Thoughts on a career in music by Jonathan Millican, Senior Lecturer in Singing and Community Liaison

Senior Lecturer in Singing and Community Liaison, Jonathan Millican, tells us nougats of wisdom if you are thinking about a career in music.

Johnathan Millican singing in cathedral choir

Describe how and/or why you followed your career dreams.

Music and performing have always been a part of my life. One of my earliest memories is putting a toy screwdriver in the top of the fire-guard at home and pretending I was on ‘Top of the Pops’ – yes, I’m that old! My career really began when I was auditioned and accepted into the Cathedral Choir in Carlisle at the age of 7. It was here that I learned to read, sing and perform choral music. 30 years later, I still get the same joy out of performing music in that amazing setting – although my voice now has a rather deeper tone! Throughout school and 6th form I regularly performed and continued this through to the University in Lancaster. Whilst studying for a Degree and Masters in Performance and Musicology I pursued performing but also teaching, musical directing, composition and was even in a few bands, one pretty successful too. I taught myself Percussion, Guitar, Bass and various other instruments to supplement my singing and piano skills. This was all great experience but where I got the most satisfaction was in working with others and sharing experiences. I think this is why I went into teaching. Don’t get me wrong, performing will always be a part of me, but helping others to achieve their potential is amazingly rewarding. Its hard work, but seeing a young person have that epiphany moment or showing renewed confidence because you have worked with them is an incredible thing.

Describe your best experience in your career.

I have so many incredible experiences I could share here but I think one of my personal experiences that I will never ever forget is the first performance of a composition I wrote. It was not the first thing I had written, nor the first to be performed but it was a piece I was connected to and when writing, just seemed to flow out of me, almost like I was imprinting myself on the page in music. Hearing your music performed is one of the most humbling experiences you can have. To hear the colours and expressions and emotion you put into something on paper come to life in performance; the feeling is a mix of pride, humility, gratitude, joy, it’s almost overwhelming. Not only that, but for people to want to perform your music around the world is incredible. The piece in question can be heard here: and has been performed locally by the Cathedral choir, The Herdwyck consort – who made this recording – and in Budapest by the Gabrieli Choir. It has also been accepted to the London Festival of Contemporary Music to feature in their suite of new music for 2019.

Describe some challenging moments you have experienced.

Life throws up many challenges and these are often particularly personal and can feel quite isolating. In teaching there are many of these moments; moments of self-doubt, of crisis of confidence, especially in performance. The moments for me that I feel are most challenging are when I am working with a group of students and we collectively get ‘stuck’. Whether it be a key piece of knowledge they are struggling with or a concept that has given them particular trouble or some technical issue that just won’t seem to go away no matter what you try. These moments are frustrating for the student and kryptonite to a teacher or lecturer, but we get through them by going back to basics, examine how we have got to this point and find a different way through to success.

What you wish you could tell your younger/student self.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t concern yourself with things you can’t control, focus instead on that which you can influence.