Navigating Life After Music School: Putting Yourself Out There with Matthew Makeever
This week I'm very happy to feature my good friend, Matthew Makeever. Matthew and I met almost two years ago when we played together in the orchestra for the musical Wonderful Town with the Falls Patio Players. Soon after that I had the opportunity to play and perform under Matthew's baton and direction with the Milwaukee Philharmonic. I learned that I love being a part of ensembles that Matthew directs because he is always respectful of the musicians and conducts clearly and musically. It really feels like we are all a team working together to create something magical!
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. MM: I come from a very musical family, and music was just part of my upbringing, and made the most sense for me to pursue as a career. I received my Bachelor's degree in Music Education from Montana State University, with my primary instrumental emphasis being the trumpet, and my father, Jerry Makeever, was my teacher. After graduation, I spent 2 and a half years performing with the Bozeman, Helena, and Billings Symphonies (Montana Orchestras), studying orchestral conducting privately with Matthew Savery (former Music Director of the Bozeman Symphony), substitute teaching in the Bozeman School District, and maintaining a private trumpet studio. In 2014, I entered into the Master's program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and earned a double-emphasis degree in orchestral conducting and trumpet performance. During my final year at UWM, I formed the volunteer orchestra, the Milwaukee Philharmonic, and kept the orchestra running until the beginning of Covid. From 2017-2019, I was the Operations Director for the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, while also maintaining a moderate freelance schedule. In the fall of 2019, I entered into the DMA program at the University of Utah, where I have completed 3 semesters toward my conducting degree.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? MM: The biggest challenge for me was keeping busy and finding work. In Montana, unless I wanted to stay and teach in the public school system, there weren't that many opportunities. I did as much as I could in terms of paid freelance work, but it wasn't enough to make a real living. Post graduation from my Master's degree, I found it challenging to maintain a practice regimen on the trumpet, as I no longer had access to a private practice space.
ER: You took time between both your undergraduate and master's degrees and master's and doctorate. Do you feel this was beneficial for you? If so in what way? MM: I do feel it was beneficial for me to have time in-between. I didn't feel the school burnout that some people do moving from degree to degree right away. It allowed me to appreciate what it is like to be in school, and to really cultivate the energy to do my absolute best work.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? MM: Applications for sure! Videotaping every rehearsal and performance, and making sure that I kept my reel current and found the best material to put into the reels. Also, after graduation from my undergrad, and once a year (money permitting), I attended conducting workshops to get tape and to make professional connections.
ER: What made you decide to pursue conducting as your main focus? MM: The answer to this question is very long, and could stem from a multitude of areas, but believe me when I say that it was in the cards for me to pursue this for my whole life. There are videos of me emulating John Williams leading the Boston Pops when I was 2 years old (using a phone book as a "score"), and photos of me conducting members of my family (including the family dog) as a pretend orchestra. When I was playing in the ballet orchestra, I cycled through many conductors conducting the same piece (the Nutcracker), and once I realized I had a familiarity with the music beyond my part, and had opinions on phrasing, balance, blend, etc., I then thought that my talents were better suited for in front of the orchestra, rather than inside.
ER: Is it challenging to keep up with practicing and performing on the trumpet now that you are a conductor? If so what has worked for you? MM: It is incredibly challenging. Honestly, I hadn't picked up the trumpet in a serious capacity in nearly a year. I practiced more during the pandemic as I was at my parents house, but hadn't performed seriously for a long time. It wasn't until I needed to participate on the trumpet for my Baroque Performance Practice class that I began to practice again.
ER: You are the Founding Music Director and Conductor of the Milwaukee Philharmonic. Tell us about this orchestra and how it was founded. MM: Honestly, the orchestra just came together when the co-founder, Colin O'Day had the idea to perform Beethoven 7. The orchestra came together so fast and played at such a high level from the start. We had so much fun with this project, and just ran with it. 12 performances later, and we are still here. We have been lucky to partner with local churches who have donated their spaces to us, and had one incredibly amazing opportunity to premier a brand new work by a local living composer (Penny Corris) at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center.
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? MM: I could ramble on about the disappointments of failed auditions, or the myriad of rejection letters/emails I have kept to showcase the overall journey, but I think the biggest disappointment has been the inability to perform safely during the Covid era. This summer produced no gigs, and because of this pandemic, I have taken a break from my DMA this semester so I can make some more money before heading back to school. I think knowing that music will be exceptionally more special after this pandemic has taught me to not take what we do for granted, and that our gift to the people is our art.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career? MM: Not being shy or scared of putting yourself out there. My conducting technique may not be perfect; our performances may not be perfect; my rehearsal technique may not be perfect;...but that is what makes us different artists. We need to embrace what separates us from the rest of the people in our industry, and celebrate our accomplishments.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? MM: Make as many friends as you can in the industry, and always celebrate everyone's accomplishments and achievements. It is hard not to be cynical and depressed if we lose jobs or opportunities, but we need to celebrate the fact that these opportunities exist, and we can all take the opportunity to learn from our colleagues.
ER: Anything else you want to add? MM: Emmy, this has been so much fun to participate in, and I thank you so much for this opportunity. What you are doing post graduation is so creative, and I love that you are navigating new ways to engage artists in their crafts, to showcase their stories, to not hide that the struggle is real for all of us artists, and to bring us closer together as we journey through this pandemic together apart. It is such a joy to know you and to be your friend. Looking forward to making music again soon!
ER: How can people find you? MM: Facebook is always good. Personal page: https://www.facebook.com/mjmakeever
Artist page: https://www.facebook.com/matthewmakeeverconductor
Email me as well: Matthew.firstname.lastname@example.org