The best words of advice in preparation for graduate school was from John Largess of the Miro Quartet.
Two semesters ago I received coaching from him on the Kodaly serenade for two violins and viola. The ensemble comprised of three undergraduate juniors, myself included, all passionate about a career in music. A casual conversation after the coaching turned into a brain picking of sorts. We asked prof. largess what his his experiences were in moving from one degree to the next when he was our age. We wanted to know what is it that professors expect and are looking for when students apply and audition. We even asked in the granular details of what is and isn’t appropriate to address in an email as a prospective student.
His advice on how to get where you want to go boils down to two things.
1) be the best version of yourself in every situation
2) get around the people you want to be around
Largess made it clear that grad school auditions were not a slow build to some particularly small moment but a lifetimes worth of work and connections that all come together in a significant way at this time in our lives.
This means that the person you lend a pencil to in orchestra, your Aunt’s best friends’ son, you’re teacher’s best friend from their alma matter, might be the connection piece to get you to where you want to be. The people surrounding you at any given moment are potentially capable of charting the pathway for you, the road to success. But you have to give them a reason to.
Make it obvious what you are after.
Show that you have the goods (actually have them, document/demonstrate them well)
Give (give and take, rule of reciprocity)
Be constantly looking for the people that you want to be like.
Who plays their instrument really well? Whose students are always in the honors concerts? Who always answers the questions in music history lecture?
Go talk to them. Ask them questions. Observe their patterns. Where do they hang out? When? Do they know who you are? Do they know that you are working to master the things they have mastered? Go build a relationship. Go see what you have to offer. Go see what you have to learn.
This is possible on the micro level (for heaven’s sake TALK to the people in the music building), but also at the intermediate level (who are the teachers in your city? are you connecting with them? with their organizations?) and the macro level (which professor do you want to study with? any chance you can work with them at a summer festival?).
The word networking sounds admittedly sleezy. But itentenionally cultivating relationships in your school, your city, and your career field allows you to discover what you have to learn and what you have to give. You have access to all of the relationships, experiences, and knowledge you’ve already worked to gain, now do some work engaging and growing what you already have.