Navigating Life After Music School: Practicing Versatility with Wen Wu
Besides meeting new people, another benefit of this blog is connecting with friends that I don't have the opportunity to see often. Shengwen (Wen) Wu and I don't live in the same state anymore, but we have been good friends since we took History of Opera together at Arizona State University in the spring of 2013. Wen is an extremely versatile musician and visual artist. As you'll read, she plays in a wide variety of ensembles. Her primary instrument is the clarinet, but she also sounds great on the saxophone and flute. During non-pandemic times she is an active performer in pit orchestras for musical theater where she regularly plays all of these instruments in the same show! I did say musician AND visual artist. Wen makes the most amazingly intricate artwork out of paper (quilling) and creates beautiful drawings and paintings that have lots of personality. Didn't I tell you she's versatile!
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do.
WW: I received my bachelor's degree in music from Northern State University, masters and doctoral degree on clarinet performance from Arizona State University. I am a woodwind musician and educator. I'm the clarinet instructor at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona, woodwind musician at Arizona Broadway Theatre, leader of a Dixieland band (Lava Hot Jass Band), and woodwind musician for a Brazilian band (Bossa Brazil). After COVID, theatres and live music places had to shut down. So right now I'm mostly teaching.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school?
WW: First, of course, is to practice very hard. I wanted to play musicals or in different bands on different woodwind instruments, so I took secondary lessons, and tried to practice and sound good on all my instruments. I also joined lots of local bands, built up some connections, and asked lots of people to be their sub for opportunities.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school?
WW: Job hunting and setting boundaries in the real world.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed?
WW: I wanted to be a woodwind professor at a small university in a big city so that I can teach during the day, and play shows at night. Then a few years ago I wanted to be a touring musician... My career goals have changed many times due to reality haha! Right now I just want a full time job, no matter teaching or performing.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful?
WW: I honestly think that I got lucky. I think because of the relationships that I built while I was still at school people remembered me.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career?
WW: Learning multiple instruments and finishing the DMA degree.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school?
WW: Most likely, no one will get the dream job right after graduation from school and that's OK. When we don't get what we want, sometimes it's very depressing and we start to doubt our decisions. The key is not to get burned out by music or the journey to a successful music career.... And sometimes it's OK to take a break, to recharge. A lot of people are facing the same struggles, you are not alone.
ER: I know you've worked hard on mastering doubling instruments. What opportunities have you gained from your woodwind doubling skills?
WW: As an educator, I can teach not only my primary instrument, but other woodwinds. As a performer, I can be a part of different bands/ensembles. So financially I get more. Personally, learning different instruments helps me to have deeper understanding of instruments' characters, and to be more flexible and to have more control of all of my instruments. More importantly, life will never get boring. There's always something, some instrument to practice. haha!
ER: How can people find you?
For booking my band: https://www.lavahotjassband.com/ (like and follow us on Facebook and Instagram!)
For my music Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wenwenwendawu/
For my art Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wenartcraft/