Life post-graduation can seem daunting at the best of times. With the added uncertainty introduced by Covid-19, you'd be forgiven for cradling a glass of wine in the warm April evenings wondering where the hell you go from here. It's extremely easy to look at the present and immediate future, lamenting what we could have been doing and forget how far we've come. So in this post, I want to encourage us all (myself included) to look back at the past nine months and celebrate what we did manage to achieve. This month, we welcome 2019 Royal College of Music graduate, Wallis Power. Wallis has spent the last few months performing around the country with her award-winning string quartet, the Brompton Quartet as well as taking part in the Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra ‘Pit Perfect’ Scheme. Now, like all of us, she's adapting to a new way of performing and I'm very excited to have her with us.
How have you found life since graduating from the Royal College of Music? Since graduating last summer, so much has changed – it’s hard to believe that it was only nine months ago that I walked out of the RCM with the certificate! There’s no denying that life after graduation is a big change from life as a student. You suddenly realise that you need to up your self-sufficiency, fend for yourself and begin to pave out your musical path. As I had no break between my undergraduate at Cambridge and my postgrad at RCM, this sudden leap was even more daunting! As tricky as the transition was, I found having some sense of continuity really helpful. I continued having private lessons with my wonderful professor, and regularly had quartet coaching sessions at RCM (luckily for me, Maja and Emily are still completing their master’s degrees!) The Creative Careers team at the college were also so helpful in my final year – the CV sessions were invaluable, and they also continue to offer freelance opportunities up to five years after graduation. I wish that I auditioned for both the Gateway Scheme and Professional Engagements Scheme sooner. Staying in touch with friends from RCM also made it feel like I hadn’t really left at all! It really helped me to have an ‘action’ plan’ in place for post-RCM life, so that I could have something to focus on and look forward to that Autumn. I was grateful to be offered a place on the Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra ‘Pit Perfect’ Scheme, which offered a stream of regular professional work from September-December. There are so many post-graduate schemes and academies out there, aiming to ease the transition between studies and professional work. I would recommend applying to as many as you can! Applications and auditions are never comfortable experiences but putting yourself out there regularly is so beneficial. Practice can never replicate the pressure of an audition. Though it’s helpful to have something in place after graduation, don’t overthink it or over plan. You never know what opportunities might be around the corner.
Creativity cannot be forced out – accept the moments, days or weeks when you feel down.
What have been the main highlights of your career since graduating? I’m really proud of what my quartet have achieved over the past year. We won the 2019 St-Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Music Competition and this opened up wonderful opportunities for us. We have now performed at venues including Royal Albert Hall's Elgar Room, The Red House Aldeburgh, Conway Hall and Kings Place. We were delighted to be selected as Park Lane Artists for 2020, and very much hope that we can give these concerts soon. Another highlight this year was participating in a masterclass with Alfred Brendel, as part of the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra’s ‘Beethoven Study Weekend'. Chamber music is extremely important to me, but I have also enjoyed developing my freelance career as an orchestral cellist, playing regularly with the Philharmonia and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. I was recently offered places on the London Sinfonietta Academy and the Chipping Campden Orchestral Academy. No-one is sure when these will take place, but I’m very much looking forward nonetheless! Freelancing can get busy very quickly and I have personally found that finding the time and space to practise and organise my solo performances has fallen by the wayside slightly. When the musical world gets going again (hopefully soon!) I look forward to prioritising this. I find that the musicians you meet at every gig, concert or masterclass broaden your web of professional connections, and can often lead to opportunities that you wouldn’t expect.
- Wallis performing the Courante from J.S Bach's Cello Suite no. 1 in G major
How has Covid-19 affected your career? Have you adapted the way you work? Honestly, I’m not great with free time! It scares me a bit. I love having a busy schedule and a varied stream of work. Since the Covid-19 restrictions, every musician on the planet has had to re-evaluate the way they work. Having no concerts in the diary for the foreseeable future is hard to accept, but I’ve started to work with different goals in mind. Online concerts are a wonderful way to connect with audiences around the world and they can bring so much joy into the homes of others. I loved performing as part of the Echo Ensemble’s Online Concert Series, ‘Echo Chamber’. My quartet will be featured in a concert next month. Having the time and space to practice has also been a lovely change to the pace of normal life. I find that I’m able to focus on the areas of my solo playing that I’ve wanted to improve for a long time! Each month I set myself two or three Popper studies and pieces to learn so that I’m slowly expanding my repertoire and improving technique. I feel lucky that the majority of my students have continued with online lessons via Zoom; it’s great that I can see them continue to make progress. I make it sound like I’ve found it easy to adapt to this remote way of working – this isn’t the case. I have days where I’m very productive, but sometimes finding the motivation to practice or get anything done can be difficult. Creativity cannot be forced out – accept the moments, days or weeks when you feel down. We’re all struggling with this new way of life. This article really helped me to realise that I was probably putting too much pressure on myself to achieve when we all went into lockdown. Reach out to other musicians – we’re all in the same position at the moment but luckily there are support systems and charities in place in the UK that can offer help. Check out the Musician’s Union/ ISM websites for more info.
Though it’s helpful to have something in place after graduation, don’t overthink it or over plan. You never know what opportunities might be around the corner.
Since lockdown, have you turned your hand to anything new? I’ve been slowly getting to grips with video editing software which has been entertaining… My quartet have started a new series on Instagram called ‘Quarantet’ – we have one video up so far and will be attempting a Mozart Quartet very soon. It’s not the most rewarding process musically speaking (playing in a metronomic tempo for instance!) but we think it’s important to keep playing together in whatever way we can. Getting my website set up has been at the bottom of my to-do list for a very long time and I’m now finally getting started with it – it’s taken a global pandemic. Other than making music, I’m enjoying keeping up my Instagram account. Most days I write a cheesy ‘daily-gratitude’ post, along with a picture I love, to spread a little bit of much-needed positivity, and to remind myself that it’s the small things that usually bring us the most joy. I have loved getting back into running, reading and baking (mostly banana bread.)
Have you got any advice for looking after yourself during this period of uncertainty? Having a routine and planning my day has really helped me keep a sense of normality during this time. Each night I like to write about the day that has passed, and then plan the next day so that I have clear goals and feel motivated to get things done. Typically, I like to take time to myself in the morning (if you’re lucky enough to have a garden, having breakfast outside with a Podcast is a wonderful way to start the day.) I usually then teach, practice into the late afternoon, and then get outside to have a walk or a run in the early evening. Connecting with friends and family is crucial at this time and it’s something everyone should do as often as possible – I like to schedule in calls with friends so that I’ve got something to look forward to. For the first time in a while (I’m sure all musicians out there can relate to this!) I’m taking more time in the evenings and on the weekends to relax a bit more, catch up with friends and family, and watch lots of films/ Netflix. I find I have more energy and motivation to achieve my goals during the week if I feel rested. No-one has experienced a global pandemic like this before, so there’s nothing that you ‘should’ be doing right now. Staying at home and keeping you and your loved ones safe is the most important thing.
Finally, what is your top tip for the first year out of education? If you struggle with organisation, my first tip would be to diarise EVERYTHING! Rehearsals, concerts, gigs, teaching, free-time, exercise, social occasions, practice… Find a diary, highlighters and get colour coding. I find a month-to-view diary is best it’s easy to see what’s coming up and what you need to prioritise. It’s easy to overload yourself when beginning your career (paid gigs are always tempting) but it’s crucial to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I’m guilty of overloading myself and agreeing to every opportunity that comes my way! This is something that I am going to consciously work on when musical life resumes. Secondly, keep having lessons as often as possible. As well as seeing my previous RCM professor regularly, I would recommend getting in touch and organising lessons with players from orchestras and ensembles. These connections are crucial – learn from as many musicians who you admire as you can, ask questions, be friendly - you never know what work you might be offered in the future as a result. Lastly, don’t overthink or over-plan! Opportunities will arise – get lots of applications in for jobs and schemes that appeal to you and do the scary auditions. All of this is great experience – especially the auditions which don’t go well. By doing this I have felt much freer musically in uncomfortable performing situations.
If you've enjoyed this interview and want to know more about Wallis and her music, follow her on Instagram. You can also keep up to date with her Quartet by visiting the Brompton Quartet's Facebook and Instagram Until next time readers, stay safe. Ruth x