Summer Programs

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.

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At what point do you expect to be paid?

This is something that I think about sometimes, being near the end of my undergraduate. As music students, we are expected to do a lot of things for free (and in most cases pay to do them). In the real world, one would be paid to play in orchestras, chamber ensembles, and recitals, whereas in school you are expected to do these for free.

It can be a hard transition to make. I know there are many things that I’ve played for that I could have legitimately demanded to be paid for, but didn’t feel in the place to do that. Music starts out as a mere hobby for all of us and we are happy to pursue our art without financial compensation. In fact, we are often paying to be in community orchestras, bands, and choirs or university music programs.

I feel that senior high school years and university age is where can start to be paid for some things. Certainly, I would never play in a wedding or “background music” for free, but I still don’t feel right charging admission to a recital. At my university, I’ve been asked to play in a string quartet for functions in other faculties and I have been paid for those, yet when members of the university orchestra get asked to play an extra concert, we don’t get paid. I remember one time my university orchestra got asked only about a month in advance to play an extra concert with the local symphony orchestra. Of course there were a lot of extra rehearsals off campus and it was actually a significant time commitment. Despite that, they don’t have to pay us because we’re just students, even though we had to make arrangements to make sure we were available for those rehearsals.

When I get asked to play for a gig of some description, I feel bad asking how much I would get paid, or if I’d get paid. I’m still at an age where I don’t mind doing the odd gig for free to get the exposure and make connections, but I am also at an age where I need to establish myself as a business, as reluctant as I am to say that. You would never ask a restaurant to cater an event for free to get the exposure or make connections, so why do we expect musicians to do the same, even if they’re just students? However, since I am still in my undergrad at the time of this post, I also don’t want to be known as that jerk who turns down every gig, but I also don’t want to continue doing things for free and devaluing my art. It’s a tough balance. Recitals done as academic requirements in universities by policy must be free, but if you do a recital off campus “for fun”, should you charge admission? I’ve done both. I don’t really feel right charging admission to a recital yet, even though I know I could. I would always worry that people would be like “Who does she think she is, charging admission for her recital?” But frankly, if people will take that attitude then they don’t need to attend. At university age, I am producing music at a professional level and if I was out of school and working as a professional musician, I would charge admission to any recital I do and no one would think it’s pretentious. Why would it be different while in school? Well, to an extent music still feels a bit hobby-like to me and I’m happy to share my music with people regardless of money.

I remember one particular incident. I was asked to play as an extra musician with my old youth orchestra while I was home for a summer. They usually pay extra musicians so I just assumed I would be paid and never thought to ask. Of course at the last dress rehearsal, I get an envelope with what I assume is my honourarium. It wasn’t, it was just a thank you card. Of course, I can’t really ask the cheque was omitted by mistake as that would be too awkward and potentially burn bridges with the people in the organization. I know the organization was doing a lot of budget cuts. But frankly, if they can’t afford to pay the extra musicians, then they shouldn’t hire extra musicians. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I knew it was for free. Pardon me if that makes me sound like a jerk but I did have to take extra time out of my schedule to look at the music, attend rehearsals, and attend the concert. Any professional musician in a symphony orchestra would have legitimately demanded to be paid to do that. I would have been very right to do that same, but of course, I’m just a student that likes playing in things to be a good person and have exposure.

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.