Navigating Life After Music School: White Hot Tenacity with Keegan Norman
Keegan Norman has been one of my best friends since we discovered a shared love of Chicago sports teams in my first year at Arizona State University. Keegan's exuberant personality and, as he says, "white hot tenacity" help him to navigate the challenges of a musician's life with enthusiasm and persistence. I'm grateful to Keegan for introducing me to the amazing sounds of classical guitar, being my Cubs buddy in Arizona, and most of all,
for always being a true friend. Recently Keegan was hired as Director of Guitar at Howard Middle School of the Visual and Performing Arts in Orlando, Florida.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. KN: I came from a moderately musical family. My parents and grandparents were musical enthusiasts, but none of them pursued an instrument professionally. There was always music around the house and I developed an attachment to music very early in my life. My current job is Director of Guitar at Howard Middle School of the Visual and Performing Arts. I teach all levels of Guitar from beginning to advanced and direct the various ensembles for each level of study.
ER: I know you played in a rock band before college. What made you decide to study classical guitar? KN: I discovered classical guitar almost by accident! I was working at Barnes and Noble and trying to figure out what I wanted my "next step" in life to be. The band scene was losing it's appeal to me, but I knew whatever I was going to do in life it had to involve guitar. One day we were having some sort of event at the B&N where I worked and a local classical guitarist came in and played for a few hours. That was when I knew that was what I wanted to do. I got his card and signed up for lessons with him immediately.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? KN: Lot's and lot's, and a few more lot's of composition and arranging! I would say the two skills I use more than anything else I learned in school (besides guitar, of course) are my aural skills and arranging. I am CONSTANTLY making arrangements of things for both private students and the ensembles I teach at the middle school where I work. All that theory, composition, and ear training have made this aspect of my job a thousand times easier.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? KN: Pursuing a job in higher education!
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? KN: Yes. My final year of my Masters Degree I developed tennis elbow and couldn't play my final recital. I couldn't play guitar at all for over 6 months and had to delay graduation a whole year. That SUCKED. I'm extraordinarily lucky that I have a few doctors in my family who spent far too much of their time on the phone with me to help me get over that stuff. Getting back up was a combination of solid medical advice, and, as anyone who knows me will attest, white-hot tenacity.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? KN: In school, my primary goal was to get a full-time position at a college or university. That goal has changed slightly after working part-time at a community college and seeing how their business model has changed over the last few decades.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? KN: Building an extensive studio of private students! That was what helped me bridge the gap between school and the "dream job", without having to work out of field. It was rewarding and engaging work, that also allowed me to pay the bills.
ER: Looking back, what do you consider to be the most important step that you took for your music career? KN: Accepting a job that was at the bottom of my list, but was the only one offered! I taught for four years at a community college that I was hoping wouldn't be my only option, but turned out to be the only one who called. It was generally a positive experience and it gave me the experience I needed to get my current job, which I absolutely love.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? KN: Get to know your professors, because pretty soon, they're going to not only be your peers, but will be in a position to help you get jobs. These people are a wealth of connections and information and can help you and your career in countless ways. The first thing I did when looking for jobs in higher education was to call several of my former professors and have a long talk about "the business". It paid huge dividends.
ER: Anything else you want to add? KN: Be flexible and open minded. This career path can be intimidating, but opportunities often come along that you're not even looking for.
ER: How can people find you? KN: Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/KeeganNorman