Postcard from Chicago

Postcard from Chicago

Joshua Dema
Chicago, USA

Postcard from Chicago

Boarding the plane on September 1st 2015 was one of the most intense experiences of my life. The long flight ahead would be the bridge between life as I knew it and the unknown. I had mixed emotions; I felt a crushing sadness after saying the final goodbyes to my friends and family, and I was nervous to leave my comfort zone. But I also felt great excitement about the prospect of moving overseas to study a Masters of Music at the DePaul University School of Music in Chicago.

Moving overseas to study is, I think, an extremely personal journey for each person. Although I don’t intend for this to be a step-by-step guide, I hope my experiences can shed some light on studying overseas.

During my undergraduate studies at the Melbourne Conservatorium I developed the desire to travel overseas to further my music education. Studying overseas always seemed like the greener pasture of a tertiary music education; although I loved studying in Melbourne, there are many more orchestras and summer music festival opportunities in America, and the schools here have some of the most world-renowned teachers on faculty. In addition, I was lucky enough to participate in the MIMIR chamber music festival twice in Melbourne, and once in Texas. These experiences helped me to connect with teachers from America. After having lessons with these teachers and talking to them about my further education, I realised it was possible for me to undertake a Masters overseas. 

So, now that I had a goal to study overseas it was time to pursue it! Applying for a Masters overseas is like having a part time job. Seriously. There’s the stress over learning audition repertoire, making pre-screening tapes, taking auditions, and preparing transcripts. In addition, you have to figure out how to live overseas too. The amount of paperwork, online forms, and trips to the American embassy I had to complete was time consuming and stressful. Sometimes I wanted to give up, and continue in my comfortable lifestyle that I had maintained over my undergraduate, but something kept me going.

When I went overseas to audition, I was able to get a “feel” for all the different schools. Each school that I visited had a slightly different musical focus. In addition, every teacher is different. For those who are seeking a new music school, finding the right private teacher is the most important thing. You will spend hours with them one-on-one, and you have to feel confident that you will be able to learn from them. During my audition trip, I had lessons with all the teachers from the schools I was auditioning for, and I was able to figure out which school and teacher was best suited to me. I began to have a good idea of which schools I wanted to go to the most.

So after I completed my application and auditions, and nervously waited for two months, I finally found out I was accepted into almost all of the schools I applied for. At this point I was confident that moving was the right choice to make, even though I knew it would be difficult leaving home. I’m happy to say that after five months of living here, Chicago has become my second favourite city in the world (next to Melbourne of course!). Although I am currently battling through sub-zero temperatures, I am finding Chicago to be a fascinating and exciting place to be. The classical music scene is enormous and thriving; I have access to a world class Symphony, and the chamber music here is incredible too. I’ve met some great musicians and been able to show some old friends around a new city!

Studying a Masters in music is challenging in ways I didn’t expect. Initially I thought that it would just be an extension of undergraduate, but it’s so different. In some ways I’m more dedicated to school here, because for the first time I feel like I really chose to do this. In addition, the Masters academic coursework has made me realise how important music theory and academia is in creating a successful and well-rounded musician. 

However, I’ve learnt the most about my cello playing and chamber music skills. When I moved I thought that my musical creativity would magically increase as my technical capabilities improved, and I would finish my Masters ready to “be a musician”. I was wrong. I now know that success doesn’t “automatically” happen. Even if you are at the best school in the world with the best teacher, everything is a choice; my success will come from my constant desire to pursue knowledge and excellence. 

I’d like to quote an address given by Joyce Didonato at the Juilliard School, as I think it accurately summarises some of the realisations that I have had. 

“Commit to the JOURNEY, and not to the outcome. The outcome will almost always fall short of your expectations, and if you’re chasing that elusive, often deceptive goal, you’re likely in for a very tough road. THIS is the glory and the reward of striving to master your craft and embarking on the path of curiosity and imagination, while being tireless in your pursuit of something greater than yourself.”

So ultimately, my choice to study Masters in Chicago is just one step in a greater journey. While it’s only one step, I have learnt more in six months about myself and music than I could have ever imagined. If you see a study trip overseas as part of your journey in music, my advice is to research as much as you can to find the right school for you, talk to your teachers and colleagues who may have done it before you, and then if you’re absolutely set on it, don’t let anyone stop you from going for it!