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. 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.
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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 (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.