Back to College with Virginia Kerr


October 2015

Words by
Emer Nestor

Photos by
Frances Marshall

It’s that time of year again when music departments throughout the world hustle and bustle with excitement as a new generation of musical talent enters their hallowed halls for the first time. For many the experience can be quite daunting, however, we have Irish soprano and vocal teacher Virginia Kerr on hand to offer her top tips for music students trying to find their feet at third level.

You will create a network of people and relationships while in college and many of these people will be with you for much of your professional life."



First impressions are important, so aim to make the best impression you can. You will create a network of people and relationships while in college and many of these people will be with you for much of your professional life.


2. THE 6 “Ps”

PLAN: Do a business plan for yourself outlining your years in college. It will help focus your mind on the road ahead and help you to formulate what you want from college, and how to get there. Get organised with your course work and try to keep on top of your assignments. Get your research done early. Leaving things to the last minute causes a lot of unnecessary stress. This can be avoided with a little bit of organisation on your part.

PREPARATION: When studying music at third level you will have a lot of things to work on at the same time. Give yourself time to prepare your work. Find a system that works for you and try to stick to it. Get to know your deadlines and what is required of you to pass the year. Prioritize things in order of importance and try to stay on top of things. If you are well prepared then you won’t get snowed under and start panicking. If you are having difficulties in organising your work then say so and get some help. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail!

PROFESSIONAL: I will add reliability under this heading as one feeds into the other. Reliable musicians and music students are the ones who get called first for the jobs. Agents, orchestras, opera houses, and concert organisers want talented people, but they also want and need RELIABLE people. The reliable musicians who get the jobs are those who arrive punctually for rehearsals, concerts, etc… and are well prepared for the job ahead. They are the people who contribute to the music as a whole and are not there just for themselves, or their own egos. They are professional in their approach to everything they do and enjoy the success they deserve. Try to develop a professional attitude in all your dealings in college and it will pay off!

PRACTICE: If you don’t practice then forget it! You owe it to yourself to do the best you can and you will probably never again have the luxury of time that you have now. While course work is very full on, and you may think that you have no time for individual practice, you need to fit it in somewhere into your daily schedule. Use your practice time wisely and get the most out of it. Really concentrate on what you are doing and stay in the moment. Don’t allow your thoughts to wander off. Keep your mind on the business in hand. Record yourself when you can, as this can really help with solving problems and keeping a track on your progress throughout the year.

PERSEVERE: Persevere when the going gets tough. Hold on to the self- belief which first brought you in the door of the college. Try to avoid getting sidetracked by the progress of others and comparing yourself to your peers. This is unavoidable but don’t let it take over. Everyone is different and has an individual path to follow. Just keep your head down and work as hard as you can. If you keep looking around at others all the time then you won’t be able to see your own road ahead.

PERFORM: Try to avail of every opportunity to perform. Whenever a performance possibility comes up then get in there and sign up for it. The more you perform, the better you will become at standing up in front of an audience and the wider your performing network will become. Try to attend as many concerts as you can within your student world and the professional circuit. Go to rehearsals at the concert venues close to you, if allowed, and attend master classes, lectures and any other performances you can. Go to support your own classmates when they are performing and hopefully they in turn will support you.


Self-care is extremely important as you negotiate this new way of life. Make sure the basics are looked after, such as sufficient sleep, proper food and enough exercise. If these crucial needs are addressed then it will make everything else much easier. If you find yourself getting stressed out then try to identify the triggers. Once you recognise the stressors, you can then do something to alleviate them. External triggers could be relationships, family stuff etc…, while internal triggers could be that your expectation of yourself is too high at this point in time. Watch the coffee intake, as too much can cause anxiety and insomnia. For the singers out there, remember that coffee is a throat irritant! There are many ways to manage stress if you are experiencing it and lots of help available. Don’t get discouraged. Understand that there is a lot to learn and that it is going to take time. Acknowledge that you have that time and trust yourself and your own abilities. There will be times that you will have to stretch yourself and move out of your comfort zone, but keep your focus and you may find it exhilarating. Don’t be afraid to investigate change if things are not working out with a teacher.




Try to be disciplined in your approach to your studies and your student life. Create a balance for yourself and make sure you have lots of down time as well. Although, don’t stay out all night just because you can! Remember a balanced life is a happy life!



Be careful with your finances and do a budget for the days, weeks, and months ahead. If you need to get a part-time job then see if you can get something in the artistic field, such as an usher in a concert hall or theatre. Be careful that your part-time work doesn’t get in the way of your studies, otherwise it defeats the purpose of you being in college in the first place.

Virginia Kerr – Final Note Magazine interview
Virginia Kerr – Final Note Magazine interview

You have been given a great gift. Look after it, use it wisely and it will repay you a thousand times."



There will be lots of opportunities in music college to learn about how the music business works. Avail of these opportunities, as they will be invaluable to you in future years. These may include: how to negotiate with promoters, agents, opera houses, or dealing with the financial side of things such as VAT, taxes in different countries, percentages for agents, writing up CVs, presenting yourself at interviews, auditions and meetings. All these things may seem to be very far into the future, but time passes very quickly and this is the time to start preparing yourself.

You have been given a great gift. Look after it, use it wisely and it will repay you a thousand times. College is about learning, not only about music but also about life. Enjoy this precious time. Be a good colleague; invest in your relationships with your teachers who are there to help you, and with your peers who are probably feeling just as insecure and overwhelmed as you are even though they may not show it in the same way.


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