Whoa, I’m getting fancy and inserting pictures in my entries! I can barely contain myself too!
Well, there is a deeper meaning behind the picture. The title of this post states “I just wanted to be different”. So I figured a snowflake would be an appropriate graphic as no two snowflakes are alike. No two humans are alike.
Sometimes we forget just how unique we are. There are so many humans in the world, it can feel like you are insignificant and don’t matter. If you have read any other things I have posted in this blog, you will know that it is something I talk about a lot.
When my violin teacher suggested to me at the end of grade 7 that I switch to viola, I will admit I was quite skeptical, as I’m sure you can relate if you are a violist as well. I thought it was a passive-aggressive nudge suggesting that things on violin weren’t going so well and that maybe I should just give up. I didn’t want to play an instrument that had such horrible jokes written about it, I couldn’t be that person! I rented a cheap one just to try it out and give it a chance. I did like the deeper, rich tone quality of the viola. Overall, I thought it was a much nicer and satisfying instrument to play. The next week when I went to my violin lesson, it was my first viola lesson. That summer, I went to the summer string workshop as a violist. I was still a bit shaky on alto clef, but by the beginning of grade 8, I was almost fluent in alto clef. By the time I started youth orchestra, it was like I had been playing viola for years.
I’ll admit I still wasn’t completely sold on viola. Part of me was still a violinist and missed soaring in those high positions on the E string. I’d watch the violinists have these crazy hard parts all up in 8th position while I was playing tremolo. I would almost wish that I could play something like that, I felt like I wasn’t challenging myself enough. I thought people would think that I was being lazy for switching to the viola. Yes, at one point in my life, I thought viola was “too easy”. Such a violinist thing to say. I did like being in a smaller section though. There aren’t many violists, especially where I was from. I felt I always got lost in the sea of violinists and was constantly compared to other people, making me always feel like the “underdog” or behind others. When I started on viola, I felt like I was my own category and I didn’t care if I was behind others or didn’t play as well as I “should have”.
It wasn’t until the end of grade 9 when my parents very kindly bought me a new professional quality viola (the one in the banner of this blog). As soon as I played it, I fell in love with the instrument all over again. It was so much nicer than that cheap rental one I had been using the past 2 years. It was from that moment that I knew that viola was my true calling. I was never meant to be a violinist, I was a violist. I didn’t switch to viola because I wasn’t good at violin, I switched because I genuinely enjoyed the instrument more and it suited me better.
As I began to identify more with being a violist, I began to be legitimately bothered by all these viola jokes. I knew they were just jokes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there actually was a prejudice in the musical world against violists. Where I was from, a lot of the viola players didn’t play very well or work very hard. I got the impression they were violinists, like me, told to play viola and took it the wrong way. Once they switched, they never really got any better. I guess they thought since they’re inferior to everyone else and never going to get any better, why bother? These people are the reason that viola jokes still exist.
I wanted to be different. I wanted to work hard and achieve things just like any violinist or cellist. Just because I’m a violist doesn’t mean I can’t work hard. I wanted to be that violist. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to win all the competitions.
As you can tell, this mentality didn’t work out for me. I ended up being way too cocky in certain situations and made myself look even more like a fool. I felt like I had done all this hard work for “nothing”. Now as a fourth year university student, I still haven’t won any major competitions and feel like I’ve let violists down. I wanted to be different and show that we’re not the out-of-tune, stupid, unmusical losers that those stupid jokes say we are!
But then, I take a step back and think. Am I practicing and working hard to impress other people? Am I wanting to win competitions just to prove that violists are competent individuals? Sounds ridiculous when you put it in those terms. Who cares if people don’t think you’re good or think you’re a loser? All that matters is that you put in the hard work and know you’re accomplishing things for yourself. People can think whatever the hell they want, they’re not your future employers.
I guess through all these years of being unsuccessful, I felt like people just thought I was just like every other violist in my city. When I moved here, I felt the same way. I tried so hard to be different but just couldn’t. But you don’t have to try hard to be different. You are different. Not everyone was meant to win all the competitions and be the person that everyone’s “in love” with. Winning competitions does not equate success. I’ve accomplished things that don’t get nearly as much praise or attention as a competition, but are unique to me and other people haven’t necessarily done. Not saying that I have an advantage, but I’m just as successful as those people who win every competition even though I don’t get nearly the praise and attention they do.
Bottom line is everyone is different. We all have our own set of achievements and stories to tell. Why do we waste so much energy trying to be like “everyone else” or prove that we are just as good as another person? I honestly think, not just myself, but all musicians put too much energy into trying to be different and stand out from other people. People will think what they think, but at the end of the day, we know what we have done and one day someone will appreciate that.
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!
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.
I think I may be on my way to snapping out of whatever kind of weird mood I’m in.
Monday was not really a good day for me. I have no classes until orchestra in the evening and it’s always my intention to wake up somewhat early in the morning to practice. Even 9:00 is reasonable. That way, I don’t have to stay late and practice after orchestra like I’ve been doing the past three years and I can just go home, relax, and go to bed early. I had my alarm set for 9:00 and when it went off I just couldn’t physically drag myself out of bed. Most of the time it was because a thought or a memory would come into my mind and I’d cry about it or just not be able to stop thinking about it. By the time I’d actually fall asleep it might be 3 or 4am. That wasn’t the first time I tried to wake up at 9:00am on a weekday morning where I had no morning classes, but of course every morning I would hope for something different. I went back to sleep again and woke up around noon some time. Obviously I have to get out of bed now. I couldn’t even bring myself to go practice in the afternoon. I pretty much went to orchestra without having played that day. I went to practice a bit after orchestra but it did not go so well.
Tuesday is a new day, right? Not really. I had class in the morning, so I dragged myself out of bed at the last possible minute to make it to class. I practiced a bit in the afternoon again with no success. My Pilates class at the gym was starting that evening, so I figured if I went to that I would start to feel better. Exercise is the best thing when you’re feeling down right? I thought I could just jump right back into my regular routine. Last year, I’d go to this cardio/strength drop in class and then go straight into Pilates and I’d always feel great after it. I was fine after the first class but as soon as I got to Pilates I was just so physically drained. I could barely make it through all the poses. I could have curled up into a ball and fallen asleep on my mat. When class was done, I got out of there as fast as I could. The fatigue I was experiencing was overwhelming, worse than the fatigue that hit me when I was out for supper with my parents that time. I also had a headache/migraine. Every time I looked at a light, or even my phone, my head would just throb. To give you an idea of how fatigued I was, the Pilates class ended at 7:10 and I was in bed by 8:00. I wasted no time getting out of there and getting home. I feel asleep almost instantly. I had to lie down immediately as an overwhelming feeling of nausea had taken over. I woke up around midnight and felt a lot better. My headache subsided so I was able to check my phone and catch up on email, messages, and Facebook. I went back to sleep, again falling asleep instantly. I woke up at 9:00am the next morning like I had been trying to do the past month with success. I guess it was kind of cheating though, going to bed at 8:00pm, it’s hard to sleep in until noon.
I attributed the extreme fatigue I experienced to the lack of sleep and the poor quality sleep I had been getting due to the quasi anxiety and depression I was experiencing as well as the worrying about everything in general. I also googled the symptoms I had (because that’s always a good idea), and I got a bunch of pages that said exercise intolerance. It makes sense. I was perhaps a bit too ambitious for my first day back to the gym. I haven’t really gone to a gym since last year as I ride my bike and exercise outdoors during the summer. It’s not that I wasn’t capable of doing a workout like that (I did that exact workout every week last year), it’s just that I should have worked up to it and not done that on my first day back to the gym after a long summer. One good thing that came out of this is that I had the best sleep ever on Tuesday night. I felt so refreshed on Wednesday and it was generally a good day. I practiced for almost 4 hours! That’s the most I’ve practiced this school year.
Thursday was another good day, I got lots of practicing done. I went to a hot yoga class that evening as I had a free drop in coupon. It was super intense but it felt really good. I’ve done hot yoga before, but it wasn’t the authentic hot yoga, it was, as the instructor described, “Yoga in a warm room”. I was taken aback by how intense it was and how much I sweat. I don’t sweat tons when I go to the gym, I don’t usually need to bring a towel or anything, so I only brought a small hand towel. By the end of the class, my mat was a slip n’ slide of my sweat. I couldn’t even do any of the poses in the last 15 minutes of class because my mat was too slippery and the heat was so intense. The instructor said to take breaks whenever you want so I took up on that. I felt really invigorated afterward though, I didn’t experience any exercise intolerance so that was good.
Friday is basically a day off for me (relatively speaking for music majors) so I just slept and guess what. I woke up this morning at 8:50am, without an alarm and I felt refreshed. What is this sorcery? I went on my bike to get some groceries in the morning and did some errands. I was that person and went to a drive thru ATM on my bike. In my defense there was no bike rack or space to lock up my bike. There was no one around and of course as soon as I start doing my banking a line of actual cars appears out of nowhere. Murphy’s law at its finest. I practiced in the afternoon and got some good work. This evening I thought I’d just relax and have some me time so I didn’t practice quite 4 hours today, but I’m finally starting to feel optimistic about this year. Things are looking up. I’m going to graduate and kick some grad school audition butt!
I haven’t written a post in here forever! I’ve been away most of the summer doing programs and fun stuff like that. I had written some pre-scheduled posts to be published while I was away but those ran out in early July and I didn’t have the time or inspiration to write about anything after that.
Summer programs are often viewed as an integral part of a musician’s training. It is where one can receive high quality instruction that they may not have access to if they attend a smaller school and receive different perspectives. It is also important to make connections and meet other music students around the country or even the world depending on the program. The friendships made at summer programs last a life time as these are people that you will run into for the rest of your career.
One issue I find with most summer programs, definitely not all of them of course, is that they are increasingly capitalistic. The most prestigious programs can cost up to $1000 in tuition for a week (or more!) and that doesn’t even include flights, accommodation/rent, and other expenses. As a university student, you need that money for tuition, rent and expenses during the school year. A lot of music students have to put their instruments away in their cases for the summer and get a summer job that may have little or nothing to do with music. While this is practical to pay for their schooling, it is not conducive to refining technique, learning new skills, receiving high quality instruction, or making connections. More and more programs are beginning to offer scholarships and other means of financial assistance, which is a step in the right direction, but the time spent at the program takes away from time that a student could be working. They may not be spending any money, but they may not gain money either. This is where it almost becomes a question of how much money one’s parents have. If a student comes from an upper-middle class family where their parents help pay tuition and rent, they will have the money to spend on a summer music program. Perhaps the parents might even pay for the student to attend these programs. This discriminates against lower income families whose parents and students struggle to pay for university and rent, let alone anything extra. Unfortunately, this usually results in music students coming from the well-to-do families to be more musically skilled and successful than those from less fortunate families. Of course, I am generalizing, I know several people who are exceptions. Even for myself, I hesitate to think about attending summer programs next year as I’ve now spent two summers in a row at music programs instead of working although my teacher encourages me to apply to more programs.
Another issue that I found that has nothing to do with money is the intimidation factor. At most music programs, you will find the best of the best from every music school across (whatever country you live in). Only the more serious students would attend these programs and take the time out of their summer as long as they can afford to take time off of work. I went to programs this summer where there were students from schools such as Julliard, Curtis, Yale, and Colbourn and here I am from this small city in Canada saying hi (or should I say “eh?”). Even other students from Canada came from larger schools such as the U of Toronto or McGill which have prestigious music programs that are renowned internationally. I’ll be honest, as amazing it is to get to meet these people and work with these people, it was a little bit depressing. Seeing what these people had accomplished at such a young age was very intimidating and made me feel insignificant and almost like I hadn’t accomplished anything. I feel almost like I’m wasting my time if there’s people like that out there. It makes me wonder how I even got accepted into a program like that if there’s all these amazing people out there that will clearly get any job they want.
Of course, we’re always told not to compare ourselves to others. Don’t worry about what other people are doing and just keep working. I want to believe that and in the past, I’ve been very good at having that mentality. As I get closer to the end of my degree and the end of my school years, I find it harder and harder to believe that. In auditions for symphony orchestra or even for a teaching position, you will be compared to others. It’s hard to ignore that when that is what is imposed upon you in your career. If you audition for an orchestra and it’s between you and one other candidate, they might look at resumes or accomplishments. If the other person has just one more notch on their resume the job is theirs. If I’m not aware of what other people are doing and accomplishing, how else would I make sure that I’m the one that gets picked for the job? This is where a career in music gets ugly. If I can’t even stand out now as a student, how am I going to stand out in an audition with hundreds of other candidates?
Well, what a wonderful note to begin fourth year on. I’ve never in my life felt more unmotivated to start school. I want to pursue a master’s degree and do auditions this year, but now I wonder if it’s even worth going on in a career in music. If i do nothing else, I will push through and finish my undergrad so I at least have some form of a degree. I was once better and channeling the fact that there are better and harder working people out there into motivation. I could say “Wow, that person is really good and I bet I can work just as hard as him/her”. And now, I just feel defeated. Almost a sense that if I’m not as good as those people now, I never will be. Hopefully in these next couple weeks before school starts, I can channel that inner motivation and get back in the game, but it’s not looking promising.
Part 1: https://confessionsofaviolist.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/my-beef-with-concerto-competitions-part-1/
When I started my first year of undergrad, I knew that I was not ready to enter in the concerto competition, or any other competition for that matter. It was too soon after my experience described in part 1. I needed to rebuild my confidence and the best way to do that was to not perform in competitions. I focused my attention more toward performing in student recitals and practicing to build up my technique. I’ve always found recitals to be a confidence booster because no one that matters is judging you or comparing you to others. People will come hear you to genuinely support you and your performance was appreciated.
In my second year of undergrad, I decided to be brave and go for the concerto competition. I figured I’d regained my footing from my experience in high school and I could get back in the game. I had started working on the Hindemith Der Schwanendreher over the summer and the competition was in November. The competition was a great way for me to get focused and motivated at the beginning of the year to get the first movement learned and memorized. I played at the competition and I thought that I actually played quite well given that I’d only really been working on the piece for about 6 months.
I never expected to be selected for the final round yet when they posted the results of the competition on Monday, but for some reason not seeing my name on that list still felt like a slap on the face. It was like the universe reminding me that I have no place to be entering a concerto competition as a violist. It seemed like all the string players that had entered were chosen for the final round except for me. That darn violinist that I complain about all the time was of course selected too. I was quite annoyed that a first year had been selected instead of me, especially given that I didn’t enter that competition in my first year. I tried not to let on to the rest of the music faculty that I was upset as everyone always cares so much about the competitions and who gets chosen and blah blah.
One of my fellow violists asked me how it went when I played for the preliminary round and I said something like “I thought I played very well, but I didn’t end up getting selected to the final round”. What she responded with bothered me even more, “Oh well, you’re a violist, don’t worry about it.” She didn’t mean anything by it and she was only trying to be friendly, but that comment bothered me and still bothers me to this day. Was she insinuating that I’m not good enough? That I shouldn’t enter competitions? That I’m one of those “who does she think she is” people? Regardless of what was meant by the comment, what shocked me the most is that it came from a violist. I’ve heard similar comments being made by other violists too since then. Being a lesser common instrument and being cast as the “inferior” instrument, I always felt a special sense of camaraderie between violists that you don’t see within any other instrument. Violinists, pianists, and flutists hate each other as they’re so competitive with each other (yes, stereotyping, but it’s generally true). That’s one of the main aspects that drew me toward the viola. It just hurts a little to see that we make comments like that to each other. Yes, viola is not a competition winning instrument and most violists make a career as a teacher, professor, or orchestral/chamber musician, but that does not mean that we can’t enter competitions or put on solo recitals if we want to. It just breaks my heart a bit that violists would discourage other violists for entering competitions or justify a loss by saying “It’s because I’m a violist”. In a competition, it’s about who plays with the best technique and musicality, not about what instrument they play.
When third year came along, I figured my best plan of action was to play Der Schwanendreher again. I hadn’t learned a new concerto that summer. I thought that if I played the same piece again with better intonation, overall accuracy, musicality, and all that fun stuff that I would have a chance at the final round. I gave the piece a rest over the summer and brought it back in mid-August and found that I had so much more to bring to it, both technically and musically. I had a breakthrough in working on intonation and other technical issues I’d been battling for years. I also found I was practicing a lot more than in did in first and second year. In the weeks leading up to the competition, I was easily practicing 4+ hours a day on just the Hindemith, not including my other rep. I was incredibly determined.
When I played at the preliminary round, it didn’t go as well as I wanted it to and I was quite bothered. I had played it much better at a student recital only a few weeks before. If only I could have copied and pasted that performance into the concerto competition. I tried not to worry about it over the weekend, perhaps maybe my performance wasn’t as bad as I thought it was and that I was just being hard on myself. When the results came on Monday, it was once again a slap on the face. My name was not on the list and this time it hurt even more. I put so much time and effort into this piece, more so than the previous year. I felt like I had wasted a lot of time and effort for a crappy performance. One thing that I find especially hard with competitions is it always feels like your performance wasn’t appreciated unless you win. Everyone is judging you harshly.
Now, going into my fourth year I feel so conflicted about entering the concerto competition this year. On one level, there’s the “I’ve got nothing to lose” mentality. At the same time, I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want to put myself out there and practice 4+ hours a day to be shot down. But I also tell myself that I will never get anywhere in a music career if I don’t put myself out there. I’ll never get a job in a symphony orchestra if I don’t audition and put myself out there, even though there’s a possibility of rejection. It’s better to learn the lesson of potential rejection now in university rather than when I get out in the real world and do auditions.
There’s also a part of me that wants to win a concerto competition that still exists even from high school. After a life of always being the underdog and the “inferior” one, it would mean a lot to me if someone recognized something I did for once. I want to be the one that everyone’s proud of for one brief, shiny moment in my life. It hurts when I see people who always praise that violin kid seem to never notice things that I do. The experience of playing with an orchestra would also be amazing. Not many violists get to play with an orchestra and if I won the concerto competition, it could be my only chance of ever playing with an orchestra in my entire career. It’s always nice to see an instrument that isn’t a violinist or a pianist playing with an orchestra. I would also be a role model to other violists, show that anything is possible if you work hard. Previous winners of the concerto competition have said “Oh it’s just the _______ University orchestra!” It’s still an orchestra and they have no idea how many other people would kill to be in that position.
So here I am, conflicted. Being my fourth year, this is my last chance to enter the concerto competition and possibly play with an orchestra. I don’t want to pass up this opportunity, but I also don’t want to put in hours and hours into practicing my piece to be rejected again. I know the pain of rejection would be even more intense because I won’t have any more chances. It’s now or never. I still have about 4 or 5 months to decide what I want to do and perhaps when the time comes, I will feel differently. Perhaps I just have a case of “the grass seems greener on the other side”. Maybe playing with an orchestra isn’t as magical as I build it up to be and if I did win, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. It’s always important to remember that as much as you want what other people have, they also want what you have. I’ve had people come up to me that said they wish they had the opportunity to do some of the things that I’ve accomplished. It just goes to show that we can’t have everything in life and it’s important to appreciate what you have, even when it seems like others have it all.