Navigating Life After Music School: Taking Big Risks with Brian Johnston
This week I have the pleasure of featuring fantastic trombonist Brian Johnston. During the COVD-19 pandemic Brian has created a YouTube channel that is a great resource for low brass players. The channel has orchestral excerpts that you can play along with! Check out the link at the end of this post. I don't know Brian well so it has been nice to learn a little of his musical story.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. BJ: I'm the 2nd trombonist with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and a regular member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Due to the pandemic, I'm now furloughed with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, but performing plenty of chamber music with my friends/colleagues in the brass section. I'm also doing quite a few online/in-person lessons through zoom.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? BJ: Beginning late in my undergrad I went out of my way to find whatever playing gigs I could whether it was free, or barely paid. By the time I got to my master's degree I knew I had two years to establish myself as a freelancer as well as build my private lesson studio. By the end of my master's degree I was already making a living freelancing and teaching trombone lessons. This helped me feel comfortable to continue pursuing a career as a performer.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? BJ: I had to take about 15 auditions after my master's degree before I won my first job. I didn't advance until my 4th audition, and didn't make finals/achieve "runner-up" status until around 10+ auditions. Until winning my first job, I was questioning if this was for me...
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? BJ: Between my 2nd & 3rd years of undergrad, I dropped out of college thinking that I didn't have what it took to be successful as a trombone performer. I had a lot of back-up from friends and family suggesting that I return to school and at least finish my undergrad degree before making any substantial life decisions. I'm glad I had the support system to encourage me to continue.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? BJ: Since my first year of undergraduate, my goal was to be the best musician that I could be by the time I won my first job. I would say that changed during the pandemic. I am now trying to find creative ways to make money performing, because it's the thing I love the most.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? BJ: I luckily won my 1st job about 6 months after graduating, so my goals were just to be a good person, play well, and make sure I get tenure. To put it simply, an un-relenting amount of studying and motivation to succeed are the actions that I would say made me successful.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career? BJ: To be honest there are many. I'd say taking big risks and being willing to fail made me a better musician. When I would "fail" during these risks, I would emerge the following day 10x stronger than the day before, and would never make the same mistake twice.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? ER: Do everything you can to prepare yourself for the future. Look for any gigs whether they're community orchestras, low-paying gigs, teaching etc... Do everything you have the energy/time to do. Get the skills & knowledge now, so you have a relatively full schedule as much as you can (with the exception of this pandemic of course!) To put it simply... Work your butt off every day!
ER: Anything else you want to add? BJ: I have found listening to be more important than practicing. If you find yourself not having the time to physically practice or in a position without your instrument, I have found that a solid amount of listening to an orchestra or your instrument's solos fills the void of practicing, and for me personally... I find listening to be more crucial than practicing.
How can people find you? YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/BrianJohnstonTrombone
This is a low brass practice tool for you trombone/tuba players. It's free and helps you prepare for post-COVID!