Is It Too Late for Me?

I’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into my viola playing, especially in the past four years. All of these endless hours and late nights in the practice rooms, giving up summers to attend programs/festivals, giving up a social life to practice, all the emotional breakdowns, may have been for nothing.
When I was in middle/high school, I was never the best string player. I was always the one who sat around on the sidelines watching the same three people win all the prizes wondering when it would be my turn. It never really was. Despite being unsuccessful, I had a lot of genuine passion for music. I worked really hard and wanted so badly to go into music, even if there were people who thought I wasn’t good enough. I told myself that all that matters is having a strong, consistent work ethic.
Now that I have an undergrad, I worry that maybe that was just something that high school teachers tell you so you feel better about yourself. I legitimately thought things would be different in undergrad, but I feel like I’m really no better than I was in high school. I was still the one who sat around on the sidelines watching the same three people win all the prizes wondering when it would be my turn. I look back and realize how naive I was. Why did I think that everything would magically get better in undergrad?
It’s weird too, because I know for a fact I worked really hard in undergrad and came a long way musically and technically. I listen to recordings from high school and I can’t believe it’s the same person. Why am I still unsuccessful? Because the people that were really good also got better so there’s just no hope for me. As soon as I’m as good as them, they’re way better.
A good example is this other violist that I know. She’s starting her undergrad. She’s played the Brahms F minor and Clarke sonatas. If you know anything about viola rep, that’s amazing to be able to play pieces like that at a young age. When I was in high school, my teacher told me that I wasn’t ready to be playing pieces like the Clarke or Brahms sonatas. Even in first and second year undergrad! I finally was able to play Brahms E-flat in third year, Clarke in fourth year, and only now am I learning Brahms F minor for my master’s.
As you can see, she is much better equipped going into undergrad than I was. The level she plays at is exactly where I wish I was going into undergrad. I wasted four years of my life getting there. Now that I’m finally ready to do my undergrad, here I am starting my master’s. She has six years (assuming she’s doing master’s) of school. She’s going to be unstoppable when she graduates. I only have 2 years left. Even if I never talk to another human being ever again and practice 12 hours a day, I will never be good enough.
They always say sometimes people have success later in life, and maybe my big break is yet to come in 10 years or something. I don’t know what to believe. It’s just so hard to see all these people 2, 4, 6, 10 years younger than me that are so much better than I was. I honestly think it’s too late for me. It sucks because I’ve invested so much time and effort into this that it would be depressing to give it all up, but at the same time I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever be good enough. I can’t wait until I’m 35 to get an orchestral job, but expecting to get an orchestral job right out of my master’s is unrealistic too.

Is being modest bad?

Whether it’s music, sports, or academics, we are always taught from a young age not to brag. We are told that going around and rubbing our accomplishments into other people’s faces is only going to dig us into a hole. You never wanted to be that kid who everyone hated because they were so full of themselves.
When you want to pursue a career in music, this becomes kind of a blurred line. If you are too modest, you will never get a job. If you are too boastful, no one will care and no one will hire you either. How are you supposed to know what to do then?
For me personally, I would say that I’m too far on the extreme of being too modest. I think when I was younger, I was on the cockier (is that even a word haha) side of things. I never went around to people and said I was the greatest, but I did sort of pump myself up for competitions. In a previous entry I think I mentioned the concerto competition in youth orchestra where I was so sure it was “my turn” to win. Although I never really went around telling people that, I sure felt like an idiot when I didn’t win. Since that “emotionally scarring” experience, I think it’s caused me to be more modest about my abilities, almost to the point where I wish I could have the courage to market myself a bit more. If anything, I feel like I’m the worst violist ever.
I hate to do this, but the best example of someone who is perhaps too cocky would be good old violin kid. He actually really bothered me when he first came to my school because I was a much milder version of him, yet I got put in my place. The more successful he is and the more stuff he wins, the more cocky he’s going to be. It seemed that no matter what happened, he always got his way and still continues to get what he wants. Even when he has a minor stumble, he still picks up right where he left off. It’s just not fair how people can go on like this while I’m sitting here trying to play a C major scale in tune.
The reason why he gets so many opportunities and wins so many competitions is because he’s good at marketing himself. Even though he comes across as cocky and arrogant, he knows how to talk himself up. People know he’s good at what he does because he won’t shut up about it. When people think of a violinist, they will think of him. He’s a genius in a way, if only I had half of his audacity.
However, there are many people who play just as well as he does, if not better, that don’t get nearly the amount of opportunities that he does. Why? It’s because they aren’t as cocky. They don’t market themselves in the same way and therefore people just don’t notice them, which is quite unfortunate in a sense. The advantage of being more modest though is that people get to know you for who you are and not based on what they’ve been told. These are the type of people that I want to see winning competitions and getting amazing opportunities, but it rarely works that way. It’s always the cocky people like violin kid that really don’t need to win another effing competition but they do anyway because why would life be fair.
Oh, what’s that you said? I’m being a selfish bitter person? That’s the problem when I try to speak out against cocky people like violin kid, trust me, I’ve been caught in those awkward situations before. I’m the bad guy because I called someone cocky, even though I would never be so openly full of myself to other people. It’s a rough and tough world out there.
So, what can you really do? My best advice is to just be yourself. I know that’s something cheesy that mommy and daddy told you to make you feel better, but it does have truth to it. Part of me thinks that these cocky people are just putting on a show for others and not really being a genuine version of themselves. Being a true, genuine person will get you places in the long run. Being cocky and putting on a show for others might be rewarding in the short term, but it does not create long term satisfaction. People like violin kid thrive on the attention they get from others and that’s why he needs to keep winning competitions and getting these opportunities to validate themselves. He would be crushed if he ever had a “dry spell” like me.

Am I ready to do a master’s?

What a crazy and terrible thing to be thinking about, you might say. After all that hard work and emotional trauma to get to the position that I’m in now, you’d think that I could finally relax. Well, you thought wrong.
As excited as I am to begin this new chapter of my life, and as much as I think it is the next logical step in my musical training, I am a little bit skeptical of it, which I’m sure is normal. Part of me wishes that I waited until I was a better player musically and technically. My undergrad school offered a one year diploma program (although most people do it in two). Typically people would take it after undergrad while doing grad school auditions or use it as a pre-master’s program before starting the master’s program there. Occasionally people took it after master’s as a way of staying in school and taking more time to decide what to do with their life.
I considered doing this diploma program for a while, all the way until the beginning of fourth year. Once all the drama and emotional struggles of the school year kicked in, I soon realized that I needed to get out and that my time at that school was coming to an end. There was no way in hell I was spending one more year there. The only other options would be doing a gap year, or a similar diploma program at another school. I’m still at the point in my life where I need to still be in school, I need to keep studying and practicing. A gap year would not be conducive to my progress. I figured that if I knew I wanted to go for a master’s anyway, I might as well do it now.
Now that I’ve been accepted to a master’s program, registered for courses, found my place, etc., now I’m questioning if it was the right decision. I feel like I’ve always been “behind” or “inferior” to other musicians my age. I feel like only in the past four years have I started to make progress, but it’s not enough. Everyone else made progress as well and since they were already so far ahead of me, I will never catch up. Four years of good practice habits and a great teacher is not going to make up for 12 years of poor practicing and a not so great teacher. I only have two years of school left to get my sh!t together and then I’m out in the world. That’s scary! If things keep going the way they are now, I won’t make it. My only hope is to take an artist’s diploma (or something) after master’s, but after two years I might be done with school.
Where I am now musically and technically is where I should have been when I began my undergrad. It shouldn’t have taken me a whole undergrad to learn how to practice efficiently and address my technical issues that I’ve had for years. I came a long way in my undergrad, but it wasn’t enough. I should have started it the way I am now so that I could make some real progress. Now I feel like I could make some real progress, but I only have two years of school left. Whether I like it or not, it’s looking like I need to take an artist diploma if I have any hope of doing anything musical with my life. But there’s also that part of me that thinks that it may already be too late. As meaningless as university competitions are, I can’t help but think that never making it to the final round of the concerto competition was a sign. If I can’t even make it to the final round of some small competition at some small little school in Canada, then why do I think I have a chance at winning a national or international orchestra audition?
I think about people that I know that are starting undergrad in the fall. They are in a way better position than I am. They play at the level that I do now (if not better) and clearly have effective practice habits down to a science. If they can do that already, it’s scary to think where they will be in 6 years after they are done their master’s.
I used to believe that having  a strong work ethic was all that mattered, even if you weren’t the person who won all the competitions or the one that everyone thought was the greatest. If you were consistent and worked hard, you would be successful even if it took many years. Now I think that’s something that I told myself and teachers told me to make me feel better. I’m too far behind and I’ll never catch up even if I practiced 8 hours a day.