For John Jaworski, it started with choir practice and private drum set lessons at the age of eleven. His sisters sang in choir in their youth, as well, but it was only the young John who decided to start on the road to professional musicianship. Through middle school and high school, he explored all manner of percussion in punk and rock bands, jazz, and classical ensembles. In his junior year of high school, Jaworski knew classical percussion was the path he wanted to take.
Jaworski was born and raised in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign as a music major, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2015. “First and foremost, the biggest thing for me when I went to college was going from being a big fish in a small pond to being the exact opposite,” he says. Having been thrown into an environment teeming with outstanding musicians, Jaworski “got a rude awakening very quickly of where the bar was.” After playing in both collegiate and professional ensembles, Jaworski decided to continue to hone his craft and attend SFCM as a master’s degree candidate. He currently studies with faculty member and San Francisco Symphony percussionist Trey Wyatt.
With a student body of just over 400, SFCM attracts many students from larger universities who are looking for a smaller, more dedicated musical atmosphere where they can get more exposure. Jaworski saw this as an opportunity to not only hone his craft and seek out professional opportunities, but also to develop his own sense of community. “The smaller school environment was attractive to me in some way. I thought it might be cool—maybe even just novel—to come somewhere where it was a smaller, more close-knit environment.”
After starting his degree at SFCM, it didn’t take Jaworski long before he began exploring the music world outside of the practice room. “I found a listing of internships at other organizations on the [SFCM] website,” he recollects. His search led to his getting an internship with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP). “That digital media internship turned into an arts administration internship, and then they created a couple of new paid positions there. I was recommended by the executive director for the production assistant role.”
Since beginning work at SFCMP, Jaworski has worked at SFCM’s concert office and, as of this January, is the new production manager at American Bach Soloists. These roles have served him well in gaining perspective in the process of concert preparation from someplace other than the musician’s chair. “Through all these different jobs, I’ve been able to see how that process works for people at different levels, for people who play different instruments, for vocalists—people in different places on the continuum of music. Everyone does things a little bit differently. Seeing that process in people has not only helped me to find my own process as a musician, but also has helped me get better at production work.”
Jaworski regards SFCM faculty member Jeff Anderle’s Musical Startups class as a noteworthy part of the professional development curriculum, a course that allows students to examine business initiatives in the music industry. By looking at real-world examples of enterprises in the music industry, students learn about the opportunities they can explore during their time at the Conservatory and after graduation. SFCM’s Professional Development and Engagement Center (PDEC)—closely linked to the professional development curriculum—is dedicated to working with students to explore these very opportunities by tapping into their own ambitions. “It was beneficial for me—more than anything—to see that you don’t have to be an expert in something to start doing it. And after working with SFCMP for a while, I realized that it’s something I enjoy doing. I’ve gleaned a lot from it that I can translate into performance.”
“John was an insightful and creative student in my Musical Startups class who always had an astute comment to share about the topic at hand,” reflects Anderle. “It's been great collaborating with him in a professional context, as well—he's become a familiar and stolid presence behind the scenes at various concerts and musical projects.”
Jaworski does have a bit of practical advice for his fellow performers. “They always say that it’s about who you know. To some extent it is, but not in the sense that who you know is going to give you a job. I think it’s about ‘who you know’ is going to teach you something about yourself and about your own craft. I’ve learned a great deal about music making just from all the connections I’ve made in different areas of performance, arts administration, and production. You get little bits and pieces from everywhere and in places you don’t really expect to get it.”