expand your network, and as an opportunity to grow. Also, don't be afraid of rejections or setbacks - every musician I've ever met has lost more things than they've won! Keep pushing through, keep using those experiences to learn and to grow. Try to fight the urge to compare yourself to others, especially through the lens of social media. Everyone is working hard, struggling, and succeeding at different times - it's all part of the journey.
ER: Anything else you want to add? DE: I'm so glad to join your awesome roster of musicians featured on this blog, Emmy! This is such a great project, and I'm glad that you're providing such an important bridge into the business to recent and upcoming graduates!
ER: How can people find you? Website: https://www.davidearll.com/
Debut Album: https://open.spotify.com/album