How I Work: Katherine Chan

D.M.A. student, School of Music

What do you do?Katherine Chan

I’m a teaching assistant and D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts) student in the choral conducting department from the School of Music. My job as a TA includes all things choirs — from planning and logistics for concerts and other administrative duties, to teaching one of the Campus Singers sections, to serving as Professor Kathy Saltzman Romey’s assistant conductor for the University’s Women’s Chorus.

What tools do you use to do your work?

When I’m in the office, I’m usually on my computer — checking and replying to emails, planning my rehearsals/class, and doing research and homework. That’s my Command Central, but I usually also have my cell phone right next to me for quick access to apps, such as my calendar and my metronome app, MetroTimer. It’s basically my second screen.

Part of my job as a conductor is to learn, research, and do study scores before going to rehearsal. Most of my work is done on Internet sites, such as music publisher web pages (EarthSongs, hal leonard, boosey, walton music, chorusonline.com) for background research and YouTube and iTunes to compare performance recordings of the piece I’m studying. When I am creating a study score, my essential tools for score marking include: Post-it notes and Post-it tabs, 2B pencils, colored pencils (red, blue, green, purple), a ruler, and a tuning fork (A440). It sounds so low-tech, but for physical documents like musical scores nothing beats a good erasable pencil!

However, I also use several different software platforms, since arranging music and concert promotion are also included in my job. Beyond the Microsoft Office suite, for the music work I use Finale (a music notation software) and Adobe Acrobat reader (many scores are in pdf form). For concert promotion, which includes lots of work with images and video, I use Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements, and Apple’s iMovie.

Katherine's desk
Katherine’s desk

Because so much of my work is on my computer, one of my biggest fears is losing my work. I back up my work often, on Google Drive or on an external hard drive, to be on the safe side. Multiple forms of back-up help me sleep better!

In terms of managing my tasks, basically I keep different kinds of lists on every platform I use. My systems include:

  • Post-it notes on my physical desk.
  • Reminders on my phone
  • Virtual sticky notes (using my computer’s built-in app) on my desktop. Each sticky note is in a different color so I can keep track of different tasks easily.
  • Gmail task list – it’s pinned to the bottom of my screen in Gmail.

What do you use that you love? What do you use that you wish worked better?

This isn’t a technology tool, but the physical configuration of my office space is important to me. The Choral TA office is connected to two other offices (the ensemble coordinator’s office and the orchestra and wind band TA office). Sometimes there is a lot of noise and traffic in the office, while other times it is dead quiet. On a noisy day, concentration can be challenging, but this year I rearranged my desk in the corner of the office rather than having my desk by the door. It’s a simple change but it really helped a lot. Now, no matter who is there in the office, I’m generally pretty good at turning my chair around and staying focused on my work.

If there were something I wish we had in the office, it would be a window! There are days where honestly, I don’t see the sun once I enter the building!

Final thoughts

Do you love singing? Are you wanting to join a choir but not sure how? If so, feel free to contact me. We have choirs for all levels, auditioned and non-auditioned, here at the University of Minnesota. Singing in a choir is a great way to take a break mental break from your study and even meet new friends.

  • Katherine’s final D.M.A. conducting recital “Silence into Light” featuring music of James MacMillan, Ivo Antognini, Yehuda Yannay, Ola Gjeilo and John Tavener’s Requiem Fragment (2013) will be performed by the University of Minnesota Chamber Singers at 7:30 pm, Sunday February 26, at St. Olaf Catholic Church, Minneapolis, MN.
  • www.katherinechanmusic.com/ 

A note from the librarian:

Kristi Bergland
Kristi Bergland

If you’re interested in learning more about multi-media design and editing tools, the Libraries have a page on graphics and video editing resources to help you get started. The SMART Learning Commons can loan recording equipment and provide in-person assistance with your project.

Kristi Bergland

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