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 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. 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.
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Reflections on my life post-high school 

Now that it’s June, something that’s popular topic of discussion right now is high school graduations, proms, and the like. It makes me think back to my high school graduation which was three years ago now. I know that’s not long ago, but it’s crazy to look back and think about how much I’ve matured and changed in such a short time. I’ve moved away to a new city, started university, met amazing friends, flourished as a violist/musician, learned a lot about myself, and so much more.

It’s also interesting to note that the graduating class of 2015 are the grade nines when I was in grade twelve. This means that starting in September, there will be no more students at my old high school that I was in school with at the same time; it’ll be a completely new student body. It’s crazy because when you’re in high school, you always think of the grade nines (or freshmen if you prefer) as little kids, no matter what grade you’re in. Even when I was in grade 10 I’d call the grade 9s little kids. Now, all the “little kids” from when I was in grade 12 are graduating high school. They’re going to university, college, work, take a year off, and otherwise beginning their adult life. It’s always crazy to see people younger than you reach certain milestones in their life as you anticipated that age or event in your life so much when you were younger and then you finally make it there.

One interesting thing that I’ve become aware of and was taken a bit aback by is how awkward it is to come home for the summer. This was never an issue in first year. When I came home for the summer, people were excited to see me again and were curious about how school was going. I even visited some of the teachers at my old high school and students from younger grades that I knew through music said hi to me. It was almost like I’d never left. I wasn’t greeted as warmly when I came home after second year, but it was still nice. Right now, being home for the summer in third year has been quite awkward. Of course, I have great chats with my old teachers and other adults, but I’ve lost the connection to people my age. It’s almost to the extent where I don’t feel welcome here anymore, which is both freeing and a bit sad.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times in previous entries, I never really had a lot of close friends my age. I had some people that I talked to and connected to just because they were there. Once we didn’t have to see each other every day anymore, we drifted apart. Of course, after first year it wasn’t too awkward to talk to them as I’d only been away for a year. After two or three years, it’s just too awkward. The only foundation of our friendship was the fact that we were in the same class or played in the same music group and had to see each other all the time. I strongly believe that people come in and out of your life for a reason and if these people were not meant to be my BFF’s, then there’s no need to force it to happen. I know for a fact that when I go on to do my master’s, there will be some people that I will definitely keep in touch with who I met during my undergrad, and others that I will not.

Another interesting thing I’d like to address is how I keep in touch and connect with the adults that were significant to me when I was in high school. While I was in high school, and even middle school, I always wondered why kids my age didn’t want to talk to me. I was nothing but respectful and nice to people, what had I done? After being away for three years, I finally have an answer. When I was younger, I was always mature for my age. I don’t mean that to say that I’m better than other people, but what I mean is that I always thought about things from a more adult perspective from a younger age. I tended to have thoughts and interests that were well beyond my years. I used “big words” all the time and people thought it was weird, of course now no one would care. More often than not, I found it easier to talk to adults. I was that kid in elementary school who talked to the teacher doing playground supervision if there were no other kids who wanted to play with me. As a general rule, I preferred to have friends who were 2 or 3 years older than me. I found it difficult to be friends with people more than 2 years younger than me. Of course now, my age has caught up to my maturity level and I blend in with people my age. I still have a preference for friends who are a few years older than me, but I now also have friends who are a year or two younger and I don’t feel like I’m talking to a little kid. I’ve also met several people in university who were just like me in high school; mature for their age and left out.

I have really made a home in my new city and found where I belong. It’s sad that I don’t feel welcome when I come home anymore, but it’s the reality. It’s exciting that I’ve found new people in my life that I connect with better than anyone in my hometown and I can only hope that it continues that way. I’m almost considering not coming home next summer. Usually I come home for about a month or two when I’m in between finals and a music program or summer job. Next summer, I almost want to just get an apartment for the summer and live somewhere else. I’m not sure what my plans are and if that would be practical, but it is something I will do eventually. I do feel bad about thinking about that too as I love my family and I know they’d be upset if I didn’t come home for the summer.

Regardless, I’m heading to a music program soon, so I’m beyond excited to see my friends and meet more amazing people. All of this will feel irrelevant quite soon.

Letter to my high school self

Dear prospective music student,

It’s been a tough four years; it’s definitely not easy to pursue music at a high level while enrolled in a public high school. You did a great job, even when it was tough. You made a lot of sacrifices, especially in your social life but it will all be worth it in the long run. I know it was hard to see all the kids in your class have friends to talk to and hang out with everyday. I know it was hard to look on Facebook and see all your classmates doing fun and simple things like going out for supper, going on a weekend road trip, or just simply grabbing coffee after school. I know you wanted and tried to be a part of that but got rejected several times. You were always that “weird music kid”.

In particular there was that one group of girls you always sat beside at lunch on those rare days you didn’t have  rehearsal and couldn’t go home for lunch. You wasted so much energy trying to fit in with them. They had no idea the amount of commitment and passion you have for your music. They would never understand the amount of hours you put in to pursue music at the university level. The moment they called music “stupid” to your face is when you should have just walked away and stopped speaking to them. I know the reason you passively sat by those girls is so that judgy passers-by wouldn’t see you sitting alone and call you a loner. Honestly, little things like sitting alone in the hallway seem like a bit deal to you now, but in university no one cares or notices if you eat lunch alone.

I know you feel a small sense of regret that you didn’t get the full high school experience. You never got to go to a party or really try alcohol outside of the odd glass of wine. You only went to school events like dances in grade 9 and 10. Frankly, with the schedule you had, there was no way you would have had the time! You were at school everyday at 8:30am, crammed in as much homework during your spare and lunch hour, probably had a rehearsal after school, went home to grab supper, possibly off to another rehearsal, and then finally home at 10:00pm. By the time the weekend came around, you needed that precious time to sleep in and catch up on all the homework you didn’t have time for during the week, and even then, you were still juggling rehearsals and concerts. Somehow you magically fit in 1-2 hours of practice when you had the chance. It wasn’t as much as you would have liked, but given the schedule you had I’m surprised you practiced at all.

You will definitely make up for all of this in university. Yes, you will be very busy with classes, lessons, and rehearsals, but it’ll be a much more manageable schedule as it will be all music related commitments. Any student that goes through public school while trying to pursue a musical instrument at a high level to get into a university program honestly deserves some kind of award. Because of the superior time management skills you cultivated in high school, you will find time to not only get all your homework done and practice, but you will have a bit of a social life too. You will get to experience parties, bars, university sports games, road trips, and simple hangouts like coffee and lunch. Trust me, it’ll be much more fun than any high school experience you missed out on.

Yes, I said social life. I know it seems crazy to think right now that there are people out there who want to talk to you, but university is a much more welcoming and accepting environment than high school. You will be surprised at how many people will want to talk to you and be your friend. When you live on campus in your first year, you will have tons of friends outside the music faculty. You’ll also meet a lot of international students, which is always an eye-opening experience. Despite the fact that a lot of these friends you will meet have never played a musical instrument, they will be 100% supportive of your music and think you’re the coolest person ever that you can play an instrument at such a high level. And of course, you’ll meet tons of people in the music faculty who are supportive of your pursuits.

Graduating high school is probably one of the most liberating experiences in life. You’re finally out of the prison-like structure of the public school system and you can go out and do what you’re passionate about. You don’t have to speak to any of these people that you’ve known and hated since kindergarten. You can forget about those girls you tried so hard to fit in with and they will certainly forget you. It’s hard to have to see these people every day and talk to them simply because there’s no one else to talk to. Another awesome thing about university that you don’t get in high school is each year of university, you will make new friends. That never happens in high school, once people get their friend groups figured out in grade 9 or 10, they don’t need any more friends. Moving away to a new city after high school is honestly the best decision for you and you will benefit from it in more ways than you already see.

Congratulations on graduating high school, it’s only going to get better from here. I’m excited for you!

Sincerely,

Your 2015 self