For Those Who Teach, and Also Do! Balancing a Teaching and Performance Career

by Mallory Merkel

Date Posted: March 19, 2019

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Mallory Merkel is a Vandoren JUNO Ambassador and Band Director.

Mallory's Teacher and Performer Background

The field of music education holds a very unique position at the intersection of “teacher” and “professional musician”. An overwhelming majority of my music colleagues teach by day and perform by night or weekend, myself included. I believe that being a professional musician is vital to a teaching career for a number of reasons. Students love knowing that you are a professional musician. They love to hear about the “real world” applications of playing an instrument...and learning that people will actually pay you to play?! Playing as part of an ensemble provides a reminder for what it is like to be under someone else’s baton, and how to collaborate with your fellow performers to create the end product. Being a performer helps me to be a better teacher, and being a teacher helps me to be a better performer.

I teach middle school band at Slinger Middle School in Slinger, WI. I am one of the founding members of Blaskapelle Milwaukee - an 18 piece European Wind Ensemble that specializes in the music from Austria and Bavaria (translation: a polka band!). I also play in the Waukesha Area Symphonic Band (WASB) - a full symphonic band of about 70 members from a wide range of musical backgrounds and the honored ensemble recipient of the 2017 Sudler Silver Scroll Award. Additionally, I take on various small performance opportunities throughout the year as they may arise for weddings, church services, theatre productions, and the like.

Guidelines for Balancing Teaching and Performing

When it comes to being involved in professional ensembles and teaching full time, I have established the following guidelines for myself to balance the demands:

Be Organized!

Having a calendar accessible at all times is an absolute must. I am meticulous about writing everything down to avoid the potentially awful situation of being double booked professionally or personally! I have more than once been in situations where I would need to leave immediately after the school day to head to a rehearsal or gig, so organization extends beyond just logistics! While my students would likely get a kick out of seeing me spend all day wearing my polka attire, it really isn’t the most functional work-wear. Planning out what items, music, and instruments I need ahead of time is critical.

Students Come First

As an extension of being organized, student performances and events always take precedence over personal performances/rehearsals/gigs. Our students are the future of our art, and making sure they have every musical opportunity available to them is a must. Any gigs or rehearsals I take on are never at the expense of my students, and having my schedule planned out well in advance helps to accommodate both my teaching performance schedule and my professional performance schedule.

"Our students are the future of our art, and making sure they have every musical opportunity available to them is a must." - Mallory Merkel

Make Every Minute Count for Practicing by Working Smarter, not Harder!

When my students come to me with the “but I don’t have any time to practice” excuse, they learn quickly that they don’t have a leg to stand on. After a brief survey of their day, I manage to find at least 20 minutes worth of “free time” they didn’t know they had. The same rings true for my own personal practice sessions. Thanks to technology, it has become very easy to carry a whole lot of music around electronically making it readily available. This makes good use of the time while waiting for students to arrive to their lessons, and, an excellent conversation piece when they do walk in and find me practicing something! While having an extended amount of time to sit down and practice is also important, finding that extra 10 minutes here and there and putting it to use also adds up!

Take Care of Yourself So That You Stay Healthy and Balanced!

Take time for you, your family, and your personal growth. It is okay to say “No” to taking on rehearsals or gigs that will be detrimental to your sanity. Having a balanced life makes you a better teacher, performer, and a better person. Sometimes this can be a difficult thing for us musicians who often feel like we live and breathe our art 24/7. You must decide what is a priority at any given point in time and you have to do what is best for you. If you run yourself ragged trying to do everything, your best quality teaching and playing will not be found anywhere. It is okay to take time to step away from music to support other hobbies and interests to help keep yourself well rounded!

Keeping these things in mind has helped me maintain a happy medium of teaching and performing. I thoroughly enjoy being able to be present on both sides of the art bringing joy to students, audiences, and myself through music!

Mallory Merkel, Vandoren Booth, 2018 Midwest Show

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