Is It Too Late for Me?

I’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into my viola playing, especially in the past four years. All of these endless hours and late nights in the practice rooms, giving up summers to attend programs/festivals, giving up a social life to practice, all the emotional breakdowns, may have been for nothing.
When I was in middle/high school, I was never the best string player. I was always the one who sat around on the sidelines watching the same three people win all the prizes wondering when it would be my turn. It never really was. Despite being unsuccessful, I had a lot of genuine passion for music. I worked really hard and wanted so badly to go into music, even if there were people who thought I wasn’t good enough. I told myself that all that matters is having a strong, consistent work ethic.
Now that I have an undergrad, I worry that maybe that was just something that high school teachers tell you so you feel better about yourself. I legitimately thought things would be different in undergrad, but I feel like I’m really no better than I was in high school. I was still the one who sat around on the sidelines watching the same three people win all the prizes wondering when it would be my turn. I look back and realize how naive I was. Why did I think that everything would magically get better in undergrad?
It’s weird too, because I know for a fact I worked really hard in undergrad and came a long way musically and technically. I listen to recordings from high school and I can’t believe it’s the same person. Why am I still unsuccessful? Because the people that were really good also got better so there’s just no hope for me. As soon as I’m as good as them, they’re way better.
A good example is this other violist that I know. She’s starting her undergrad. She’s played the Brahms F minor and Clarke sonatas. If you know anything about viola rep, that’s amazing to be able to play pieces like that at a young age. When I was in high school, my teacher told me that I wasn’t ready to be playing pieces like the Clarke or Brahms sonatas. Even in first and second year undergrad! I finally was able to play Brahms E-flat in third year, Clarke in fourth year, and only now am I learning Brahms F minor for my master’s.
As you can see, she is much better equipped going into undergrad than I was. The level she plays at is exactly where I wish I was going into undergrad. I wasted four years of my life getting there. Now that I’m finally ready to do my undergrad, here I am starting my master’s. She has six years (assuming she’s doing master’s) of school. She’s going to be unstoppable when she graduates. I only have 2 years left. Even if I never talk to another human being ever again and practice 12 hours a day, I will never be good enough.
They always say sometimes people have success later in life, and maybe my big break is yet to come in 10 years or something. I don’t know what to believe. It’s just so hard to see all these people 2, 4, 6, 10 years younger than me that are so much better than I was. I honestly think it’s too late for me. It sucks because I’ve invested so much time and effort into this that it would be depressing to give it all up, but at the same time I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever be good enough. I can’t wait until I’m 35 to get an orchestral job, but expecting to get an orchestral job right out of my master’s is unrealistic too.

Supporting Your Peers Through Good Times and Bad

I’ve been checking the stats on this blog (more or less out of curiosity). I have never intended to have tons of readers or have this blog discovered by many people just given the nature of it. This blog (well, let’s be real, diary) has actually helped me immensely by putting my feelings and thoughts into words, even if it’s the most irrational, negative, self-deprecating thing you’ve ever read. The more people who read it, the more likely my identity is going to be revealed. I would feel bad if any of the people I said slightly negative things found this blog and called me out on it, even if violin kid found it I would feel bad! Thankfully, I can see the countries of the viewers to my blog and there are very few views from Canada (where I’m from) so the odds that anyone even remotely could have an idea of who I am is very slim and I want to keep it that way.

However, I’ve also noticed that the readers that I have on this blog have also dwindled. Not like I had tons before, but I would get the odd comment or like from people who genuinely enjoyed the content on this blog. One reason is that I don’t post regularly. I used to post every Friday on a variety of topics, and it wouldn’t be just about me. I would talk about topics that there could be a variety of opinions and thoughts on, like a “normal” blog. People like to read blogs that post often and regularly on a predictable schedule. People also like to read grammatically correct and coherent posts. I seldom proofread my entries. For not proofreading, I would like to think that I write very goodly, but occasionally I’ll read an old entry and find errors including spelling mistakes, run-on sentences, or incoherent sentence fragments. However, the way I see it is that this blog is more of a diary for me, would you proofread and edit your diary entries?

I feel like most of my entries for the past 4 months have been negative and self-deprecating, which reflects how I feel, but no one wants to read that. I’m not always a negative, bitter person, but that’s what people have seen in the past 4 months. I can totally relate, I don’t want to be around people who are boring and depressing all the time, but at the same time, those are the people that need the support the most. My last post that was successful was “Beginning to Feel like Myself Again” with 6(!) likes because it was positive and encouraging. Yes there were some ranty bits, but I talked about how I was going to overcome my anxiety about grad school and get back in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way begging for readers or trying to reach out to the random 3 people from Japan, United States, and Turkey who read my blog, but I’m just stating an observation.

I parallel this lack of interest (if there ever really was any) in this blog to my situation in real life. I feel like because November was a hard month for me, it was almost as if people didn’t want to talk to me or support me anymore. I’m not trying to be a drama queen, it legitimately feels like people are pushing away from me. Last year was a much more successful year for me and I felt like I always had a group of friends (albeit small) who genuinely cared about me and were always there for me. Of course, my family and my teacher are there for me no matter what, but the support from peers is just as important. I feel like this year because I had a rough start and a rough November, that people don’t want to be around me or go support me at my concerts. It may seem like I’m being over sensitive about little things, but the little things add up.

For example, I wrote two entries about the Concerto Competition. I know you’re sick of me harping on that (even if this is the first time you’ve read this blog), but I’m only briefly mentioning it. My pianist friend who accompanied me was helping me prepare and getting me pumped up for the performance, as any good friend should. The performance generally went well and there were a few rather noticeable wrong notes, but that’s just life as a performer. When I inevitably wasn’t selected to move on to the final round, it seemed as if my friend was less enthusiastic about my playing. We rehearsed for another piece later that week and she didn’t have as many positive things to say about my piece (nothing negative) but she wasn’t as excited to work on it. After the concerto competition final round, she wouldn’t stop bragging about the guitarist she played for and how well he played (despite not being selected as a winner) and thought maybe he should have won. Last year at the concerto competition after the final (she had won that year), she told me that she would have loved to see me play in the final round and share the winning title with her and that was genuine, she didn’t just say that because she felt she had to. This year, she didn’t even acknowledge that I’d played in the preliminary round and never brings it up. All she talks about is the guitar guy who made it to the final. I don’t like it when people say “You should have won”, but I appreciate the thought behind it. What, am I not good enough to play with her now? Do I really spoil her “fragile” reputation that much?

After the concerto competition, I’d signed up to play in some noon hour recitals. One for some unaccompanied Bach and the other two were with chamber groups. Normally, the issue with noon hour recitals is random people show up (and I’m guilty of it too) because they have to attend so many recitals to get a credit. But I like to go to recitals that my friends are involved in even if I’ve fulfilled all my credits because I believe it’s important to support my peers. I definitely told her about these recitals. I wasn’t going to be super anal about it and be like “You should go”, but I thought since we were friends that was implied. I’ve always gone to every noon hour recital she’s done and if there was a reason that I couldn’t, I told her and said I would have loved to be there. To my knowledge, she did not go to any of these recitals. In fact, none of my friends or supporters were at these recitals that I knew of. Of course, random people who were at the recital said “good job” as I passed them in the hallway, but they were probably just there to get a credit and happened to see me and thought it would be polite to say “good job”, but otherwise would have no reason to talk to me. I hate how music school is basically a “glorified” high school sometimes, people just never really grow up.

My friend never apologized or told me why she wasn’t at any of these recitals. There were 3 of them. I thought for sure she’d come to the third one because I did a piece with a singer and she does a lot of vocal accompaniment, but no. Although I never made it clear that I wanted her there, it was implied. I always went to her recitals whether she specifically invited me or not. And yes, she is the type of person who would normally apologize about missing a recital or concert that I was in. She missed the orchestra concert in October and texted me later that night apologizing that her rehearsal ran late, there wasn’t enough time to bus there, and she was feeling a bit sick and tired anyway. I wasn’t mad about that, sh*t happens. But I was a bit offended that I was involved in three recitals in a short period of time that she knew about and did not make effort to attend at least one. She may not realize that I was offended by this, but it’s too awkward to bring up. She’s playing for my final recital and until then, I don’t want to cause any fights or disagreement between us because I can’t take any chances on my recital potentially being sabotaged. She’s normally pretty reasonable, if I mentioned it, she probably would apologize but then it’s not a sincere apology because she would only apologize because I basically told her to.

It’s little things like that which add up and bother me. Maybe she’s pulling away from me because she senses that I’m not playing as well as I did last year and I’m a bit more depressed,  but that’s no excuse. Honestly, I feel like I could use more support than ever and I’m getting less than I ever did. True friends stick around in the good times and the bad. She’s been going through some tough times too and I’ve been there for her, but I feel like that’s not being reciprocated back to me. Like I said, I don’t want to axe her as a friend until after my recital (if I even need to go that route), but I don’t like the way she has been acting around me lately, and it all started because of the Concerto Competition. If I never played in the competition, I wonder if she would be supporting me and attending my recitals. She wouldn’t have seen how “bad” and “hopeless” I am and she wouldn’t be so embarrassed to be associated with me, well at least that’s the impression she is giving. It’s a general pattern in the music faculty, and just life in general. People tend to flock around people who are doing well and steer away from people who are depressed and bitter all the time.

Whether this blog ever gets more views or not, just know, to the three people who might read this, that it is important to support your friends through good times and bad. I know I may seem like I’ve pushed away people too, but now I feel like after having some space, I am ready to let people back in and I feel like they’re just done with me. I would say I’m glad I’m moving away and going to grad school next year, but moving to a new city is only a temporary solution to your problems. I found that out the hard way when I went away to do my undergrad. My first year was amazing and blissful and second year was a harsh blow of reality. Maybe that’s why people don’t care about me. I’m moving away anyway so whatever, they don’t have to deal with me for much longer.

Anyway, that’s all for today. I’m on winter break right now. I’ve been at home for about a week and I still have about another 2 weeks to relax at home. It’s pretty sweet. Having that physical distance away from school and the people in question has helped me a bit. Perhaps January will be a fresh start for everyone and all this nonsense will be totally irrelevant and not even worth confronting people about.

Fourth Year Struggles

Hello again! My postings on this blog are somewhat sporadic but I just haven’t really been in the mood to write anything lately (as you will see later on in this post). I began my fourth year of school two weeks ago and it hasn’t been treating me well.

I arrived on Saturday the 5th. I unpacked some stuff at my place and eventually got too tired so I just went to bed and planned to continue the next day. I didn’t think much of it. I woke up on Sunday and went about my day as usual. I was out for dinner with my parents. They had dropped me off and were planning to go back home the next morning so I wanted to go out with them before they left. I was fine when we got to the restaurant but all of a sudden this wave of extreme fatigue hit me. I was just so physically exhausted out of nowhere, I couldn’t even finish my meal. I was planning to hang out with my parents a bit more but I was just so drained that I had them take me home. It was 8:00pm. I went straight to bed and woke up on Monday morning (the labour day holiday) at noon. Mind you I wasn’t sleeping the whole time, I had trouble falling asleep as I had a lot on my mind and there were some loud hooligans in the hallway. On Monday I spent almost the entire day in bed watching YouTube videos. I would drag myself out of bed occasionally to go eat something but then it was right back to my YouTube watching. You’d think I was recovering from surgery or something. Getting in contact with my friends to see what they were up to was out of the question.

I didn’t really think much of it at first but I began to think that maybe there was something wrong. Normally I’m as motivated as ever to begin a school year and then later on I lose my motivation. Never have I began a school year wanting to lay in bed all day and not talk to anyone. Why the lack of motivation? Part of it was the summer program I was in. I had done the exact program in summer 2014 and it was amazing. I began third year more motivated then ever and I worked incredibly hard that year in all aspects. I do the same program again in 2015 and it has the opposite affect. I come back to school feeling defeated and inadequate. The level of playing at the program was exceptionally high this summer and I just felt like I didn’t belong musically. I’d see all these amazing people doing amazing things that I’ll never get an opportunity to do or be able to do and it just made me think, “Why do I bother?”

Also, what comes with being a fourth year is the looming thought of what I will do next year. Of course, there are the societal pressures to go to grad school. Ever since I was in grade 12 I knew I wanted to go to grad school. There was no question about it. Now, I’m not so sure if I should even continue in music. I really want to, it is something that I love doing and I can picture myself having a career in, but I am concerned if I am disciplined/skilled enough and have the mental fortitude to pursue it. I mean, if I get so offended and heartbroken from losing some meaningless competition at my school, how would I handle losing an audition at a professional orchestra? I can’t sit around in my room crying for days every time something doesn’t go my way in the real world. There is also the option of taking a year off but that is also frowned upon by people. The more years you spend working, the harder it is to go back to being a student.

I was always so opposed to and disturbed by the idea of taking a year off, but now I honestly think it might be best for my mental health. After two summers of doing programs, I feel like I’ve been in school nonstop since the beginning of second year. I haven’t had a real break. As sad as it sounds, I’m at a point where I need a break from music. The pressures of being a music student/musician are getting to me too much. But then again, maybe the summer is all I need and I can have a fresh start next year at grad school. As much as I want a break, if I start grad school right away after my undergrad, then I can be done and take as long of a break as I want. If I take a year off, it will be nice but I will only be prolonging my schooling. Why is life so hard?

I thought once classes started and I got into a routine I’d snap out of whatever this was. Not really the case. I haven’t had any days where I spent the entire day lying in bed, but I haven’t exactly been in the practice rooms for my 4+ hours a day either. If anything, this is the year where I need to get my sh*t together and practice more than ever. But no. It’s not that I haven’t practiced, I’ve made some good progress on the Clarke Sonata and my unaccompanied Bach, I’ve just been dragging my heels on my concerto and my other recital rep which I haven’t even confirmed yet. Yay me. I have to have all this rep learned by January/February if I’m going to be doing grad school auditions and I’ve wasted most of September moping around. I mean, it’s not too late to turn things around. There’s still 9 or so days left in September and at least 3 or 4 months left. I thought I’d gotten myself back on track last week, but then I fell back into my moping again. It’s kind of concerning, if I don’t start getting my act together soon, then I won’t be able to learn my rep in time for grad school auditions and I’ll have no choice but to take a year off. At least if I can push myself through the auditions, I have the option to change my mind or defer it for another year.

I guess if it’s any solace, I’m probably not the first music student, and won’t be the last, to feel like this in fourth year. It’s a stressful time. I’m so close to the end of my schooling and the beginning of my professional life. There are so many options available to me both in music and not in music. I guess I just have to take things one step at a time and get through this year first. I’ve gotten through 3 years of university, why should this one be any different? I have to find that sense of motivation and determination within myself. It’s there, I know it. I wouldn’t have made it this far if it wasn’t. I need some more positive self talk, rather than focusing on negative things.

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 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.