The year after graduation is tough, that's one thing on which we can all agree. Suddenly you're in charge of your day to day concerts, contracts and commitments, with many of us on the unpredictable path of self-employed freelancer. It's really important that whilst we're dealing with this lifestyle change that we're looking after ourselves. Not comparing ourselves to others, especially not comparing ourselves to the versions of others we see on social media assuming that is an accurate insight into someone's daily diary. That's why I've created this series, to help and reassure all of us that everyone is going through the same thing.
This month, I'm really excited to be joined by a composer who has had her works performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, to name but a few. During her career she has won various competitions such as the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall International Composition Competition’ and 3rd Prize in the International Antonin Dvorak Composition Competition. We're also proud to have her as a Royal College of Music graduate. It's with pleasure, I welcome Dani Howard to 'The Graduate Interviews'!
How have you found life since graduating from the Royal College of Music?
I loved my four-year experience of studying at the RCM, though since graduating I have felt a sense of real freedom in my work and personal life, that I have really enjoyed. I graduated in 2015, and the last four and a half years have been so incredibly varied, with such a range of experiences that I couldn’t have possibly predicted. It has definitely been a process of ups and downs, but fortunately a lot more positives than negatives!
What have been the main highlights in your career since graduating?
I was very fortunate in 2019 to have the debut of my first opera. This was an incredible experience to write and rehearse, and I feel I learnt so much from the whole process. Additionally, I have really loved orchestral writing, and have been unbelievably lucky work with orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and BBC Symphony orchestra among others. One concert in particular stands out, and that was the RLPO performing my work at the Royal Albert Hall, which (as an RCM student), I walked past every day and hoped I would one day get a performance in there, so that was definitely a highlight!
What would you say is the main challenge for composer’s post-graduation?
I would say the balance between needing to earn regular income, and having the time required to immerse yourself in composition. This I feel can be a real struggle as composing is very much all-consuming (mentally), and it is quite tricky to be creative while being on a separate work schedule. In my case, I was working part time for three and a half years after graduation. Since then (November 2018) I have been fortunate to be able to live full time through composing and orchestrating, however this transition period is definitely a struggle when you only want to be writing music full time. That being said, it is important that you enjoy whatever regular work you end up needing to pursue, so you are in a good frame of mind in general, allowing you to stay creative.
What does 2020 hold in store for you?
I am currently really excited to be working on a new sound installation for a building, an incredibly innovative project (that I will be able to share details of shortly) - but it will involve an hour of symphonic music to be recorded at Abbey Road Studios, which is really exciting! I will also be writing a new work for the Marian Consort vocal ensemble to be premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in July, and in the second half of the year I will be writing my first concerto, which no doubt will be a huge challenge, but I can’t wait to explore this new medium, and to work with the soloist who is incredible.
What is your top tip for the first year out of education?
Not to lose the momentum of writing every day/week. I feel this is really important as it is very easy to stop writing when you no longer have the same deadlines, however it is really important that you keep the momentum. Even if you don’t have commissions lined up, it’s important to continue writing as much as possible for colleagues, friends you know from your music college/ university - until the moment comes where more commissions build up. Secondly, I would say to attend as many concerts as you can. I definitely feel that I absorbed so much creatively through the number of varied concerts I attended, particularly in that first year out of education. Lastly, I would say to apply to as much as you possibly can, without getting phased.
Thank you so much Dani for taking the time to talk to us. Dani's piece, 'Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight' for soprano recorder will be performed on 17th March 2020 at the Barnes Music Festival.
Until next time readers, keep going, you've got this!