Beginning to Feel Like Myself Again

I think I may be on my way to snapping out of whatever kind of weird mood I’m in. Please refer to the previous post “Fourth Year Struggles” if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Monday was not really a good day for me. I have no classes until orchestra in the evening and it’s always my intention to wake up somewhat early in the morning to practice. Even 9:00 is reasonable. That way, I don’t have to stay late and practice after orchestra like I’ve been doing the past three years and I can just go home, relax, and go to bed early. I had my alarm set for 9:00 and when it went off I just couldn’t physically drag myself out of bed. Most of the time it was because a thought or a memory would come into my mind and I’d cry about it or just not be able to stop thinking about it. By the time I’d actually fall asleep it might be 3 or 4am. That wasn’t the first time I tried to wake up at 9:00am on a weekday morning where I had no morning classes, but of course every morning I would hope for something different. I went back to sleep again and woke up around noon some time. Obviously I have to get out of bed now. I couldn’t even bring myself to go practice in the afternoon. I pretty much went to orchestra without having played that day. I went to practice a bit after orchestra but it did not go so well.

Tuesday is a new day, right? Not really. I had class in the morning, so I dragged myself out of bed at the last possible minute to make it to class. I practiced a bit in the afternoon again with no success. My Pilates class at the gym was starting that evening, so I figured if I went to that I would start to feel better. Exercise is the best thing when you’re feeling down right? I thought I could just jump right back into my regular routine. Last year, I’d go to this cardio/strength drop in class and then go straight into Pilates and I’d always feel great after it. I was fine after the first class but as soon as I got to Pilates I was just so physically drained. I could barely make it through all the poses. I could have curled up into a ball and fallen asleep on my mat. When class was done, I got out of there as fast as I could. The fatigue I was experiencing was overwhelming, worse than the fatigue that hit me when I was out for supper with my parents that time. I also had a headache/migraine. Every time I looked at a light, or even my phone, my head would just throb. To give you an idea of how fatigued I was, the Pilates class ended at 7:10 and I was in bed by 8:00. I wasted no time getting out of there and getting home. I feel asleep almost instantly. I had to lie down immediately as an overwhelming feeling of nausea had taken over. I woke up around midnight and felt a lot better. My headache subsided so I was able to check my phone and catch up on email, messages, and Facebook. I went back to sleep, again falling asleep instantly. I woke up at 9:00am the next morning like I had been trying to do the past month with success. I guess it was kind of cheating though, going to bed at 8:00pm, it’s hard to sleep in until noon.

I attributed the extreme fatigue I experienced to the lack of sleep and the poor quality sleep I had been getting due to the quasi anxiety and depression I was experiencing as well as the worrying about everything in general. I also googled the symptoms I had (because that’s always a good idea), and I got a bunch of pages that said exercise intolerance. It makes sense. I was perhaps a bit too ambitious for my first day back to the gym. I haven’t really gone to a gym since last year as I ride my bike and exercise outdoors during the summer. It’s not that I wasn’t capable of doing a workout like that (I did that exact workout every week last year), it’s just that I should have worked up to it and not done that on my first day back to the gym after a long summer. One good thing that came out of this is that I had the best sleep ever on Tuesday night. I felt so refreshed on Wednesday and it was generally a good day. I practiced for almost 4 hours! That’s the most I’ve practiced this school year.

Thursday was another good day, I got lots of practicing done. I went to a hot yoga class that evening as I had a free drop in coupon. It was super intense but it felt really good. I’ve done hot yoga before, but it wasn’t the authentic hot yoga, it was, as the instructor described, “Yoga in a warm room”. I was taken aback by how intense it was and how much I sweat. I don’t sweat tons when I go to the gym, I don’t usually need to bring a towel or anything, so I only brought a small hand towel. By the end of the class, my mat was a slip n’ slide of my sweat. I couldn’t even do any of the poses in the last 15 minutes of class because my mat was too slippery and the heat was so intense. The instructor said to take breaks whenever you want so I took up on that. I felt really invigorated afterward though, I didn’t experience any exercise intolerance so that was good.

Friday is basically a day off for me (relatively speaking for music majors) so I just slept and guess what. I woke up this morning at 8:50am, without an alarm and I felt refreshed. What is this sorcery? I went on my bike to get some groceries in the morning and did some errands. I was that person and went to a drive thru ATM on my bike. In my defense there was no bike rack or space to lock up my bike. There was no one around and of course as soon as I start doing my banking a line of actual cars appears out of nowhere. Murphy’s law at its finest. I practiced in the afternoon and got some good work. This evening I thought I’d just relax and have some me time so I didn’t practice quite 4 hours today, but I’m finally starting to feel optimistic about this year. Things are looking up. I’m going to graduate and kick some grad school audition butt!

Fourth Year Struggles

Hello again! My postings on this blog are somewhat sporadic but I just haven’t really been in the mood to write anything lately (as you will see later on in this post). I began my fourth year of school two weeks ago and it hasn’t been treating me well.

I arrived on Saturday the 5th. I unpacked some stuff at my place and eventually got too tired so I just went to bed and planned to continue the next day. I didn’t think much of it. I woke up on Sunday and went about my day as usual. I was out for dinner with my parents. They had dropped me off and were planning to go back home the next morning so I wanted to go out with them before they left. I was fine when we got to the restaurant but all of a sudden this wave of extreme fatigue hit me. I was just so physically exhausted out of nowhere, I couldn’t even finish my meal. I was planning to hang out with my parents a bit more but I was just so drained that I had them take me home. It was 8:00pm. I went straight to bed and woke up on Monday morning (the labour day holiday) at noon. Mind you I wasn’t sleeping the whole time, I had trouble falling asleep as I had a lot on my mind and there were some loud hooligans in the hallway. On Monday I spent almost the entire day in bed watching YouTube videos. I would drag myself out of bed occasionally to go eat something but then it was right back to my YouTube watching. You’d think I was recovering from surgery or something. Getting in contact with my friends to see what they were up to was out of the question.

I didn’t really think much of it at first but I began to think that maybe there was something wrong. Normally I’m as motivated as ever to begin a school year and then later on I lose my motivation. Never have I began a school year wanting to lay in bed all day and not talk to anyone. Why the lack of motivation? Part of it was the summer program I was in. I had done the exact program in summer 2014 and it was amazing. I began third year more motivated then ever and I worked incredibly hard that year in all aspects. I do the same program again in 2015 and it has the opposite affect. I come back to school feeling defeated and inadequate. The level of playing at the program was exceptionally high this summer and I just felt like I didn’t belong musically. I’d see all these amazing people doing amazing things that I’ll never get an opportunity to do or be able to do and it just made me think, “Why do I bother?”

Also, what comes with being a fourth year is the looming thought of what I will do next year. Of course, there are the societal pressures to go to grad school. Ever since I was in grade 12 I knew I wanted to go to grad school. There was no question about it. Now, I’m not so sure if I should even continue in music. I really want to, it is something that I love doing and I can picture myself having a career in, but I am concerned if I am disciplined/skilled enough and have the mental fortitude to pursue it. I mean, if I get so offended and heartbroken from losing some meaningless competition at my school, how would I handle losing an audition at a professional orchestra? I can’t sit around in my room crying for days every time something doesn’t go my way in the real world. There is also the option of taking a year off but that is also frowned upon by people. The more years you spend working, the harder it is to go back to being a student.

I was always so opposed to and disturbed by the idea of taking a year off, but now I honestly think it might be best for my mental health. After two summers of doing programs, I feel like I’ve been in school nonstop since the beginning of second year. I haven’t had a real break. As sad as it sounds, I’m at a point where I need a break from music. The pressures of being a music student/musician are getting to me too much. But then again, maybe the summer is all I need and I can have a fresh start next year at grad school. As much as I want a break, if I start grad school right away after my undergrad, then I can be done and take as long of a break as I want. If I take a year off, it will be nice but I will only be prolonging my schooling. Why is life so hard?

I thought once classes started and I got into a routine I’d snap out of whatever this was. Not really the case. I haven’t had any days where I spent the entire day lying in bed, but I haven’t exactly been in the practice rooms for my 4+ hours a day either. If anything, this is the year where I need to get my sh*t together and practice more than ever. But no. It’s not that I haven’t practiced, I’ve made some good progress on the Clarke Sonata and my unaccompanied Bach, I’ve just been dragging my heels on my concerto and my other recital rep which I haven’t even confirmed yet. Yay me. I have to have all this rep learned by January/February if I’m going to be doing grad school auditions and I’ve wasted most of September moping around. I mean, it’s not too late to turn things around. There’s still 9 or so days left in September and at least 3 or 4 months left. I thought I’d gotten myself back on track last week, but then I fell back into my moping again. It’s kind of concerning, if I don’t start getting my act together soon, then I won’t be able to learn my rep in time for grad school auditions and I’ll have no choice but to take a year off. At least if I can push myself through the auditions, I have the option to change my mind or defer it for another year.

I guess if it’s any solace, I’m probably not the first music student, and won’t be the last, to feel like this in fourth year. It’s a stressful time. I’m so close to the end of my schooling and the beginning of my professional life. There are so many options available to me both in music and not in music. I guess I just have to take things one step at a time and get through this year first. I’ve gotten through 3 years of university, why should this one be any different? I have to find that sense of motivation and determination within myself. It’s there, I know it. I wouldn’t have made it this far if it wasn’t. I need some more positive self talk, rather than focusing on negative things.

Student Recitals

If you’re a music performance major, one thing you’ll be familiar with is putting together a recital in April or some time near the end of the school year. Hours and hours of preparation go into this recital in terms of individual practice and rehearsing with pianists. It is also a humbling feeling to see your friends, fellow students, family, and teachers who have taken time out of their lives to come support you and your hard work. It is definitely a more rewarding way to end the school year then doing a jury for a small panel.

The sad part about these student recitals is it can often feel like pulling teeth to get people to come to your recital. I’ve been to many student recitals that were very well done and very poorly attended. With the amount of work that everyone puts into these recitals, regardless of how “good” they are, they deserve an audience of at least 50-60, which is virtually impossible for a school recital. At least at my school, you’re lucky to get an audience of 20.

If the music is so high quality and the students work so hard, why are the audiences so small? Well, several factors. First of all is the competition factor. In April there are dozens of other people also putting on recitals. In many cases, there are days with 2 or 3, possibly more recitals. There could be multiple recitals occurring at the same time at different venues too. It’s hard to sell your recital as the one to go to when there are dozens of others around the same time that people could attend. Having your recital too late in April or May will run the risk of people being “recitaled out” or they’ve gone home for the summer and they just won’t bother. Having your recital in March or early April may guarantee a larger audience, but are these people there to genuinely support you? At my school at least, you have to attend so many student recitals and professional concerts each year as part of your grade. The cut off date is in mid-April. Student recitals before that cut off date count as a credit and you’ll often see random people in the audience for those recitals. For me at least, I much prefer a smaller audience of people who genuinely support me rather than a large audience of random people who are just trying to squeeze in some last minute credits. No matter how much advertising you do, it is so easy for your recital to be lost in the mix of dozens of other similar recitals.

Another factor that, unfortunately, comes into play is popularity. You’d think that by university we’d mature a bit from high school cliques and popularity contests. Sadly, that is not the case in most music faculties. Some people are “popular” because they are “really good” and won blah blah competition or whatever. Some people are just known by everyone in the faculty for whatever reason. As soon as this person is having a recital, everyone is just there no matter what. It’s unfortunate that the people in the faculty who are “really good” pretty much get a guaranteed audience for their recital whereas the people who “aren’t as good” but work just as hard don’t get the same respect.

How many people you know from off-campus or outside the music faculty also has an impact. These people may not know as many people in the music faculty and would probably only hear about a few recitals. Since they are not bombarded with dozens of recital posters, they may be more likely to attend yours. I have always found that people that live at home have a decent sized audience at their recitals. They basically have a guaranteed audience of their parents, siblings, friends from high school, extended family, and other people they may know outside of the university community. Those people plus other students can add up to a decent sized audience.

Could the fault be in promotion? Most people will only advertise their recital with posters on campus and Facebook. While this is a great way to get the word out to thousands of people with the click of a button, it is a very passive form of advertising. While thousands of people will know about your recital, they may not be compelled to attend, especially if they’ve already received dozens of invites to other similar events. The best way to get people to attend is to personally invite them. Some people need a personal invitation to get the motivation to go to an event like a recital, especially if they’re not from the music faculty, they may feel like they aren’t allowed to come or may feel awkward being there. Facebook events can easily be forgotten or ignored. Perhaps if some students reached out to local newspapers, online event listings outside Facebook, or put up posters in off-campus coffee shops they would have more success in attendance to their recital. Of course, if every single student did this for their recital, then the same problem of competition would be present again. But again, even with putting up posters around the off-campus community, people may not feel compelled to attend a student recital for someone they don’t know or have never heard of. Once again, people who live at home for university have the advantage. I know I’ve done recitals in my hometown which were far better attended then any student recital I’ve been to at my school because I have the advantage of having family, friends, and other people I know that will attend my recital for sure.

As a music student, how do you navigate recital season? There are so many recitals and nobody in their right mind is able to attend every single one. How do you pick and choose without creating drama and hard feelings? Ultimately, you just have to figure out who you most want to support. For me personally, I try my best to attend as many string recitals as possible. I also try to attend recitals for people that I talk to on a regular basis or played with in a chamber group. Of course, we all have busy lives and there are times where I’m unable to go to someone’s recital as I have a conflict or I’ve gone home for the summer. I can’t be constantly worried about creating hard feelings because I went to A’s recital but not B’s. I am sometimes tempted just to not go to anyone’s recital, but then I’d feel guilty for not supporting anyone and I can’t expect people to attend my recital if I’m not going to go to any myself.

My third year recital was poorly attended, even worse than other poorly attended recitals that I’ve been to. I tried not to stare into the audience, but there couldn’t have been more than 8 people there. I did what I could to get the word out, I put posters around the music building, the rest of campus, and made a Facebook event, but so did dozens of other people for their recitals. A lot of it was the timing. I’d chosen a late April recital and I know there were a lot of people who would have attended but they had gone home for the summer. It was also a busy night in terms of other concerts happening around the community. Many students were involved with those concerts and couldn’t attend my recital, which was very understandable. There were several people who had the decency to wish me good luck or message me and say that they couldn’t make it but wished they could be there. Then there were several people that weren’t there that really should have been and to this day I wonder why they weren’t there. I was thinking that at the very least all the violists would be there and none of them were there. Only 2 or 3 other string players were there. I know a lot of people said that they couldn’t come and that’s fine, but there are a lot of people who should have been there and didn’t say anything. I was initially a bit hurt that a lot of the string players didn’t come to my recital. I didn’t care about having a large audience or anything, but I went out of my way for the past 3 years to attend string recitals and it was quite sad that gesture wasn’t reciprocated to me. It didn’t help that there was another string recital that evening. I’d picked the day first, but perhaps people liked the other string player better and “picked and chose”. I didn’t attend the other recital as I wanted to relax and celebrate that night and she didn’t attend mine as she was preparing for hers. I’ll never know who attended that recital but it would be somewhat heartbreaking if all the string players were there and not at mine. An experience like this almost makes me reconsider being so generous about attending recitals.

Ultimately, you really can’t get mad at people for not attending your recital. It’s not a fair accusation. At my school, I find that one thing the student body lacks is a sense of camaraderie and a support system. I see that in the vocalists, woodwinds, and brass, but not as much in the strings, which is really sad. I’ve met students at other schools and they always have string parties or string quartet reading sessions. The string players at my school would never be interested in anything like that. My school has to create a concert credit incentive system to get people to attend concerts and there are many schools where this is not required and students will go out of their way to attend other student recitals regardless. Once the cut off day for credit has passed, the April recitals become increasingly poorly attended. It’s not fair that those who have recitals in March or early April get a guaranteed audience of procrastinators for their audience. It’s sad that people who play the same instrument may not always go out of their way to attend their fellow peer’s recital even if that means going back to school after they’re done finals. I can’t really be mad at anyone or blame myself for doing anything wrong, a lot of it is just the mentality of the student body at my school and that isn’t really something that I alone can change. If anything, I should be thankful for those 8 people who took time out of their day to come support me.