If you’ve been following this blog, even if it’s only been for a couple entries, you would know that I did grad school auditions. I’m not sure if I mentioned that I’ve already made a decision on where to go. I am very satisfied with my decision and I knew from the beginning that I was probably going to go to that school anyway, but it was useful to look at the other schools and seriously consider them.
It was basically a toss up between two schools, let’s call them School A and School B. I also applied to School C because why not right. I didn’t seriously want to go there but I wanted to check out the school anyway. It was probably the most prestigious out of the three schools, but it wasn’t the right type of school for me. I would never choose a school just for its prestige, my own education and what I get out of it is way more important than me being able to go around and be like “Oh look at me, I went to ______ school, I’m better than everyone else”.
My auditions at School A and School B went very well. I had lessons with the teachers there and I got good vibes from all of them. I guess the teachers could tell that I wanted to go to those schools as well. All the teachers at Schools A and B that I had lessons with really made me feel welcome there and that I wished that I could study with all of them. I felt that when I played those auditions that it was a much better representation of my playing and what I’m capable of. The fact that I wanted to go to those schools and study with those teachers probably also came through in my playing.
By the time I got to School C, I was quite tired from my auditions and School A and B that I just wanted to be done with auditions already. I met up with the teacher at School C for a lesson and in the moment I didn’t really think about it, but looking back at it now, I should have picked up on the weird vibes a little bit better. School C, as I mentioned, was the most prestigious school of the 3 that I applied to and frankly, I think the students and teachers there can be a bit snobby about it. I emailed the teacher to set up a lesson and he suggested a time. I said that was the day I was flying in so it wasn’t ideal but it would be fine. I arrived in the city and even paid for a cab from the airport (when I could have taken the shuttle bus to save money) to make sure that I would get there in good time for my lesson. The teacher emailed me about half an hour before we were supposed to have the lesson to say that something came up and he had to cancel and could teach me some time the next day. I get that sh*t happens sometimes and professional musicians are busy, but what a terrible first impression to make on a prospective student.
I emailed back and said that I was fine to have the lesson the next day in the afternoon. He also left a phone number in his email so I phoned him as well. No answer, so I left a message. The rest of that evening, I received no correspondence from him whatsoever. It wasn’t until 10:00 the next morning that he finally emailed back and asked to do 2:00pm that afternoon. Once again, I get he’s very busy and I respect his time, but that’s just a tad unprofessional. It was very nice of him to offer this lesson, but I can’t be expected to just schedule my whole life around it.
I go to his studio to wait for the lesson. There’s another prospective student in there getting a lesson as well. Her mom was actually waiting outside the studio and I was chatting to the mom a bit. She was applying for undergrad. It was about 1:50 or so when I got there, so we thought they were just finishing up and I’d be there soon. But the lesson went on and on. I could hear a bit outside the door and from what I heard, it sounded like the teacher really liked her. As she was leaving, he said something like “You have my email, keep in touch” and all that fun stuff.
Contrast that to me now. I get into his studio about half an hour after my lesson was supposed to start. I play through my Bach and I could tell he was a little bit unsure of what he wanted to say. Either he was appalled at how terrible it was or there were just too many things that he didn’t know where to begin. He started by complimenting my intonation, which was a first for me. He began by talking about posture and how to hold the viola and stuff like that. It was actually really interesting and I won’t go into detail about that right now, but I tried playing again after and already I noticed a huge difference and it was so much easier to play. Right as I felt the lesson was getting started, he said “Okay, that’s all we have time for today” and just kind of awkwardly kicked me out. I saw how he treated the girl before me. It was clear that he did not like me and did not want me in his studio but he really liked that other girl. The audition was a couple days later and ultimately, I just don’t think I played very well at the audition. It wasn’t terrible, but I don’t think it was a good representation of what I was capable of. In hindsight, I think it was just the awkward vibes I got from that lesson.
The first school I heard back from was School A (which is where I’m going). They actually emailed me a couple hours before my audition at School C. I was super ecstatic as it was my first choice school. Of course, I wanted to wait to hear back from the other schools before making an official decision. I waited and waited. Nothing. Finally, I got a letter from School B about two weeks after my acceptance to School A and I was accepted there as well. The scholarship wasn’t nearly as good though. At this point, I was set on School A as I really loved the program, the teacher, and the scholarship offer was really good. But of course, I had to wait for School C.
Here’s where it gets interesting. I saw another violist friend that I met at a summer program post on Facebook that he got into School C not too long after I got into School B. I logged on to my account at School C to check to see if there was anything for me. Nothing. I had a bit of a gut feeling that I didn’t get into School C based on this, but I didn’t want to assume anything. I decided to wait a bit longer. In the mean time, the teacher at School A phoned me and wanted to check in. He was super excited about me going to School A and really hoped that I went there. The phone call was the deciding factor for me. It was amazing that he took the time to reach out to me like that and none of the other teachers had done anything like that. I decided to stop waiting for School C and just accepted my offer to School A.
About a week ago, I finally heard back from School C and it was not in a good way. I got the official rejection letter. I took the news a lot more harshly than I thought I would. I already had a feeling that I didn’t get in and I didn’t really want to go there anyway, but those harsh words still got to me. Frankly, I should have seen it coming. As I explained, it was clear the teacher didn’t really like me and I didn’t play that well at the audition. It’s not that I’m not good enough, it’s just that it wasn’t the right type of school for me. I don’t want to think of it as a reflection on myself as a player. Even if I had been accepted there, I think the environment at School A is much better for me and I would learn better there. Although School C is much more internationally known as a prestigious school, if it’s not the right type of school for me then there’s no reason to go there. Clearly, there are two other schools that wanted me there so I’m not a total loser. I guess I wanted the option of saying no.
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 (well yesterday because I’m pre-writing), 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 accompanist 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 2 programs, both of which are 3 weeks (no longer than a month). I will only do one of those (whichever 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!