How I developed my portfolio career

Training for a career as a clarinetist is about more than learning notes and rhythms. One must learn about verbal and non-verbal communication, how to work with others, how to lead in a group, how to organize and time manage different types of tasks, and how to write and speak about music to non-professionals and the public. Developing a career is about more than performing repertoire. Understanding the skills that you develop alongside the clarinet is also key to developing a portfolio career. 

Finding opportunities through contemporary music 

Clarinetists, particularly clarinetists who focus on orchestral training, tend to focus on repertoire composed prior to 1950 – but there is a whole world of late 20th and 21st century works out there! Over the last five years, American orchestras have begun performing more and more works by living composers and contemporary ensembles are leading the way in creative programming and performance. Not only can learning contemporary music expand one’s music-making abilities, but it can also lead to more professional opportunities. 

There is a tremendous variety of contemporary music today, from composers working in tonal idioms, to experimental music, soundscapes, improvisation, electroacoustic music, and complex technical writing. Making connections to composers in ones’ own town can promote valuable artistic self-develop and collaboration with artistic peers. These collaborations can develop into future opportunities to perform and create together with other musicians. 

Starting a website 

Creating a website where you can write about your work, promote recordings of yourself, and tell others about your upcoming performances is a great – and free – way to create exposure for yourself. Whether you consider it a blog or a more professional website, you create the opportunity for others around the world to learn about your work. 

On my website,, I keep a calendar where I announce all my upcoming performances. I also have a media tab, where I have audio recordings of myself and links to videos from my YouTube channel. Finally, I have an ‘Artistic Research’ section, where I write short articles about my doctoral research in contemporary music at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. I started writing these articles for myself to digest my research and practice writing, but they have been cited by colleagues in academia as well as journalists writing about classical music. 

Try producing 

If you have ever played in a concert, as I am sure most clarinetists have, you have experience in understanding how a concert works. If there is a lack of concert events in your community, start producing them yourself! Short, small concerts are easy to produce and plan, and offer the opportunity to learn production by doing. 

This fall, I produced my first concert series in Helsinki, Finland at the botanic Winter Garden. It was a space I have always loved in the city, and I thought it would be perfect for bringing small chamber music of different styles to the public. I applied for funding through my University and created a 7-concert series. Starting was scary, but the experience has been invaluable and increased my confidence in production for the future. 

There are many ways to develop a career, even a career in ‘classical music’ or ‘classical clarinet’. The skill set we have as musicians is more diverse than many of us realize. Making the most of all our skills is the best way to develop a working life in music. It means thinking creatively about making opportunities for yourself – start a podcast, take a repair course, create a YouTube channel, become more active on social media… the possibilities are endless! 


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