Navigating Life After Music School: Tatiana Pearson Edition
Today I am pleased to share my interview with Tatiana Pearson. Tatiana is a fantastic flutist and, as I've recently learned during this pandemic, a pretty expert visual artist too. Over the past few years I've had the pleasure of performing in several concerts with Tatiana and I always enjoy hearing her beautiful sound. It was great to learn more about her through this interview. One thing that particularly struck me is how Tatiana has been able to adjust her goals when necessary, without giving up on her dreams. I think this is an important mindset to cultivate, especially in a profession like music.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do.
TP: I was always interested in music at a young age. Although many of my family members were/are musical, I was the only one interested in pursuing music in college.
In 2001 when I was ten years old, my mom signed me up to play flute in 5th grade band. Honestly, I didn't know what a flute was! I was more interested in playing the piano, but obviously that was not a band instrument. When I picked up a flute for the first time, I learned how to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" all by ear.
I was very competitive at a young age and worked hard at making sure I always came out on top. My goal was to be first chair and I always seemed to achieve that goal. In 6th grade, I started taking private flute lessons, something I would continue to do for the next 13 years.
I was in a different school district for high school and ended up going to a school that didn't have a band or orchestra program. Even though that sounds terrible, my choir teacher was the best! Not only was I in the concert choir, but I was also in the chamber choir and handbell choir. When we had choir concerts, my choir director usually would program at least one piece that had a flute part in it and I would also be in the pit orchestra for the musicals. I got a lot of experience with choral music and playing musicals and I am so grateful to Mrs. Vicki Taylor for that!
My sophomore year of high school, I was accepted into MYSO (the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra) and would be a part of MYSO for the next 2 years. Looking back, I wish I had joined sooner, but my time with the Chamber Flute Ensemble and the Senior Symphony was incredibly valuable and I was even on a tour as a Senior Symphony member to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, my senior year of high school.
Already in 8th grade, I knew I wanted to be a musician, however, I didn't know how difficult it would be to get into a prestigious music school. I really wanted to study in Europe and applied to the Royal Academy of Music in London... like I mentioned earlier, I had big goals! I would find out that those goals were too far to reach and I would end up going no where. I pretty much gave up on going to college and decided I would just enter the workforce. My parents were not thrilled with this idea and asked my high school guidance counselor if there were any colleges still accepting applicants... in April. He gave us a list of several schools and I got into Bethel College (now University) in Mishawaka, IN. I knew this was temporary as this school had a very small orchestra and I wanted to be in a bigger environment.
I applied to a few extraordinary music schools such as the Cleveland Institute of Music and Juilliard, but again, I was in over my head. I was however accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where I transferred after I finished my freshman year at Bethel. Even though Bethel didn't offer me what I truly desired, I got to perform Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and Carnival of the Animals among other things, and I made a lot of great friends I still have to this day.
During undergrad at UWM, I continued on my pursuit of coming out on top. I made it into the orchestra and wind ensemble my junior year and traveled to NYC as a member of the orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall. If I had not transferred to UWM when I did or worked as hard as I did at my goals, I would not have had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie.
My senior year, I was playing a lot of piccolo and won first place in a concerto competition with my friend Jen Howell on a piccolo duet called "Fluttering Birds" which we performed with the Symphony Band in March of 2013. Also during my senior year, I started doing professional auditions for area orchestras and although I applied to a few notable music schools for grad school, I ended up staying at UWM as the graduate teaching assistant.
Grad school was thrilling, even more than undergrad was. I became principal flute in the wind ensemble and the orchestra and remained as such for all two years of grad school. As I did in undergrad, I participated in as many ensembles and musical opportunities as I could both on and off campus. After I graduated in 2015, I took a lot of auditions throughout the country and participated in festivals. About a month after I graduated, I auditioned for the second flute position for the Rockford Symphony Orchestra and made it to the final round with 3 other great flutists. Although I didn't win, I have been performing with them often ever since as a substitute. I love Rockford! It is a special place for me.
I started teaching at Melk Music that same month and maintained a private flute studio there for about 2 years before moving on to Hartland Music and opening up my current studio in 2017. Also in 2017, I became the adjunct flute professor at Maranatha Baptist University.
I worked really really REALLY hard in the audition circuit during those years post grad school, only to become more and more frustrated. However, I landed substitute positions with many notable orchestras such as the Milwaukee Symphony and Festival City Symphony and have performed with SO many different orchestras, small ensembles, chamber groups, choirs, musicals- everything imaginable. In 2017 I became principal flute of the Milwaukee Philharmonic and in 2019, I became principal flute of the Kettle Moraine Symphony Orchestra.
Currently, I am doing a number of virtual performances with my woodwind quintet (Five's Company) and the Wisconsin Flute Festival, among other future projects I am sure will arise. I am maintaining my flute studio virtually and in person. Covid-19 has sure made it difficult these past 6 months, but I thank God every day that we live in a time where technology is abundant. I am excited for when we can get back to performing together in person again as I truly miss performing in an orchestra.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school?
TP: Right after I graduated, my biggest challenge was reaching my post college goal of landing a full time position in a professional orchestra.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school?
TP: Taking my flute lessons to heart really helped me become an overall better flutist, teacher and leader. Doing every ensemble opportunity both in and outside of school helped me to become a better listener, ensemble musician, and overall person.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed?
TP: As a freshman, my goal was to become like Sir James Galway and be a soloist that toured the world and performed concerti with top orchestras. That goal later changed to me wanting to become principal flute of the London Symphony or New York Philharmonic. As I learned some hard truths, I changed those goals to something more reachable: just get a full time position as a flutist in a professional symphony orchestra!
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful?
TP: Jumping on every opportunity to teach and perform. I think even the gigs that were small and offered little to no compensation helped me put a foot in the door and say to the world, "I am here and I am ready to show you all what I can do!"
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career?
TP: Making valuable connections. From fellow friends and colleagues who gave my name to those looking to hire a flutist or teacher, to my dear flute teacher Jeani Foster who really taught me the ins and outs of symphonic musicianship.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school?
TP: Don't give up! Always be positive and motivated. Always have goals for yourself, no matter how outrageous they may be! Work hard and you will be successful.
ER: I know you are a very skilled visual artist as well as musician. What is your background in visual art and is that also something you are pursuing as part of your career?
TP: When I was 2 years old, I drew animals and I was clearly gifted. I have continued to draw a lot since then and before music really stole the spotlight, you would find me in the art studio! I loved drawing horses in elementary through high school and my drawing skills became better and better. In high school, I was in AP Art (the only AP course I was in haha!) I was starting to get very good at drawing people and won a few awards and recognition for my work during my high school years. But I had to make a choice between art and music and I loved music just a little bit more. However, I continued to draw during my summer, winter and spring breaks and only recently have I really truly dived back into art with full force. Something I have always wanted to do was go back to school and pursue an art degree, but I did some research and realized that I don't need to do that. I can create my own art business right now! Visual art (colored pencil realism) is something I am currently pursuing as a side career to my flute career.
ER: Anything else you want to add?
TP: I just want to tell people, in the music business specifically, not to give up, especially if it is easy to do so during this pandemic. Many people don't know this about me, but I have been in many ups and downs, and during some of my downs, I thought that I made the wrong career choice. However, I am always proven wrong when a random person comes up to me after an orchestra performance and says, "You have such a beautiful sound. I have never heard anyone play flute as amazing as you do and I have heard a lot of flutists in my time. You are truly talented." Or someone on Instagram writes a very complimentary comment on my videos. Not just that, but getting the opportunity to play John Williams with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra and The Nutcracker with the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, among other things, reminds me that I did make the right choice and I am SO happy to do something I love every day and to share that love with my students!!
ER: How can people find you?