By Gianluca D’Elia
“Where do you see yourself five years from now?” is a question that bears tremendous weight for a college student. Even at one of the country’s most prestigious music conservatories, not everyone becomes a professional musician for a living.
At a panel titled “Tutto Voce: Music Careers Beyond Westminster,” alumni will talk about how their education led them to their careers, both in classical music and other fields, on April 27 at 7 p.m. at Talbott Library.
The panelists include Jonathan Slawson, ’09, the manager of Carnegie Hall’s Young Patron Program; Terry Simpkins, ’92, the director of Discover and Access Services at Middlebury College’s Davis Family Library; and Peter Foraker, assistant director of performance services at Lincoln Center.
Even though he is not a practicing professional musician, Simpkins said Westminster helped him in ways he could have not predicted.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say my experience at Westminster changed my life,” he said. “Not necessarily in ways that I would’ve expected prior to arriving, but, nonetheless, in ways that have stayed with me ever since. I met lifelong friends, improved my musicianship immeasurably, and indirectly started down the career path that I am now on.”
Simpkins, who has been a professional librarian for 18 years, was introduced to music libraries first as a graduate student, and later as a member of the Talbott Library staff, where he ran the media center.
Although the upcoming panel will address what the future is like after graduating from Westminster, Simpkins’ advice for current students is not to be anxious.
“Enjoy your life,” he said. “Don’t worry too much about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music. Try not to plan too far in advance or worry too much about the future. Use your youth to explore whatever it is that interests you, keeping your mind open to possibilities. Opportunities will open up for you.”
As a more recent alumna, Elise Brancheau, ’10, said she is glad Westminster is providing students an honest view of post-graduation life. She continued to study voice performance as a graduate student at Mannes School of Music, and said she was primarily focused on getting into graduate school, so she did not concentrate on finding a “day job.”
With two degrees in voice performance and little money left over from working at both the Talbott Library and Mannes’ music library, she was not sure what kind of job she would be working after graduation, or whether potential employers would take her seriously.
“I had been so focused on my studies at Westminster and Mannes — and rightfully so — that when it came time for me to earn money, I was thrown off and scared,” she said.
She said she also wants current students to understand that their careers might not follow a linear path.
“They might be on top of the world one day, winning competitions and singing lead roles, and then suddenly not even get one audition for an entire season,” she explained. “It’s easy to get discouraged when this happens if you’re under the impression that things will consistently get bigger and better.”
Brancheau said she wishes she had sought more experience outside of musical jobs.
“While I was totally qualified to sing in five languages and analyze a Bach chorale, I had no clue what types of jobs I should be looking for,” she said. “I wish I had had the foresight to take some classes in things like business or marketing or writing — something I could put on my resume when applying for jobs.”
Echoing Simpkins’ sentiment, Brancheau said she encourages students to make decisions that feel right for them, regardless of whether they involve performing.
“It will be hard, you might be poor for a while, and you might go down one path and find it’s not for you, but that’s totally fine,” she said.
Printed in the 4/27/16 edition.