“Existential” Crisis Part 2

pretty by Pearly85, on Flickr
pretty” (CC BY 2.0) by Pearly85
As of now, I have completed my first year of master’s. Woohoo! Do I have a clearer idea of what I want to do with my life? No. If not it’s even worse.
Now, I’m at the phase of my “existential” crisis where I am brainstorming what kind of jobs I could do outside music, but still would allow me the flexibility to take on freelance gigs and teaching. I’ve worked too hard to give up music altogether, but bills need to be paid. I know freelancing musicians in their 30’s whose parents still help them pay bills because they’ve never had a job outside music, never made a symphony, never had a teaching job, etc. I could never be one of those people, my parents would kill me.
There’s always Starbucks haha. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m above working at Starbucks and I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned from working in retail, but I don’t want to get stuck working there for 30 years. I would only get a job at a place like Starbucks as a means of gaining more work experience and working toward a higher skilled job.
One idea I had is to be a Tax Professional (not to be confused with an accountant). Yes, I know this is out in left field, but aren’t all musicians out in left field? H & R Block offers an income tax course and if you do well, you can apply for a job (although it doesn’t guarantee a job). I did a bit of research and it is quite a time commitment. The course is 6 hours a week, so two 3-hour classes in the evening or a 6 hour class on a weekend. This would be a nightmare to schedule while in school, I can’t guarantee I’m free at the same time every week at a particular time. I also have lots of gigs on weekends so I wouldn’t want to do the weekend course. I still want to pursue music professionally to some extent so cutting myself off to gigs and professional opportunities would not be a smart move. It’s also only offered September-December, so I couldn’t take it during the summer or something. It also doesn’t appear to be offered online. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, I could always take it the year after I’m done school, but then I wouldn’t be able to (potentially) get a job right after graduation. It’s a big time commitment for a course that wouldn’t guarantee a job, but I guess it’s no different than taking 6 years of music in university that doesn’t guarantee a job haha. Also it’s not like learning to do taxes is completely useless knowledge.
The other left field idea I had was becoming some kind of fitness instructor. I used to go to lots of fitness classes (and should get back into it) if you’ve read old posts on this blog. Again, this would involve taking lots of courses that may or may not be flexible while I’m in university for music. It would also not result in a guaranteed job. Why is life so risky? As great as it is to have “Plan B” I don’t want to go around spending thousands of dollars on random courses for random jobs and then never get a job at all.
So yeah, that’s where I’m at. I think what sparked this is I recently took my first professional orchestral audition (whaa?). I know I can hardly believe it myself. I obviously can’t say which orchestra, for the purpose of anonymity, but it was a relatively small-ish sized orchestra and there were less than 20 people auditioning. The whole experience was super overwhelming though, I was definitely taken aback by the whole experience, I had no idea that’s what it was like. I mean, obviously I knew it was going to be intense, more intense than excerpts class in school, but I guess you don’t really know until you do it. I always thought I knew the excerpts inside out and backwards and would play fine, but that was not the case. I’m sure a prodigal 12 year old could have done a better audition. When I got there it was so weird. The whole audition felt like it took 2 seconds. I couldn’t believe I just played an audition. I also realized that day that the curtain has a dual purpose. Both so the panel doesn’t know who you are and favour certain people, but also if you play like absolute sh*t, they don’t know who you are. It’s really a different experience doing a live audition, and I feel so naive for being taken aback as I was. I knew that being successful in programs would not be an accurate indication of how I would do in a live audition situation. Typically for music programs, you submit a video and you can record (and listen back) as many times as you need to. The reason why I’ve generally been successful in summer programs is because I can take as many times as I need. In a way, it’s kind of a false representation of my playing.
Basically, I’ve learned that one of my weaknesses is live performance. It kind of explains now why I’ve been so unsuccessful in competitions all those years, yet people still managed to not think I was an idiot. Yes I may not give off the best first impressions, but if you take the time to work with me and get to know me, I’m not an idiot I swear! This is a flaw that I have with auditioning for symphonies though, I know I could do a good job playing in the symphony, practicing the music, building good relationships with my section, etc. but I’m gonna have a hell of a time getting through the audition process. Hence, my existential crisis. Help me.

25% Done Grad School

As you can imagine, my first semester of grad school went by like a whirlwind. I can’t believe I’m already 25% done, it’s going by too fast!
Of course, the inevitable thoughts of what the heck am I going to do after my degree are imminent. I honestly have no clue.
No one said that you had to have your whole life figured out by age 22, but I still wish I had more sense of direction. It seems like my fellow master’s colleagues have their lives all planned out, but maybe in reality they are just as clueless as I am.
Don’t judge me, but I used to think that getting into a symphony orchestra right after master’s was a reasonable goal. Coming from a small city where there are not many violists, I had a skewed view of the competitive factor of music. I thought that as long as you worked hard, you would eventually reach your goals.
Now that I have left the comfortable bubble of my hometown, I have come to realize that there are actually a lot of violists out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a viola peer group but there are only so many positions in symphony orchestras and sadly not all of us will get one. That’s the frustrating thing about a career in music. You can practice for hours and hours, work super hard, absolutely love what you do and still never get a job. Literally any other career path, you will eventually get a job after many years of hard work. I know I’m oversimplifying things, but that’s how it feels.
Many of my provisional post-master’s plans involved playing in a symphony orchestra of some description. Now that I realize that may not happen, I have no clue what to do. I don’t want to contribute to the stereotype of music graduates working at Starbucks, but I have to pay the bills some how. Freelancing scares the heck out of me, but you have to start somewhere I guess. I have very minimal experience in teaching so I’d never get a teaching job.
I feel like I’m not the world’s most employable person either. I spent much of my time in undergrad refusing part time jobs or teaching positions during the school year so I could focus on my personal practice. This is not to say that I’ve never had a job, but the jobs I did have are not necessarily going to look good on my resume. I’m also not bilingual, which can be a huge disadvantage if I want to continue living in Eastern Canada. All this time I wasted practicing to get a symphony orchestra job could have been put toward making myself a more employable person outside of the music field. I don’t even know if I’d be qualified for a job at Starbucks to be honest. They’d be like “Oh it’s nice you have a master’s in music, but you’ve never worked retail so you probably can’t handle the stress”. And they’re probably right.
Of course, one solution is to pursue a DMA or Artist’s diploma, but that only delays the inevitable. I can’t be in school forever. I’ll need to get some kind of job. I just don’t think I’d get hired anywhere and freelancing can be scary. Sometimes I resent being from where I’m from, and having this skewed view of reality for most of my life, but I can’t change that.
Another thing I also ponder is should I have done my master’s right out of undergrad? Obviously, as I mentioned before, I’m 25% done so I’m not going to drop out, that’d be foolish. I know some of my friends in 4th year undergrad who are taking a gap year and now I wish I explored that option more. When I was super stressed out last year, I did consider it, but I figured if I could push myself to do the auditions, then I could re-evaluate then. Once I pushed myself to do the auditions and got accepted, it seemed foolish to take a gap year. Now I question if it was worth pushing myself through all that stress. I feel like a much stronger person for not giving up, but at the same time I could have been using this year to get more professional experience and make myself a more employable person before pursuing a master’s. The trap with that I saw was getting too comfortable with professional life and never wanting to go back to school.
Ugh. Why is life so hard? Why can’t someone just tell me what to do?

Grad School has Begun

Wow, I’m just amazing at keeping this blog. Well to be fair, I don’t write it with the purpose of people reading it so who cares if I post entries regularly haha.
Anyway, I have officially completed about a month of grad school. A year ago, I never thought that I would be in this position. It’s been quite a journey overcoming all of these challenges that I dealt with over the past year. I’m by no means 100% alright now, but I can appreciate where I was last year and where I am now.
It’s been quite a transition moving to a new city and starting at a new school. I had the advantage of already knowing several students through summer programs and other connections, but it’s still definitely overwhelming! There are definitely things I do not miss about undergrad, but things that I do. Things are going well with my teacher here, but I do miss my undergrad teacher a lot. It never really hit me until I got here. He was like a father figure to me, I was able to confide in him and ask for advice (not just on musical things). I feel like I’m missing that here. I wish I could tell my undergrad teacher about all the amazing people I’ve met and all my adventures thus far.
I guess the next challenge is settling into a routine. The master’s schedule is generally more flexible and conducive to finding individual practice time, but I still feel like I’m all over the place. One day I’ll get in a solid 6 hours. The next day I’ll only practice 2 hours. Then the next day I do 4.
Another challenge is finding a peer group. I am fortunate to go to a school with a decent sized viola studio, I luxury I never had in undergrad, but I don’t really have a group of friends that I can regularly go out for coffee with or hang out with. I just kind of have acquaintances that I see in class everyday and people that I make casual, friendly conversation with. I guess that’s better than nothing, but I do sometimes feel a bit lonely. I know a lot of people, but I don’t have a ton of close friends. I guess it’s still early in the year and there’s still plenty of time to meet people and get to know people. I guess it’s somewhat more difficult as a master’s student to make friends because master’s students tend to be more reclusive than undergrads to begin with. I remember in undergrad I didn’t have much interaction with the master’s students until 3rd or 4th year, and even then it was limited.
Anyway, I won’t bore you too much now. I’m sure there will be more things to talk about as the year goes on. I’m a bit tired now and don’t feel like being super ranty. This was more of an update in the off chance there are people who read this blog that might be curious what I’m up to.

I’m Still Alive

Hello there to the random people from google searches who read this blog! I still exist.

I’ve been somewhat busy lately. I went to a music program in May and after that I went to my new school/teacher to get some lessons and check out places to live, etc.

That was pretty much my big thing for the summer and now I don’t really have much going on. Part of me kind of wishes I had signed up for more programs, but at the same time, I really think this “free time” will be good for me. Part of the reason why my school year last year was so difficult is because I overloaded myself last summer. Now, I feel like I’ve under-loaded myself and I feel somewhat lost for what to do this summer. I know this is the right decision, but it’s almost too much.

So yeah, anyway, I have an undergraduate degree now. Crazy how time flies, it really honestly doesn’t feel like it was that long ago when I graduated high school! It’s actually quite insane. I’ve come such a long way musically and emotionally in just four years, and I have a long way to go yet. It’s always depressing that the better you get, the worse you get too. What I mean by that is as you get better, you realize how much more work there is to be done.

I think of my naive self in first year. It was the first time I had ever felt good about myself musically. Nobody made me self-conscious. I was confident, but not cocky. I knew I had to work hard, but I didn’t care what other people were doing. Come second year and all that disappeared. It was back to all these feelings of inadequacy and doubt that I thought I left behind in high school. It took me a long time to realize that those feelings are normal and that they don’t just magically “disappear”.

Now that I have my degree, it’s almost like I feel more inadequate than ever. Now I finally feel like I’m at where I would have liked to have been four years ago. I wish that I could play at the level I do now at the start of my undergrad. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever felt like this. Because of this, I did consider doing a gap year or a one year diploma program to “improve my technique”. My teacher advised me against this and said not to have a negative association with it, but a positive one. For example, instead of thinking of taking extra years of school because you suck and need to get better, think of it as an opportunity to get some more training and learn more repertoire. I decided to go ahead with Master’s because I knew I wanted to do it anyway, why prolong it? I can still take something like an Artist’s diploma afterward if I still feel like it.

I don’t know what else to really say right now. I look forward to starting my Master’s in September and I’ll definitely rant about it here if I need to! If there’s one thing I learned in my undergrad, it’s that moving away won’t magically solve your problems.

Post-Audition Practicing

I thought this would be something interesting to talk about on here. If you’ve read any of my recent posts on this blog, you will know that I recently did some grad school auditions. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but I completed my fourth year recital before I left for auditions as well! I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but for the low amount of stress and anxiety that I’ve experienced in the past month, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I read back on  some of my posts from September-January and I couldn’t believe how much anxiety and stress I was under! It’s definitely interesting for me to look back on that and appreciate where I am now even more.

You’re probably thinking, “If I were you, I’d just put my instrument away and never practice ever again”. Well, it’s not that simple. I still have orchestra and chamber music obligations. I can’t just waltz into rehearsal and be like “Sorry guys, I haven’t practiced in a week”. When I go to the practice rooms, I feel like there’s this silent judgement. Why I am I less entitled to practice just because I’m done all of my auditions and my recital? I have to keep playing or else I will lose all that muscle memory. I took a week break one time and I swear it took almost a month to get back to the level I was at before.

This has been a great opportunity to work on repertoire that I either didn’t get a chance to play in my fourth year recital or just pieces I’ve always wanted to learn. I am also using this opportunity to work on orchestral excerpts, which is not something I always get a chance to do unless I am preparing for an audition. I was concerned that my practicing wouldn’t be very focused because I wasn’t preparing for anything and there’s no pressure, but actually I’ve been getting a lot done. I guess I’m practicing because it’s genuinely what I love doing. I can really take the time to focus on refining my technique too. I feel like my practicing is almost more efficient than it was before, ironically enough. I guess under the pressure of my recital and auditions, I felt rushed to get through everything and I didn’t always take the time to stop and smell the roses. Perhaps this can be something I can apply to my practice in future years. Although I am taking things at a much slower pace and practicing in smaller chunks, I’m still getting a lot done.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not practicing 4+ hours a day. I’m also using this opportunity to get away from my instrument as well, which I think is super important. I’m finally using that hot yoga pass I bought back in September. Ironically, it would have benefited me more when I was going through more stress, but better late than never. I’ve gone once a week the past month and already I feel a lot stronger and my flexibility has improved. I’ve also made an effort to walk places that are within 3 kilometres of where I am. Round trip, that’s about 6km of walking most days. When school ends, I hope to explore some more non-music hobbies over the summer. I’d really like to get back into reading books for one thing. I used to love reading, but I’ve just never had the patience to read an entire book in the past few years.

That’s basically all I’ve been up to as of late. Currently, I’m typing out this entry as a means to procrastinate for a paper due in a history class. It’s my last paper of my undergrad, it only gets harder from here…

Post-Audition Life

Hello everyone! I haven’t forgotten this exists, I’ve just been busy as you can imagine. I actually finished my last audition 2 weeks ago now and I was going to write here sooner but just never got around to it.
A lot has changed since I last wrote here. My entries this [academic] year have been mostly rants about how unfair the world is and how much I hate life. I can proudly say that for the first time in almost a year I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s almost silly how good I’ve felt these past two weeks.
To keep my anonymity in this blog, I won’t mention the schools or cities that I auditioned in, but I will say that even as soon as I arrived for the first audition, I immediately felt 1000 times better. Four months before that point I considered cancelling it all and not even continuing in music. It was a huge step for me to go out into the world (well, still in Canada) and go visit these schools and play these auditions. I had some lessons with prospective teachers. They all had nice things to say about me. It’s one of the first times I’ve had lessons with new teachers and they didn’t harp on intonation, and actually, in some cases complimented it! This is a huge step for me as it’s something I’ve been self-conscious of for over a decade. I do need to work on my right hand technique a lot and all of the teachers did point that out and showed how they would work on it with me. I didn’t feel like it was condescending, which is usually what happens.
It was also amazing to meet up with friends along the way who helped me get lessons with all the teachers and showed me around their schools. There was one of the schools in particular that I felt the most like I belonged there. I had the most friends who went there and as soon as I walked into the building, I felt like I went to that school. Needless to say, it is my first choice. I am still weighing the pros and cons of the schools and have some time to make a decision though. I am also pleased to say that I’ve been accepted into that first choice school as well! I haven’t heard back from the others yet, but maybe it’s a sign that I should go there. Who knows. I’m just honoured to have been accepted into a Master’s program. A few months ago, I thought I’d never get accepted into a Master’s program and that this was the end of my music career.
In these past few weeks, I’ve been enjoying not practicing as often. I took an entire week off of practicing and it was actually amazing. I went for walks, went to hot yoga, and tried to explore some non-music hobbies. I’m also working on learning French in Duolingo as master’s programs usually require a second language. If I start now, I’ll definitely be able to pass any proficiency test in September.
I feel like this blog really doesn’t serve much of a purpose now that things are going well in my life. I don’t really have anything to rant about at this moment. Of course, that will change when grad school begins haha. I’ll be sure to talk about my grad school experience on here when that begins. I’ll have a whole new group of people to passive-aggressively rant about on here.

Coming to Terms with Myself

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a breakthrough, for real this time. Fourth year has treated me rough with numerous breakdowns and questioning of my intentions in music. I seriously thought I was not good enough and inadequate compared to my peers.
I am not inadequate. I am doing just fine. I think the major issue for my confidence issues is merely the fact that I’ve only lived in smaller cities with very few viola players. This forces me to compare myself to violinists, pianists, and other more “competitive” instruments where winning and entering competitions is a big part of what they do. That’s not necessarily a viola thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some viola only competitions out there, but compared to the competitions made for violinists, pianists, singers, and other instruments, it’s relatively insignificant. And even those competitions that all instruments and voices can enter, the violinists, pianists, flutists, sopranos, and even cellists dominate.
Naturally, when I’ve lived in two cities where violinists, cellists, and pianists rule the world, I will feel somewhat inadequate. Of course I’m going to feel like a bad player when I’m always the one that doesn’t win the competitions when literally everyone else and their dog has. I always felt like I was doing something wrong or something was wrong with me. I didn’t want to think that my instrument choice was “bad” or “wrong” in any way.
Well, in these past few weeks, I’ve come to a realization. These people don’t play the same instrument as me. I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but it’s so important to remember. I want an orchestral job. No violinist, pianist, or cellist is going to take that away from me; only other violists. Violin and piano careers revolve more around solo playing. Viola careers seldom involve any solo playing. There is no pressure to win or even enter competitions with violinists and pianists, so why was I putting so much unnecessary pressure on myself?
A lot of it had to do with the fact that I was trying to prove something. We all know that’s just the worst mindset to have and I learned my lesson on several occasions. Violists, as I experienced myself, usually get the short end of the stick in life. Yeah, viola jokes are just jokes, but it’s almost like there is an actual prejudice against violists. Sometimes people just legitimately think that violists are inferior to violinists. We have it harder in that sense than other “underdog” instruments like bassoon, bass, or tuba. Since the viola is so similar to the violin and most violists were once violinists, we are just constantly compared to violinists and it’s honestly really unfair and inaccurate. Violists don’t generally win competitions because our repertoire is limited and does not show off the technical brilliance of the instrument in the same way that the violin repertoire does. It’s not that we’re bad players, it’s that for so many years violists were disregarded as the “inferior musicians” and unfortunately, not a lot of good solo repertoire was written. In the modern day, we recognize the talent of violists more, but most of the great works for viola have been only been written in the past 100 years. Twentieth century works, although great pieces, are not always appreciated at competitions as much as romantic repertoire, which the viola lacks.
With this in mind, I felt like since I first picked up a viola, it was my mission to prove to everyone that I was just as good as any violinist, cellist, or pianist out there. I wasn’t going to be one of those “typical” subservient violists who doesn’t try. I was going to get some results. Of course, I set myself up for disappointment. I took not winning competitions a lot more harshly than I should have. I thought I would never get into university because I didn’t win any of these competitions and that the jerks who won the competitions instead of me that weren’t even going away to university would take it away from me. I couldn’t help but feel like I was “behind” for my age. Regardless of that, I pushed myself to do university auditions. I was more insistent on getting the heck out of there than worrying if I was good enough. When I started in university, it was like a second chance. I wasn’t competitive at all in first year, it was actually the first time in my life that I was okay with who I was and where I was at musically. I accepted myself.
This all changed with violin kid. I have actually now come to terms with him and we are actually on friendly terms. I wouldn’t call him a friend necessarily, but we can carry on a friendly conversation like normal human beings. I have gotten to the point where I don’t really care about what he does with his life as it really has no impact on me and my career goals. He wants to be a soloist or a concertmaster. It makes sense for him to put himself out there and win competitions as it will impact his career. For me, I’m an orchestral player, so putting myself out there for orchestral opportunities is what I need. Back then, I saw him as a threat. I reverted back to my high school mentality. It seemed like the whole school was in love with him and I needed to show him who’s boss. It almost felt like the people who supported me in first year had “converted” to supporting him. I became obsessed with the idea of beating him in a competition to prove to everyone that violists are just as good as violinists and that I was a good player too.
As you can imagine, that is just a complete waste of time. It didn’t work in high school, why would it work in university? That mentality never works and I’m glad I learned that lesson now in university and not while I’m trying to get a job or something. I’ve actually “retired” from competitions in a sense. There was a scholarship competition in January that I made a conscious decision not to enter. I feel so much better about myself for not entering competitions. I know that getting an orchestral job is a competition, but I’ve been disappointed enough times in competitions, I think I’m familiar with it enough that I’ll be fine in the real world. Plus, I don’t have to worry about violinists, pianists, and cellists.
I think going away to do my master’s will be the right thing. I know I’ve talked a lot on here about my anxieties with going away and worrying about not being good enough, but I think it will be the fresh start I need. Sure, I may meet more violinists that drive me insane and I may not necessarily be “running away” from problems, but at least I will have more violas at my side. I think being in a school where there are more violists will actually help a lot of the issues I’ve had my whole life. Because there will be more violists, I won’t feel like I have to compare myself to violinists and pianists anymore. Sure, there may be violists that are better than me and winning competitions, but at least I’m not unrealistically comparing myself to people who don’t play the same instrument I do.
Here I am, a fourth year student, about to go off to grad school auditions in a couple days. I feel like I’ve come full circle now. In first year, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove and I was okay with where I was at musically. I had some ups and downs in second, third, and the first half of fourth year. But here I am, once again, not feeling like I have anything to prove and okay with where I’m at musically. I feel like I’m finally ready to take on grad school auditions.