Putting Down Others

As they always say “digging a hole for someone else does not make you appear taller.” I think as musicians we can tend to be very critical of ourselves, and sometimes our criticisms of others can be a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Yes, music is very competitive and we always want to do our best, but there is a point where criticizing someone else really isn’t going to get us anywhere.

I think almost every music program, with the exception of big name schools like Julliard or Curtis, is guilty of over-admitting students to “fill space”. Universities and conservatories accept way too many music students then there are careers for us, but it’s not their problem. The school makes more money by accepting as many students and offering as many programs as possible. To the administration, you’re merely a paycheque (Yes, I’m Canadian if you haven’t figured that out). They don’t care if you find a career in your area of study after school, they’re just happy you took a degree.

Where am I going with this? Well, before I go on a huge tangent, let me use my school (that I’m graduating from in about a week) as an example. It’s a smaller school in a smaller city. There are some very fine musicians that come from this school that could have easily studied at a school like McGill, U of T, or Glenn Gould, but they chose the small school environment. There are also a lot of people who don’t play at a high standard and only really got accepted to the school because they needed to fill space.

I’ve mentioned this idea of “filling space” twice now and haven’t really explained it. At my school, I believe they accept 70 undergrads each year. That is a maximum number and hypothetically, if there were not enough qualified candidates they wouldn’t accept the full slate of 70 students. However, because university is honestly a money making scam, they will accept the full slate of 70 students. The university would shut down the music program if they only accepted 30 students each year if they could be accepting 70.

What does this mean? Well, a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise be qualified to study in a university music program will be accepted into the school. Is it a bad thing? Yes and no. It does create extra, unnecessary competition. A lot of these “filler” students will end up being unable to pursue a career in music even though they put in the same hours of work as the “better” students.

That is a very cynical way of looking at it and I choose not to view it that way. I think that just because someone maybe picked up an instrument at a later age or doesn’t play as well as people their age doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to study music. They have just as much of a right to further their education as anyone in the faculty does. They work hard and practice just like everyone else. Although they may never become a concert pianist or a symphony orchestra player doesn’t mean that a music degree is a waste for them. The skills you learn while learning a musical instrument are transferable to every aspect of life. If you can get through a music degree, you can take on pretty much any career.

Back to the idea of “digging a hole for someone else does not make you appear taller” now. These “filler” students are the target for backlash and rude comments from fellow peers. I’ve listened to many of my close friends put down these students for no reason. I just think there’s no need for it. Does picking apart someone else’s playing really make you feel better? Just because you started your instrument at age 4 and someone else didn’t start until their late teens doesn’t make you a better person than them. They are just as entitled to learn. Maybe they won’t become a concert pianist but ever stop and think that maybe they don’t want to? Maybe they just love playing the piano and wanted to take a music degree before moving on to law school. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

For example, a good friend of mine was picking apart one of the violinists in the faculty. She said hurtful things like “I don’t think she should get selected for that opportunity, she’s not good enough”. She went on about how she can barely get through a piece, how would she do a recital. She was also very disturbed that this violinist was selected as a performance major. Excuse me, but what does her success or lack thereof have to do with you? Maybe she’s still discovering her instrument or getting over some mental issues, you don’t know what she’s dealing with.

Sorry if this entry is somewhat unstructured or going all over the place, but I hope I made the point that I just have no tolerance for putting down other people. I get that in a competitive field like music, we want to see ourselves in the best light possible. We want to succeed, but I have always believed that it is way more efficient to focus on yourself and block out others, rather than being so concerned with what others are doing. It is difficult in a competitive field like music, but necessary if you want to succeed. Trust me. I’ve found when I stopped caring about what other people were doing was when I had the most successes.

The Pain of Rejection

If you’ve been following this blog, even if it’s only been for a couple entries, you would know that I did grad school auditions. I’m not sure if I mentioned that I’ve already made a decision on where to go. I am very satisfied with my decision and I knew from the beginning that I was probably going to go to that school anyway, but it was useful to look at the other schools and seriously consider them.

It was basically a toss up between two schools, let’s call them School A and School B. I also applied to School C because why not right. I didn’t seriously want to go there but I wanted to check out the school anyway. It was probably the most prestigious out of the three schools, but it wasn’t the right type of school for me. I would never choose a school just for its prestige, my own education and what I get out of it is way more important than me being able to go around and be like “Oh look at me, I went to ______ school, I’m better than everyone else”.

My auditions at School A and School B went very well. I had lessons with the teachers there and I got good vibes from all of them. I guess the teachers could tell that I wanted to go to those schools as well. All the teachers at Schools A and B that I had lessons with really made me feel welcome there and that I wished that I could study with all of them. I felt that when I played those auditions that it was a much better representation of my playing and what I’m capable of. The fact that I wanted to go to those schools and study with those teachers probably also came through in my playing.

By the time I got to School C, I was quite tired from my auditions and School A and B that I just wanted to be done with auditions already. I met up with the teacher at School C for a lesson and in the moment I didn’t really think about it, but looking back at it now, I should have picked up on the weird vibes a little bit better. School C, as I mentioned, was the most prestigious school of the 3 that I applied to and frankly, I think the students and teachers there can be a bit snobby about it. I emailed the teacher to set up a lesson and he suggested a time. I said that was the day I was flying in so it wasn’t ideal but it would be fine. I arrived in the city and even paid for a cab from the airport (when I could have taken the shuttle bus to save money) to make sure that I would get there in good time for my lesson. The teacher emailed me about half an hour before we were supposed to have the lesson to say that something came up and he had to cancel and could teach me some time the next day. I get that sh*t happens sometimes and professional musicians are busy, but what a terrible first impression to make on a prospective student.

I emailed back and said that I was fine to have the lesson the next day in the afternoon. He also left a phone number in his email so I phoned him as well. No answer, so I left a message. The rest of that evening, I received no correspondence from him whatsoever. It wasn’t until 10:00 the next morning that he finally emailed back and asked to do 2:00pm that afternoon. Once again, I get he’s very busy and I respect his time, but that’s just a tad unprofessional. It was very nice of him to offer this lesson, but I can’t be expected to just schedule my whole life around it.

I go to his studio to wait for the lesson. There’s another prospective student in there getting a lesson as well. Her mom was actually waiting outside the studio and I was chatting to the mom a bit. She was applying for undergrad. It was about 1:50 or so when I got there, so we thought they were just finishing up and I’d be there soon. But the lesson  went on and on. I could hear a bit outside the door and from what I heard, it sounded like the teacher really liked her. As she was leaving, he said something like “You have my email, keep in touch” and all that fun stuff.

Contrast that to me now. I get into his studio about half an hour after my lesson was supposed to start. I play through my Bach and I could tell he was a little bit unsure of what he wanted to say. Either he was appalled at how terrible it was or there were just too many things that he didn’t know where to begin. He started by complimenting my intonation, which was a first for me. He began by talking about posture and how to hold the viola and stuff like that. It was actually really interesting and I won’t go into detail about that right now, but I tried playing again after and already I noticed a huge difference and it was so much easier to play. Right as I felt the lesson was getting started, he said “Okay, that’s all we have time for today” and just kind of awkwardly kicked me out. I saw how he treated the girl before me. It was clear that he did not like me and did not want me in his studio but he really liked that other girl. The audition was a couple days later and ultimately, I just don’t think I played very well at the audition. It wasn’t terrible, but I don’t think it was a good representation of what I was capable of. In hindsight, I think it was just the awkward vibes I got from that lesson.

The first school I heard back from was School A (which is where I’m going). They actually emailed me a couple hours before my audition at School C. I was super ecstatic as it was my first choice school. Of course, I wanted to wait to hear back from the other schools before making an official decision. I waited and waited. Nothing. Finally, I got a letter from School B about two weeks after my acceptance to School A and I was accepted there as well. The scholarship wasn’t nearly as good though. At this point, I was set on School A as I really loved the program, the teacher, and the scholarship offer was really good. But of course, I had to wait for School C.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I saw another violist friend that I met at a summer program post on Facebook that he got into School C not too long after I got into School B. I logged on to my account at School C to check to see if there was anything for me. Nothing. I had a bit of a gut feeling that I didn’t get into School C based on this, but I didn’t want to assume anything. I decided to wait a bit longer. In the mean time, the teacher at School A phoned me and wanted to check in. He was super excited about me going to School A and really hoped that I went there. The phone call was the deciding factor for me. It was amazing that he took the time to reach out to me like that and none of the other teachers had done anything like that. I decided to stop waiting for School C and just accepted my offer to School A.

About a week ago, I finally heard back from School C and it was not in a good way. I got the official rejection letter. I took the news a lot more harshly than I thought I would. I already had a feeling that I didn’t get in and I didn’t really want to go there anyway, but those harsh words still got to me. Frankly, I should have seen it coming. As I explained, it was clear the teacher didn’t really like me and I didn’t play that well at the audition. It’s not that I’m not good enough, it’s just that it wasn’t the right type of school for me. I don’t want to think of it as a reflection on myself as a player. Even if I had been accepted there, I think the environment at School A is much better for me and I would learn better there. Although School C is much more internationally known as a prestigious school, if it’s not the right type of school for me then there’s no reason to go there. Clearly, there are two other schools that wanted me there so I’m not a total loser. I guess I wanted the option of saying no.