What am I doing with my life?

The question all music majors ask themselves at some point. It is a career path with such uncertainty and no one knows where they’ll be in 5 years. While you’re in school, you are subject to so much criticism (albeit constructive), but it’s normal to fell like you suck. Today, I had somewhat of a quasi mental breakdown.

With grad school auditions coming up, I often worry if I will be good enough. I question every thing I have ever done in my life and find myself being concerned with “If I did this one thing differently, everything would be better”. I think about my time when I was in high school and growing up in my hometown. If you’ve read any previous entries in this blog, you’ll know that I have always felt like I got the short end of the stick. I had to watch other people constantly win competitions, even when they didn’t necessarily deserve it. I felt like the classical music version of Leonardo DiCaprio (that awkward moment if you’re reading this entry in the future and he actually won an Oscar). I always had this thought in the back of my mind that I would have a chance of winning these competitions as the people who were older than me graduated and moved away. It turns out the people younger than me took over. I remember very distinctly at the place I took my music lessons at had an awards ceremony at the end of the year where they handed out various scholarships/medals to hard-working students. They had this very prestigious award (or at least that was what I thought it was) that was called the Director’s gold medal or something. Basically, you get your name added to the plaque on the wall and everyone thinks you’re the greatest person on earth. Naturally, I wanted this award more than anything. The things they looked for were attendance and preparation in lessons, a high level of performance, and participation in recitals. I went out of my way to make sure I excelled in those areas. In grade 11, I was up every morning at 6am to squeeze in an extra hour of practice before school. I performed in 5 or 6 recitals that year too. I didn’t get selected and I was initially quite upset because that was the year I wanted it so I could put it on my resume for university applications. I eventually got over it and focused on trying to get it for grade 12. You know what happens next though. I did not receive this award in grade 12. I was just as consistent with my preparation for lessons and work ethic, yet it was not noticed. I felt like all that work was for “nothing”. The part that made it a huge slap in the face was that they had given it to someone who was a year younger than me, had won it in the past, and wasn’t planning to go into music. I was convinced that there were people from my hometown that were just closed-minded and didn’t think I had the potential to succeed in a career in music so they all conspired to make sure that I never won any competitions or awards.

When I did go away to pursue music, I forgot about a lot of this stuff and didn’t let it bother me. At the same time, it was still in the back of my mind. I was convinced that so and so was out there rooting for me to fail and drop out of music. It almost gave me this sense that I needed to prove that I was good enough and that I was doing well. After first year I entered the music festival in my hometown. There were a lot of university kids who had the same idea though, so I didn’t really win anything. It wasn’t as embarrassing though because these people were already older and better than me and it would have taken a miracle for me to play better than them. After my second year, I entered in the same festival again. It turned out that I was the oldest competitor this time so while I tried not to let it get to my head, I thought that I might have a better chance. I did win some of the competitions that I’d entered in for years, but it wasn’t really a satisfying win, it was more or less just expected given I was the oldest, most qualified, and musical candidate. There were a couple times I lost to the “superstar little kids” who were still in high school at the time. Needless to say it was slightly embarrassing, as a music major, to lose to people who were still in high school. I got selected to the provincial festival and got beaten out by a cellist who was a 3rd year engineering student. Whaaaat? That was the last year I did the music festival in my hometown and I can’t see myself doing it ever again in my life.

If you have read anything on this blog before, you know that I’m not exactly having more success at my school currently with respect to competitions. I know competitions aren’t everything, but I still can’t help but wonder what I’ve been doing wrong all these years. Yes, intonation is probably my biggest struggle, but it can’t be the only thing. It’s not my instrument choice either, I’ve watched other violists and other “underdog” instruments like guitar or bassoon win competitions. I would totally be best buds with Leo DiCaprio at this rate, except he has a better chance of winning an Oscar than I do of winning a competition. I’ve given up on entering competitions at my school too. There’s a scholarship competition in January coming up soon and I’m just like f*ck it. I will be out of town for the final round anyway so if I did enter, although no matter how well I play I wouldn’t make it to the finals, I’d still feel like I have to go out of my way to slough it off which isn’t worth it. I’m tired of feeling like a worthless piece of sh!t as this is not conducive to my 4th year recital and grad school auditions coming up. Competitions make me feel like sh!t, when I don’t enter them, I’m fine.

It does concern me on a larger scale though. The two cities I’ve lived in are relatively small centres in Canada as a whole. It’s really not hard to stand out, but somehow I am unsuccessful at that. My concern is that if I can’t even get recognized for a silly thing like the director’s gold medal or the university concerto competition, how am I going to make it on the national and international level? There is no “better luck next time” or “keep up the good work” in the real world. I can only be unsuccessful at so many auditions before I have to give up and find a career outside music. I can’t continue this 10+ year “dry spell” that I’ve been having much longer. I need to start standing out and achieving things. I worry that because I don’t have the skills to stand out in small schools/cities that I will not stand out in grad school auditions either. There will be students from all over the country and possibly internationally as well that are competing against me. I may be good enough for my small school (who isn’t, let’s be real) but I’m applying to the big schools in Canada and they may not have so much tolerance for my sh!t. One out of tune note and I’m gone. I’m taking a huge risk too, if I don’t get accepted into one of the three schools I’m applying to, I have to wait a whole year to try again. I should have applied to the school I go to currently for master’s as a backup, but I’m not that desperate to do a master’s that I would attend my school for another 2 years. I’ve had enough of this place. I guess if I don’t get into a master’s I’m not going through all this application and audition sh!t again so that’s the end of the road for my music career. To recap, if I f*ck up with my auditions, I’m potentially screwing up my whole life. No pressure.

But the problem is I have mental breakdowns like these, then I’ll turn around and have the most successful practice session. Now I’m back to feeling confident and motivated about my auditions. Why can’t I make up my mind and just be confident or just be depressed? I figured out this section that I was really struggling with in one of my pieces. I rehearsed with the pianist and had a coaching with my teacher and it just was not a good time at all, but I fixed it! I really fixed it! I guess the important thing to remember is you always accomplish things, even if they seem futile or mundane to others or yourself. I just sometimes have to ignore all these people out there and winning competitions and focus on my little successes of figuring out a tricky rhythm. The grass isn’t greener on the other side either. For example, I always liked the idea of winning the concerto competition in 3rd year so I could play with the orchestra in 4th year and it would be like a nice “send-off” or “grad gift”. Now that I’m in 4th year, I’m incredibly thankful I’m not preparing a concerto to play with the orchestra on top of all my grad school and recital sh*t! I’m in way over my head with the stuff I have to do, I couldn’t imagine doing much more at the moment!

I’m just keeping my eyes on the prize. Things are so stressful right now with my grad school auditions around the corner. Before I leave, I’m doing my 4th year recital! It’s pretty insane! But I know that in March, I will be so thankful I got all of that done and I can just enjoy the last 2 months of my undergrad. I can learn any pieces I want, do some more chamber music stuff, and just relax. And then this summer, I’m going to learn how to take a real break. I only applied to 3 programs, which are 2-3 weeks (no longer than a month). I will only do whichever ones I get accepted to basically. Then, I can do whatever I want with no specific purpose. And then grad school (if I make it) starts. Yay me!

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More Than One Right Way

Music tends to be one of those areas of study where people can be incredibly jaded and opinionated about the “right” way to do something. Yes, there are better ways of doing things, but I don’t think there is a “right” way to become a musician. This can be applied to many aspects of life as well.

The main point I’m trying to get at is people tend to be very pushy about how many hours a day you should practice at all stages of playing. For example, I saw the following chart posted on Violin Masterclass.

If you play for fun

  • Age five: 30 minutes
  • Age eight: 45 – 60 minutes
  • Age ten: 60 – 75 minutes
  • Age twelve to adult: 90 – 120 minutes

If you want to be a professional

  • Age five: 30 – 45 minutes
  • Age eight: 90 – 120 minutes
  • Age ten: 2 hours
  • Age twelve: 3 hours
  • Age fourteen to eighteen: 3 – 4 hours
  • Violin major in college: 5 hours

Let me be the first to tell you that there’s no way in hell I practiced nearly that much and I’m here in university doing just fine. I honestly seldom practice 5 hours a day as a music major. I know, shame on me. The chart also kind of implies that one would know they want to be a professional by age 8. I hated taking violin lessons at age 8 and I don’t think I practiced anywhere near 30 minutes, let alone the suggestion on the chart! When I first read this chart, I think I was about 10 years old and it immediately made me feel like a failure because I didn’t practice anywhere near the amount suggested on the playing for fun chart.

My take on it is, are these kids who follow the practice times on this chart like it’s the universal truth really passionate about what they do? For me, I believe that passion and sincerity are the most important aspects of a musician, artist, actor, or any fine arts performer. I would much rather see a person who plays with emotion, passion, and musicality even if their technique is not perfect than a technique robot whose parents made them practice 5 hours a day. In order to practice that many hours as a child, you would have to make a ton of sacrifices and miss out on being a kid. I know when I was a child, I went to public school so I would be in school for 6 hours a day. That’s already 6 hours of my day spoken for. When I was younger, I could easily practice for 30-45 minutes after school and be done with it. But as I got older, I got busier and sometimes I’d have rehearsals after school and after supper and I’d be squeezing in homework with any little time I got, even if it was 15 minutes. By the time I got home, it was bed time. Days would go by without even practicing. I’d be playing my instrument, but I just didn’t have that individual time each day. I still made it into music school though. Once I got there, I practiced my butt off because I had so much “free time”.

Of course, these kids who follow the practice times on the chart did not have a normal or well-rounded childhood as I did. Don’t get me wrong, if you have read any of my rant posts on this blog, you know I made significant sacrifices to pursue my music, but these kids are at a higher level of sacrifice than I was. For the most part, they were home-schooled which makes a huge difference in the amount of practice time available to you. However, their “free time” was practicing strictly enforced by the parents. I know people in university now who were home-schooled under this mentality and they said that they didn’t even have any friends their own age. They didn’t get to play sports, play other instruments, go to clubs, or even play with kids at the park; things that most of us took for granted in our childhood. Instead, they were to practice violin or piano (it’s usually those instruments with these types of people) for X hours a day and then study math for X hours a day. These are the kids that grow up to be technical robots and win every competition, but have no genuine passion for the art.

I’ll be honest, I do get home-school envy from time to time. When the superstar violin kid came to my school, I felt like such a failure. I thought I was behind for my age and that I should have been home-schooled so that I could have had that time to refine my technique prior to university. He accomplished more before coming to university than I did my whole life. He was used to practicing 4-5+ hours a day already and I could barely wrap my head around practicing that much even as a first year music major. However, by going to public school, I got the opportunity to play in band, jazz band, flute choir and sing in choir, vocal jazz, and musical theatre. These experiences contributed to my musicality. Although I didn’t really practice enough to develop solid technique, I had the musicality that can’t always be taught. To clarify, I’m by no means suggesting that home-schooled students do so specifically to practice their instruments more or be the “best” at everything. I’ve met home-schooled students in university who had a very well-rounded childhood and their intentions for being home-schooled were either because it was a family tradition or they have a self-starter personality and wanted to take control of their education.

Coming back to this post title, there is not one right way to do something. The beauty of the music world is seeing the variety of musical backgrounds that people come from. You don’t need to be a child prodigy to make it in the music world, in fact I’d almost argue that it’s better not to be. People can be very pushy like “Oh you should practice more” but it ultimately depends on what you want to achieve and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for it. If you don’t want to kill yourself practicing 5 hours a day, no one said you had to. It depends more on the person and their work ethic. There is no step-by-step process to becoming a musician and some people need to stop making one. There are people who pursue music degrees and make it in the music business who only picked up an instrument in their late teens or early twenties. I have so much respect for these people as they enter the music faculty as an older student with less technical ability than the younger students and yet they don’t let that bother them and hence they work incredibly hard. Yet, these people get criticized for “not being good enough” because they didn’t start at age 3.

My point is, there is not one right way to do something. Don’t let people tell you that what you’re doing is wrong or that you should have done this and that. You know what’s best for your life for what you want to achieve. If you don’t accomplish what you were hoping for, that’s not a “I told you so” moment for other people, you just don’t give up and try again next time.

Why don’t people like me?

Sometimes I wonder what is it about me that people don’t like. I’ve noticed this pattern pretty much my whole life. I’ll start at a new school or meet some new friends and life is great, but a few years go by and I feel like no one cares about me anymore. Since the common denominator here is me, I can’t necessarily blame other people anymore. I apologize if I have made an identical post on here describing my high school experience, but it is relevant back story now.

I know what happened in high school. That wasn’t fully my fault, but maybe there were things I could have done. I had a good friend that I met in grade 8. I didn’t really click with the people in my class, so whenever a new person moved in, it was my chance to make a new friend. I clicked with the new girl in grade 8 and we were instant besties. We did everything together and she was the first friend I ever had that I felt like I could be myself around and confide in.

When high school started, of course I wanted to make new friends but I didn’t want to lose this friend. Yeah, you could say I was “clingy”. Most new friends in high school were friends that I met through her, so they weren’t really my friends, but her friends that I happened to hang out with. If I hung out with my friend, her friends came with the package deal.

It wasn’t a big deal at first. We had lots of fun group outings and hang outs in grade 9. It was nice because I never really had a group of friends when I was in middle/elementary. I had people that I would hang out with at recess, but we would seldom hang out outside of school with the exception of birthday parties. I was always the pity invite to people’s birthday parties.

Grade 10 is where some tension with that group began. I became significantly more busy in grade 10 with the IB program and of course, my music. I wasn’t completely serious about music yet, but it was definitely something I was leaning toward. I was involved with several music groups around the school, took private viola lessons, and played in orchestras and chamber groups outside school. The friends in this group were not necessarily involved with music, but if they were, they just sang in choir or played in band. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it doesn’t take that much work to be casually involved in band or choir (especially choir). It’s basically two rehearsals a week and the amount of practicing you need to do is fairly minimal. Not saying that it isn’t a valuable experience, but being in band and choir alone does not equate to the amount of effort I put into my music as I wanted to pursue a performance degree. Very few people at my school understood that.

I was still able to catch the odd hang out with them, but it was always on days that were inconvenient or awkward for me. They could tell I didn’t want to be there or was too tired to be there, but they were never able to hang out at convenient times for me because they had something that day. They would get mad if I said no and had no real conflict. For example, if I had a string of concerts and incessant rehearsals for a week, they would expect me to be available to hang out with them on the first day I was free. I would be too physically exhausted to hang out and just want a day to myself so I could watch TV and chill. No, not Netflix and chill, they didn’t have Netflix then. They would occasionally ask me to hang out with an hour’s notice which just wasn’t feasible when I was that age. I lived at home with strict parents and every night (especially school nights), I was drowning in homework and with that, it was a miracle if I had time to practice sometimes. If there was ever a concert or somewhere I had to be on a school night, it would cause anxiety for me because my biggest worry was that I wouldn’t get my homework done. Of course, they didn’t do nearly as much as me, so they could get all their homework done by supper time. To summarize in one sentence, they didn’t understand or appreciate what I did and how much time and effort I put into it.

My one friend from the group moved away at the end of grade 10. The group basically disintegrated. Everyone from the group found new friends in grade 11 and I kind of got left in the dust. I tried to hang out with this other friend from the group, but I couldn’t stand her friends. They showed no interest in wanting to get to know me and went out of their way to exclude me. They would make plans for the weekend and talk really loudly so that I knew that I wasn’t invited. Most of the time I didn’t care anyway, but sometimes it was on days that I could have come. I went on a Europe trip in grade 11 and it was the worst until I finally had the courage to get away from these losers and talk to some new people. I think the only reason I hung out with them is because you always choose the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t know. At least I knew I would be bossed around and ignored by these girls, but I didn’t know if it would be any better with talking to new people. Would like me or let me hang out with them? The last straw was when these girls left me behind in Venice. The whole day, they walked around, not waiting for me. They took selfies, completely oblivious that I was there. The least they could do was offer to take a picture of me or ask me to take a picture. One of the girls dropped her wallet and I happened to see it. I thought of just not telling her, but because I’m such a nice person, I picked it up for her and she didn’t even say thank you. I bet if one of the other girls picked it up, she would have hugged her and said like, “OMG thank you so much!”

The last straw was this one day in math class. I had math class in grade 11 first thing after lunch. Sometimes I get there a bit early and just sit and wait until class starts. These girls were in my class and although lots of people were talking and it was kind of loud, they were talking about me and I was sitting right in front of them! I hard fragments of the conversation like “Yeah, in Europe she just wouldn’t stop following us and finally she left us. And now she’s mad that I didn’t invite her to my end of school party.” A$$hole. First of all, what did I ever say to her that made her not want to hang out with me again? I have always treated people with nothing but respect. When people were blatantly rude to me in high school, I was genuinely baffled as I could not (and still cannot) think of any reason why they would not want to hang out with me anymore. Yes, I was busy with my music stuff and couldn’t always hang out and have to cancel hangouts sometimes because of that random rehearsal that I forgot, but besides that I never did anything that I knew would hurt anyone’s feelings. Second of all, she left me, not the other way around. And lastly, if she’s going to treat me with such blatant disrespect and talk $hit about me while I’m sitting right there, I don’t want to go to her stupid party anyway. I’d rather have no friends than “friends” who openly hate me. It was that day that I finally accepted that I would no longer have any friends and I didn’t need these toxic people in my life. I think I skipped math class the next day and just went home after lunch and cried the whole afternoon.

Grade 12 was by far the worst year ever. I just did what I could to get through and it was difficult. I got my schedule arranged so I would have a spare right before lunch the whole year. That way, I could go home for lunch on most days and minimize my interactions and visibility among people. I had no friends, but because that’s high school, I couldn’t let people see that. It worked out most of the time because I drove to school most days so I could make that work. There were those days where it didn’t work because I don’t have my own car and my mom would sometimes need the car all day. That caused a lot of anxiety for me back then because it meant that I had to find somewhere in the school building to eat lunch where people couldn’t see that I was eating alone. I didn’t want to be like mean girls and eat in the bathroom. Sitting with those girls again wasn’t an option either. If I didn’t drive, I couldn’t go sit in the back seat of my mom’s car and eat there either. I usually ended up sitting in front of my locker and looked busy with homework so that maybe people would ignore me. I was super thankful when I graduated high school because that meant that I would never have to see these people again and I would finally be surrounded by people who cared about music just as much as I did.

And now, I feel like I have come full circle. My life is no where near what it was in grade 12, but I feel kind of similar depression-type feelings now that I haven’t felt since grade 12. I feel like for whatever reason, people don’t like me anymore and the friends that I have are starting to push away from me for whatever reason there may be. It’s not quite the immaturity level of these girls in high school, but it’s still a bit puzzling. I’m starting to think that maybe there is something about me that is causing this to happen now in 3 different schools and 2 different cities. Like I said, I am pretty sure I haven’t said anything that would offend or upset people and the only reason I can think of that caused people to steer away from me is that I haven’t been playing as well this year and I’ve been a bit more depressed.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s how the world works. People flock around those who do well, and stay away from depressed and bitter people.

Still mad about the concerto competition

This past week has been a very rough week for  me. I don’t think it’s the concerto competition alone that’s caused that kind of stress, but it is a contributor.

On Tuesday, I mentioned in my previous post that I had a class with one of the profs on the panel. Yeah, I ended up skipping that class and lying in bed the whole day. I’ve seen the prof since then and he didn’t bring up the competition or anything, but I still get a sense that he knows the real reason why I wasn’t in class. I won’t bring it up if he doesn’t. I felt a bit guilty for doing nothing that day so I went to the school later that night to practice. It was going alright at first and then I just broke down crying and had to leave.

On Wednesday I knew I just needed to go somewhere that wasn’t school. I don’t have any classes on Wednesday until orchestra later in the afternoon so I went to the mall. I had some ice cream, bought some tea, checked out some stores and bused back to school for orchestra. It was refreshing, but only temporary.

Last night was the final round of the competition. I always feel obligated to attend as I entered the competition and I should support my peers yadda yadda. I don’t want people to think that by my absence I’m acting out or being bitter that I wasn’t chosen for the finals. At the same time, I still felt stressed out and bothered (by grad school applications as well, not the competition alone) and they always say, you have to take care of yourself before you can support others. I decided a reasonable compromise would be to show up fashionably late and catch most of the performances and of course, the big reveal.

I’ll be honest I was not pleased by the level of playing at the final round at all really. I’ve attended final rounds for these competitions in the past, and there have been better competitors selected. I’m not trying to say that I would have been a more qualified candidate, but I was somewhat displeased by the results.

They chose that singer and a cellist to play with the orchestra next year and a french horn and a saxophone to play with the wind ensemble. The only person that really had a stellar performance and legitimately deserved it was the singer, ironically enough she was the person I was originally most upset about being in the final. The cellist had a lot of intonation, note accuracy, and projection issues. If he can’t even play with confidence with a piano, then he will struggle with an orchestra. The saxophonist had a lot of confidence and musicality, but it was very messy. I get the piece was crazy hard, but you shouldn’t win a competition just because you played a crazy hard piece and lived to tell the tale. I’ve seen that happen too many times in my lifetime and it’s frustrating as hell. The French horn player actually played really well. There were some notes that he missed, but I mean that’s hard as a young French horn player. Everything else about his performance (confidence, musicality, etc.) was right on. I don’t know what to think. I feel like the panel almost chose people based on the pieces they were playing or how old they were or other arbitrary criteria that should have no relevance in a competition.

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone after all, but I guess I would have heard the results regardless. It’s not a secret at a small faculty like mine. People who weren’t at the competition will idolize the winners like they’re the greatest people on earth. The people who didn’t win are losers. I have no place in the faculty because I’m just some idiot violist. This is why I hate competitions.

It makes me wonder, what’s wrong with me? I’m not saying this to be cocky, but I know that I play at the level to be winning competitions like these. I’m not saying that I could have played better than any of the competitors, but I do play at that level. I’ve had experiences and done very prestigious summer programs that a lot of people at my school have never had, yet I’m still not good enough to win a silly competition at my school. I really don’t get it sometimes. Like, the summer program I’ve done the past two years, I was selected from a national pool. Some people work for many years to be selected for that program just once, and I was one of five from my school. Here I am, being recognized nationally, yet my own school doesn’t give a sh!t about me. Real nice.

I always thought that my lack of success at winning competitions was due to the closed-mindedness of the people from my hometown. There was basically a group of 2 or 3 people that would win every competition and rotate depending who played better that night. If you’re not one of those 2 or 3 people, you’re SOL, no matter how hard you worked. I used to think that if I worked really hard, I could win a competition, but nope. It’s not that simple. I wasn’t one of the elites. I thought when I went away for school, things would be different. Boy was I wrong. The common denominator is me. No matter which city I live in, no one will appreciate me for whatever arbitrary reasons there may be.

Why do I do this to myself?

Oh yes, here I am again. It’s sad that this blog has become more of a space to rant about recent events, but it really does help me to put my thoughts, irrational as they may be, into words. I haven’t really had time to do legitimate blog posts lately and I don’t know when I will ever have that time, but I digress.

I’ve made posts like this one before. I could call this post “My beef with Concerto Competitions Part 3” but I won’t.  If you need some background, feel free to read my previous posts. If not, I totally understand.

Part 1: https://confessionsofaviolist.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/my-beef-with-concerto-competitions-part-1/
Part 2: https://confessionsofaviolist.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/my-beef-with-concerto-competitions-part-2/

So, assuming you read or skimmed the posts linked above , you’re probably wondering, “Why would you enter another concerto competition after experiences like those?” My response is I don’t even know. You think that I would learn that I suck and will never get better. But no, there is part of me that just won’t give up and insists on putting myself out there to be shot down. But I guess that’s life.

To be fair, I wasn’t originally planning to even enter the concerto competition this year. I figured if I didn’t win in fourth year that it was a lost cause. There’s always a prejudice against fourth years in the competition as many of them go away for grad school and the school would never pay to fly someone in to play a concerto. No reason why they couldn’t pick a fourth year, but the plane ticket would be on them. I need to learn two movements of a concerto for grad school auditions, so it just seemed like a convenient way to get a run through of it and make sure the first movement was learned by November. I entered mostly just as an excuse to practice and get going on my concerto. I was dragging my heels most of September so I worked hard to learn the first movement in basically one month.

I went in to the competition knowing my mistakes from previous years and said that I would not get hurt regardless of what happened. I was just going to go in, play my movement, then focus on other rep. It wasn’t until I had the first rehearsal with my pianist that kind of changed things. I sounded like crap the first rehearsal, but that’s normal. It’s always a bit of an adjustment when you put it together with piano. Despite that, my pianist was quite impressed. She said the piece was really cool and that I’d have potential to win the competition based on the piece. She said I have the musicality and everything. I hate it when people say stuff like this to me because when I don’t win then I just feel like even more of a loser. All of a sudden I have expectations to live up to.

Obviously you can’t let stuff like that get to your head. I did, a little bit, it’s hard not to frankly. It wasn’t in an extreme way. I still practiced the piece and prepared just as I would for any performance. I didn’t do anything special and tried not to think about it too much.

Honestly, looking back, I don’t know where my pianist/myself got the idea that it would be possible to make it to the final round. I picked out the piece and had the music since May, but I didn’t really get down to serious work on it until very late September and October. I was competing against people who had been working on their pieces much longer than that. I didn’t play poorly, but ultimately it didn’t have the same maturity as it would if I had been working on it longer.

So, basically, you know the drill. I go in, play, mess up a bunch of stuff and play horridly out of tune, try to convince myself that it wasn’t a total disaster, and then see the list of the people who were selected to move on and now it’s the end of the world as we know it. I saw the list of the people who made it to the final round and was once again, unimpressed and all like “Why that person and not me?” They picked a guitarist for the final round. Guitar is even more of an underdog instrument for a competition like this than viola. If a guitarist can get in, why can’t I? Also a freaking soprano got in. It’s a CONCERTO competition, f*** off singers!!

It’s just generally an awkward situation. Part of me is like, I only intended to enter as a way of getting a run through of my piece and I got just that. The other part of me was hoping (as I do every single f***ing competition) that this time would be different. Maybe this would be the time that someone recognizes my hard work. But of course not, why would anyone care what I do or how hard I work? I’m just a violist. I also have been forced to let go of having the opportunity to play with an orchestra. I’ll never get to have that experience. I don’t really care about that anymore, but still it’s hard to accept, being something that I’ve wanted for so many years.

Why do I keep entering competitions? Good question. You’d think I would have given up years ago. I wish I did, then I wouldn’t feel like I suck every day of my life. People always say it’s a good experience and prepares you for orchestral auditions. I would almost disagree. When I’m auditioning for an orchestral position, I don’t have to worry about freaking pianists, violinists, and flutists taking my spot. I only have to compete against other violists. Entering these competitions is a waste of time, as I will never win no matter how hard I work or how optimistic I try to feel. At the same time, the fact that I am still in music and still entering competitions after losing so many is miraculous. I like to think that I have the mental fortitude and thick skin to keep going in a career of music. I have never been one of those people were everything was easy and I effortlessly won everything and everyone was in love with me. No, I slave away for hours and no one gives a sh*t! As much as I’d love for one shiny moment to be that person that everyone’s proud of and does all these amazing things, I think it’s more valuable to be the person who works hard and slaves away and no one seems to care. Because guess what, that’s life!

Okay, I actually need to go to bed. I have class tomorrow morning, with one of the profs that was on the panel which I’m super tempted to skip because he probably hates me and I feel like I really just need a day away from school. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a brat.

Unnecessary Rehearsals and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

I have decided to come here and discuss a pet peeve of mine that has bothered me since middle school and high school. Unfortunately, this still occurs in university and I don’t understand sometimes.

I remember being in elementary/middle/high school bands, choirs, or orchestras. In those kinds of groups, you get a wide variety of skill levels. There are students who are very dedicated and likely to go into music, students who have no intention of pursuing music but still are just as dedicated, and the students who just don’t care and are there because “My parents said I had to”. I always found in those groups the people who needed to practice the most were the ones who didn’t. The more dedicated students, or students that took music lessons outside school tended to practice regularly and could play their parts very well, even on the first reading. Despite the teacher’s best intentions to teach the kids that rehearsals are not substitute for individual practice, many students treat it that way all the way from elementary school to the end of grade 12. Honestly, if you’re not planning to pursue music in university or you don’t take private lessons, it really only takes maximum of 20 minutes a day to just run over all those difficult passages in band/choir music (perhaps more like 30-45 minutes for orchestra music). It won’t be better right away, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and improvement will happen over time. Improvement will not happen by showing up to rehearsal every week playing the passages over and over again in a sloppy manner, it only reinforces bad habits.

I’m definitely not suggesting that all high school band kids are like this by any means. When I was that age, there were plenty of students who were very dedicated to the band and really wanted to be there. I could tell they took the time to practice things that they couldn’t play and even if it wasn’t perfect right away, there was improvement each week. It’s unfortunate that even one person who doesn’t have this simple, fundamental skill of being in a music ensemble will bring the whole group down. What ends up happening is the band/choir/orchestra director will panic when the concert is coming up and the pieces still aren’t ready and schedule an extra rehearsal or sectional. Nobody in the group wants this. I remember being in a group in high school where we rehearsed only once a week. The teacher thought that would be fair as we’re all busy and it would give us more time to practice. Unfortunately, people weren’t able to take that initiative and we had to go back to rehearsing twice a week. High school kids aren’t adults, but they still have things to do; homework, other music groups, sports teams, clubs, jobs, etc. and don’t need to worry about extra rehearsals on short notice. These rehearsals are added solely for the benefit of the people who do not practice, the people in the group who took the initiative to learn their music are being unfairly punished. Essentially, these rehearsals are put in place as a substitute for practice, which is just unacceptable in my mind. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy; if you treat students like they don’t practice, they won’t. I remember in high school choir, our song wasn’t sounding so great and people hadn’t learned the words yet and just as we were leaving rehearsal, the teacher said “We’re rehearsing tomorrow at 7:30am” and expected everyone to be there. I remember that same teacher expecting us to come into school on days off or holidays if we needed that time. That would never happen in a professional orchestra. Yes, it is for the benefit of the group. It would be much better to schedule extra rehearsals than have a half-baked performance, but wouldn’t it be better if the people in question did their job? Who is to blame; the teacher for not getting after these students to practice or the student for not practicing? I don’t have an answer as it really does depend on the context and the people involved.

Part of the problem could be the long period of time between performances that elementary/middle/high school music groups have. The group will start rehearsing in September and there may not be a concert until November or December. Most students would probably think, why spend hours practicing the music in September when we don’t need to perform it until December? It’s not that simple. If you were running a marathon on September 1, would you start training on August 31? If you were trying out for a sports team, would you start practicing the night before? It’s the same thing with playing a musical instrument. Just because you don’t have a performance coming up in a week doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be practicing. The kids who take piano, violin, or cello lessons from a young age tend to be more successful if they take up band or choir later in school as they are used to the idea of practicing every day to not only learn the music, but to refine their technique and overall musicianship. This can be a hard message to convey to someone who just picked up an instrument for the first time in grade 6 band, but it is still important if they want to be a valuable member of any musical ensemble. It is irrelevant if these students intend to pursue music beyond high school or not, they are still playing in a musical ensemble and need to work as a team. If they aren’t willing to practice or learn their music, then they should not play with the group at all. Unfortunately, the “my parents made me be in band/choir” people are still around until the end of grade 12.

In a university music program, you’d think that we’ve matured a little bit from this. Well, I guess it would depend on the school, but not always the case. Obviously, the “my parents made me be here” people would never get into a university music program anywhere. If they do by some miracle, they are weeded out by first year. Because in university, we are now adults, the profs cannot schedule extra rehearsals on short notice. I believe there’s some policy the prof cannot add any extra class meetings, assessments, etc. that are not listed on the class syllabus distributed at the beginning of the term. However, there have been many times where I felt we had more rehearsals than necessary. We used to have a conductor who would give us no break between concerts. For example, if we had a concert in late November, we would be expected to rehearse the music in December for our concert which wasn’t until February. Of course I never really said anything but it didn’t make sense. Any work we did in December would be forgotten when we resumed after the break in January. It would have also been nice to have a break to study for finals and stuff.

Our current conductor gives us breaks between concerts only sometimes. We just had a concert last night and I was actually really hoping that there wouldn’t be rehearsal tomorrow. We haven’t received the music for the next concert and it would be better if we had fewer rehearsals that were more productive. I get an email today that we are having a rehearsal but it’ll be more or less a sight reading session. I couldn’t believe what I had read. I could do that in my own practice room on my own time. I honestly think sight reading as a group at the university level is a complete waste of time. Yes, sight reading is a valuable skill to practice, but you shouldn’t waste 50 people’s time to practice this skill (*cough* chamber music reading parties *cough*) If you haven’t looked at your music, don’t even go to rehearsal. But here is that self-fulfilling prophecy again. The conductor is basically having this rehearsal as a substitute for individual practice. He basically thinks that the people in the orchestra will not look at the music unless we have a “group reading session”. Pardon me for having a bad attitude, but this is absolute bull$h!t. People in the university orchestra are preparing for a professional career (for the most part). There is no luxury of a low-pressure group reading session in a professional orchestra, so why would we have that in university? If people don’t look at their music, they need to learn that lesson themselves. This is not doing any favours for students planning to have an orchestral career. I was almost thinking of skipping this rehearsal just to make a statement, but literally my only motivation to go is that I will get in trouble if I don’t. It’s just so frustrating that I am in university, almost done my undergrad, and I am being treated like a child and I am kind of forced into acting like one too. I should be going to rehearsals because I want to, not because I’m afraid of getting in trouble with the profs.

Teachers from elementary school to university really need to stop running on the self-fulfilling prophecy. How are students going to learn to take responsibility if they are constantly spoon fed with extra, unnecessary rehearsals? This doesn’t just apply to music students either, the self-fulfilling prophecy is evident in pretty much any classroom for any subject. For example, I remember having random “homework checks” in math. The only reason I would do homework would be so I would get the arbitrary marks on the homework check, not so I would learn and reinforce the math concept into my mind. If a student fails the math test because they didn’t do any of the assignments, that’s their fault, not the fault of the teacher for not doing homework checks. I actually found that the class average was higher in classes where the teacher didn’t do any homework checks. Not treating high school students and adults like children actually causes them to smarten up and do their work.

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.