In my third season with the Hamilton Philharmonic, in Ontario, I was starting to get antsy about finishing my Bachelor’s Degree. I had left Northwestern at the end of my sophomore year to take that job, and had already been out of school for three years. I was concerned that I might never finish, so I applied for one of the first sabbaticals ever issued from the Hamilton Philharmonic, with the intention of finishing my degree. Well, it turned out that the saying is true, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”.
After my sabbatical had been granted, an audition came up for a one-year position with the San Francisco Symphony. I took the audition, and came in second. John Kitzman from the Dallas Symphony won the job, and he started to go about finding a replacement for himself there. When he called to ask if I’d be interested in auditioning, I told him that my original plan was to go back to school, and I wanted to stick with that. In the end, Dallas couldn’t find anyone to replace him, so their conductor wouldn’t release John for the year. Guess who got a call to play Principal Trombone with the San Francisco Symphony for a season? What an amazing experience.
Over the years, I chipped away at my degree through summer school, night school, and any way that I could take a class towards my degree. After 8 years, I finally got my Bachelor of Music Degree from Northwestern University. It’s a piece of paper that I’m very proud to own, and one that has allowed me teach at many high-level college, and conservatory institutions. As it turned out, I had to put the instrument in the case mid-career, and my degree was the one thing I could fall back on as I started new work as an educator and administrator. We can never know where our career will lead us, so getting the best education possible is an excellent defense.
I’ll pass on this advice, given to me by an older percussion faculty member at a summer camp in 1985: “Finish your degree. You won’t regret it”.