Members of NAAC were asked a series of questions regarding their transitions from a career path in music to one outside. In reading these transition stories it is our hope that those of you considering your own transition might find comfort in identifying with our stories and support in our network of alumni.
Carol McKeen '83 M.M.
Vice President, Health & Benefits
Human Resources Consulting
Transition Questions & Responses
Q: What skills and attributes did you use from your NEC education to enhance your transition to another career?
CM: "My NEC education helped me in several ways as an individual and team performer. First, I learned to present myself with confidence and polish whether one on one, in a small meeting setting, or public speaking. Second, I learned the value of working with a group and many of the dynamics involved in doing so. A very key skill honed at NEC that’s been invaluable is the ability to master and merge technical work with the ultimate performance that transcends the technical aspects, or in business speak, the 'details' and the 'big picture/strategy.' Baked into all of this is discipline and consistent work habits – something NEC requires for success."
Q: How and why did you make this transition? (e.g. returned to school, networking, career counseling/ financial stability, life style of performer, family reasons, etc.)
CM: "I started in this field while at NEC, since I needed a part time job to get through school. After graduation, I decided to stay in Boston - I was in love with the city and also a man who probably wouldn’t transition well to me teaching voice at some small state college - he was a real New Englander. The combination of that kept me here and I moved to full time at my job. I tried for a few years to work and still coach, audition and do free-lance work, plus maintain a relationship. Anyone who does that knows how hard it is. I had also not gotten my Masters until age 29, and my technique wasn’t as it should have been, so it was rough focusing on developing as a light lyric soprano, which as everyone knows, are a dime a dozen. I decided I was tired of being poor, didn’t relish the free-lance life and that it made sense for me to sing primarily as an avocation and devote most of my energies to a business career. I was getting kudos in my “work” life and knew I could continue to make music here at a high level as an amateur. And if I occasionally got a gig, it was gravy, not a question of paying the rent."
Q" What did you find most difficult in making this transition?
CM: "After devoting so much time to becoming a professional musician and never losing my great love of singing and performing, it was hard to reduce the time spent this way. My self image needed to be adjusted, since I saw myself primarily as a performing musician. Others often tried to persuade me to keep at it – of course none of them were offering to pay my rent!! So it was mostly the feeling that I may have failed myself. It took support from good friends and family and some work on my part to realize that I could still have quality musical experiences for the rest of my life, that it’s not a sin to want to earn a comfortable living, and that the only person I really need to answer to for my life choices is myself."
Q: What are the positive aspects of being in an alternative career?
CM: "I enjoy my work and feel I’ve helped others through it – which is also one reason I love musical performance. Certainly, the financial rewards of my career have been a major plus – I have a beautiful and comfortable home, a dependable car, have been able to travel widely (without worrying about whether I have a cold or sore throat because it’s connected to a singing job), indulge a love of good wine and food, help out my family when they’ve needed it, and save for what I expect to be a comfortable retirement when I’m ready."
Q: Share one lesson or “tip” that you learned through this transition from a music career into another profession?
CM: "I think it’s important to try your very best at what you do, so that you have options to choose from if a change seems appropriate. That doesn’t mean taking time away from music if that’s still your primary passion, but just take pride in your performance in the workplace and communicate well with others; you never know where things may lead. But the most important tips are 1) don’t be afraid to change; life is full of twists and turns and if you give it your best, the skills and lessons you learn will always help you in the next phase and 2) and listen to your heart; in the end, you have the right and the obligation to yourself to live the life YOU want to live."
Q: How do you balance your passion for music with your current vocation?
CM: "I continue to perform, but now it’s mostly in choruses, which is fine with me. I love to attend musical events and attend many performances in and outside of Boston – with good seats and nice hotels! And I mentor and work on the Alumni Council at NEC. So in addition to my own performing, I’m helping to both develop and support other musicians. As far as balance, I try to keep myself healthy and rested, so I look at the calendar and make the hard choices as to how much I can do. I admit it’s less than when I was in my 30’s and 40’s, but it’s still pretty active. Keeping things in balance again gets back to being flexible to change in your life – whether change comes to you without asking for it, or whether you seek it out. And that means loving yourself and living the life you love.
My path has taught me that the music is in me, and I will always find a way to express and enjoy that as long as I live because I am a musician. The extent to which I perform, and for pay or not pay, is not who I am, but rather, the choices I make."