What a Gap Year Taught Me
… and what it could teach you too.
It’s hard for me to believe that my gap year is at an end and I will soon begin graduate school. I have many mixed feelings — from excitement to move to a completely new place and be surrounded by wonderful musicians again to sadness about leaving a time and place that I’ve come to feel at home in.
A gap year was never in my plan, in fact it was something I was opposed to for a while since there was so much stigma around gap years and judgement of those who took them. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It didn’t make sense for me to pay $25,000+ per year for online grad school as a music student where what we do requires in-person lessons, rehearsals, and performances. So I decided to move home to St. Louis for a gap year to study and work on my own.
It was tough at first to have moved back to the Midwest (no offense Midwest, I’m just very ready to be elsewhere), to not be surrounded by friends, to have no luck finding a job, to be constantly thinking about upcoming auditions and where I would end up for grad school, and worrying about the effects of the pandemic.
I’m a rather independent and introverted person, though, so I was ok with the stay-at-home grind and knew that all I could do was my best. There were wins and losses over the year, but I’m thankful for all of it because I wouldn’t be who I am now if I went straight into grad school. And I like who I am now.
Here are some of the things I learned and that changed me:
1. I realized I *can* make a living in music.
Before this year, I had always been a student, and in my undergrad, winning a big job in music was put on a pedestal. It felt intimidating and out of reach.
However, this year I found 4 jobs in music, from teaching to admin work and even the occasional gig. I was enjoying the work and sustaining myself… through music!
Sure these weren’t quite my dream jobs, but I’ve never expected to win my dream job right out of school anyway. At least now I know I can sustain myself through something I enjoy as I keep practicing and working towards that dream.
This is a very comforting thought as I enter grad school. If I went straight into my masters, I would’ve had the same stressed and intimidated mindset about a career post-graduation as I did in my undergrad. But now I can take a little comfort in knowing that I can make it work and instead focus on and enjoy being a music student.
2. I am more confident in myself, my knowledge, and my capabilities.
Working those jobs this past year helped build up my self-confidence. There was always something about being a student in the past that made me feel like I was “lesser”, that my thoughts and actions had less value than those who were older than me, played better than me, etc.
Being a working woman out of school made me feel independent and capable. No one was instructing me on how to work, practice, teach, anything. I was doing all of this myself, and it made me realize that I know and can handle a lot more than I previously thought.
I keep thinking about my experiences teaching middle school and high school music classes a few months ago. I had never done anything like that before, so naturally, it scared me. But when I got to working on the curriculum and teaching the classes in-person, I started to realize I had more than enough to teach and wanted more time than the 30–60min I was given!
I know the clarinet and music, and I know how to teach. I didn’t fully realize or believe that until those moments.
3. I learned more about what I need in a personal relationship.
One of the greatest things to come out of 2020 and the year of covid was that I met my wonderful partner. In fact, if it weren’t for covid, I never would’ve taken a gap year and therefore would never have met him.
I mentioned earlier that one of the difficult things about my gap year early on was not having any friends. Well luckily, it didn’t take long before my partner came into my life and has since become a huge part of it.
He inspires me with his own musicianship, but beyond that, he’s actually made this city in the Midwest feel like a home to me. I know it sounds super cheesy, but he has shown me that the person I’ve always imagined being with actually exists! I’ve learned more about myself and others through him.
He’s contributed to my growth in self-confidence as a musician, too. He’s a phenomenal professional musician and yet makes me feel equal and supported. I can share my thoughts about music with or perform for him without fear of judgement, only encouragement.
To those of you who may be reluctant to take a gap year like I was or who are on the fence about taking one, I highly recommend it. You don’t fall behind just because you are away from the classroom for a year, but you get ahead as you learn new skills that you can’t in school, you learn more about yourself, and you dip your toes into professional life that’ll help prepare you for when you graduate.
A gap year may not be for everyone. If I were to give one warning, it would be to make sure that you are the type of person who is self-disciplined and self-motivated. You won’t have professors telling you what to do, how to do it, and when. If you want to accomplish a lot in your gap year, you must have clear goals, a plan of action, self-discipline, and a lot of motivation. If you have those things, I believe a gap year can be an incredibly unique and enriching experience.
Mia holds her B.M. in Clarinet Performance from Indiana University and is currently pursuing her masters in this field at California State University in Fullerton. With her writing, she aims to discuss the less conventional aspects of being a modern musician.