Whoa, I’m getting fancy and inserting pictures in my entries! I can barely contain myself too!
Well, there is a deeper meaning behind the picture. The title of this post states “I just wanted to be different”. So I figured a snowflake would be an appropriate graphic as no two snowflakes are alike. No two humans are alike.
Sometimes we forget just how unique we are. There are so many humans in the world, it can feel like you are insignificant and don’t matter. If you have read any other things I have posted in this blog, you will know that it is something I talk about a lot.
When my violin teacher suggested to me at the end of grade 7 that I switch to viola, I will admit I was quite skeptical, as I’m sure you can relate if you are a violist as well. I thought it was a passive-aggressive nudge suggesting that things on violin weren’t going so well and that maybe I should just give up. I didn’t want to play an instrument that had such horrible jokes written about it, I couldn’t be that person! I rented a cheap one just to try it out and give it a chance. I did like the deeper, rich tone quality of the viola. Overall, I thought it was a much nicer and satisfying instrument to play. The next week when I went to my violin lesson, it was my first viola lesson. That summer, I went to the summer string workshop as a violist. I was still a bit shaky on alto clef, but by the beginning of grade 8, I was almost fluent in alto clef. By the time I started youth orchestra, it was like I had been playing viola for years.
I’ll admit I still wasn’t completely sold on viola. Part of me was still a violinist and missed soaring in those high positions on the E string. I’d watch the violinists have these crazy hard parts all up in 8th position while I was playing tremolo. I would almost wish that I could play something like that, I felt like I wasn’t challenging myself enough. I thought people would think that I was being lazy for switching to the viola. Yes, at one point in my life, I thought viola was “too easy”. Such a violinist thing to say. I did like being in a smaller section though. There aren’t many violists, especially where I was from. I felt I always got lost in the sea of violinists and was constantly compared to other people, making me always feel like the “underdog” or behind others. When I started on viola, I felt like I was my own category and I didn’t care if I was behind others or didn’t play as well as I “should have”.
It wasn’t until the end of grade 9 when my parents very kindly bought me a new professional quality viola (the one in the banner of this blog). As soon as I played it, I fell in love with the instrument all over again. It was so much nicer than that cheap rental one I had been using the past 2 years. It was from that moment that I knew that viola was my true calling. I was never meant to be a violinist, I was a violist. I didn’t switch to viola because I wasn’t good at violin, I switched because I genuinely enjoyed the instrument more and it suited me better.
As I began to identify more with being a violist, I began to be legitimately bothered by all these viola jokes. I knew they were just jokes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there actually was a prejudice in the musical world against violists. Where I was from, a lot of the viola players didn’t play very well or work very hard. I got the impression they were violinists, like me, told to play viola and took it the wrong way. Once they switched, they never really got any better. I guess they thought since they’re inferior to everyone else and never going to get any better, why bother? These people are the reason that viola jokes still exist.
I wanted to be different. I wanted to work hard and achieve things just like any violinist or cellist. Just because I’m a violist doesn’t mean I can’t work hard. I wanted to be that violist. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to win all the competitions.
As you can tell, this mentality didn’t work out for me. I ended up being way too cocky in certain situations and made myself look even more like a fool. I felt like I had done all this hard work for “nothing”. Now as a fourth year university student, I still haven’t won any major competitions and feel like I’ve let violists down. I wanted to be different and show that we’re not the out-of-tune, stupid, unmusical losers that those stupid jokes say we are!
But then, I take a step back and think. Am I practicing and working hard to impress other people? Am I wanting to win competitions just to prove that violists are competent individuals? Sounds ridiculous when you put it in those terms. Who cares if people don’t think you’re good or think you’re a loser? All that matters is that you put in the hard work and know you’re accomplishing things for yourself. People can think whatever the hell they want, they’re not your future employers.
I guess through all these years of being unsuccessful, I felt like people just thought I was just like every other violist in my city. When I moved here, I felt the same way. I tried so hard to be different but just couldn’t. But you don’t have to try hard to be different. You are different. Not everyone was meant to win all the competitions and be the person that everyone’s “in love” with. Winning competitions does not equate success. I’ve accomplished things that don’t get nearly as much praise or attention as a competition, but are unique to me and other people haven’t necessarily done. Not saying that I have an advantage, but I’m just as successful as those people who win every competition even though I don’t get nearly the praise and attention they do.
Bottom line is everyone is different. We all have our own set of achievements and stories to tell. Why do we waste so much energy trying to be like “everyone else” or prove that we are just as good as another person? I honestly think, not just myself, but all musicians put too much energy into trying to be different and stand out from other people. People will think what they think, but at the end of the day, we know what we have done and one day someone will appreciate that.
Music tends to be one of those areas of study where people can be incredibly jaded and opinionated about the “right” way to do something. Yes, there are better ways of doing things, but I don’t think there is a “right” way to become a musician. This can be applied to many aspects of life as well.
The main point I’m trying to get at is people tend to be very pushy about how many hours a day you should practice at all stages of playing. For example, I saw the following chart posted on Violin Masterclass.
If you play for fun
- Age five: 30 minutes
- Age eight: 45 – 60 minutes
- Age ten: 60 – 75 minutes
- Age twelve to adult: 90 – 120 minutes
If you want to be a professional
- Age five: 30 – 45 minutes
- Age eight: 90 – 120 minutes
- Age ten: 2 hours
- Age twelve: 3 hours
- Age fourteen to eighteen: 3 – 4 hours
- Violin major in college: 5 hours
Let me be the first to tell you that there’s no way in hell I practiced nearly that much and I’m here in university doing just fine. I honestly seldom practice 5 hours a day as a music major. I know, shame on me. The chart also kind of implies that one would know they want to be a professional by age 8. I hated taking violin lessons at age 8 and I don’t think I practiced anywhere near 30 minutes, let alone the suggestion on the chart! When I first read this chart, I think I was about 10 years old and it immediately made me feel like a failure because I didn’t practice anywhere near the amount suggested on the playing for fun chart.
My take on it is, are these kids who follow the practice times on this chart like it’s the universal truth really passionate about what they do? For me, I believe that passion and sincerity are the most important aspects of a musician, artist, actor, or any fine arts performer. I would much rather see a person who plays with emotion, passion, and musicality even if their technique is not perfect than a technique robot whose parents made them practice 5 hours a day. In order to practice that many hours as a child, you would have to make a ton of sacrifices and miss out on being a kid. I know when I was a child, I went to public school so I would be in school for 6 hours a day. That’s already 6 hours of my day spoken for. When I was younger, I could easily practice for 30-45 minutes after school and be done with it. But as I got older, I got busier and sometimes I’d have rehearsals after school and after supper and I’d be squeezing in homework with any little time I got, even if it was 15 minutes. By the time I got home, it was bed time. Days would go by without even practicing. I’d be playing my instrument, but I just didn’t have that individual time each day. I still made it into music school though. Once I got there, I practiced my butt off because I had so much “free time”.
Of course, these kids who follow the practice times on the chart did not have a normal or well-rounded childhood as I did. Don’t get me wrong, if you have read any of my rant posts on this blog, you know I made significant sacrifices to pursue my music, but these kids are at a higher level of sacrifice than I was. For the most part, they were home-schooled which makes a huge difference in the amount of practice time available to you. However, their “free time” was practicing strictly enforced by the parents. I know people in university now who were home-schooled under this mentality and they said that they didn’t even have any friends their own age. They didn’t get to play sports, play other instruments, go to clubs, or even play with kids at the park; things that most of us took for granted in our childhood. Instead, they were to practice violin or piano (it’s usually those instruments with these types of people) for X hours a day and then study math for X hours a day. These are the kids that grow up to be technical robots and win every competition, but have no genuine passion for the art.
I’ll be honest, I do get home-school envy from time to time. When the superstar violin kid came to my school, I felt like such a failure. I thought I was behind for my age and that I should have been home-schooled so that I could have had that time to refine my technique prior to university. He accomplished more before coming to university than I did my whole life. He was used to practicing 4-5+ hours a day already and I could barely wrap my head around practicing that much even as a first year music major. However, by going to public school, I got the opportunity to play in band, jazz band, flute choir and sing in choir, vocal jazz, and musical theatre. These experiences contributed to my musicality. Although I didn’t really practice enough to develop solid technique, I had the musicality that can’t always be taught. To clarify, I’m by no means suggesting that home-schooled students do so specifically to practice their instruments more or be the “best” at everything. I’ve met home-schooled students in university who had a very well-rounded childhood and their intentions for being home-schooled were either because it was a family tradition or they have a self-starter personality and wanted to take control of their education.
Coming back to this post title, there is not one right way to do something. The beauty of the music world is seeing the variety of musical backgrounds that people come from. You don’t need to be a child prodigy to make it in the music world, in fact I’d almost argue that it’s better not to be. People can be very pushy like “Oh you should practice more” but it ultimately depends on what you want to achieve and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for it. If you don’t want to kill yourself practicing 5 hours a day, no one said you had to. It depends more on the person and their work ethic. There is no step-by-step process to becoming a musician and some people need to stop making one. There are people who pursue music degrees and make it in the music business who only picked up an instrument in their late teens or early twenties. I have so much respect for these people as they enter the music faculty as an older student with less technical ability than the younger students and yet they don’t let that bother them and hence they work incredibly hard. Yet, these people get criticized for “not being good enough” because they didn’t start at age 3.
My point is, there is not one right way to do something. Don’t let people tell you that what you’re doing is wrong or that you should have done this and that. You know what’s best for your life for what you want to achieve. If you don’t accomplish what you were hoping for, that’s not a “I told you so” moment for other people, you just don’t give up and try again next time.
Oh Facebook. How we love to hate Facebook. As much as I enjoy keeping with old friends or out of town friends, Facebook can honestly be the biggest pain in the ass that ever existed. As a musician, you’re forever balancing the fine line of keeping people on Facebook because they might be useful connections later on in your career, or deleting them because their posts are annoying.
The violinist I mentioned in my previous post “That one violinist” is definitely an example someone who I would unfriend any day if I wasn’t a musician. Pretty much the only reason I keep him on Facebook is to have that connection. I could do without his pretentious pictures with his violin and statuses bragging about how much he practices and competitions he’s won. I could do without the hundreds of comments and likes he gets from his “fans”. You’re probably thinking another thing that I could do would be to keep him as a friend but block his statuses from my news feed. I’ve seriously considered doing that, but haven’t actually made an intention to do that.
I gave up on liking and commenting on the violinist’s posts a long time ago. I simply will not support his incessant bragging and twisting of words to make his accomplishments sound more profound than they actually are. It is still painful to see people that I thought were my friends liking and commenting on his statuses. People who have never once liked or commented on my statuses are all over his. I accomplish great things too, and I don’t leave out pertinent details. Why don’t these people appreciate my accomplishments too? Well, frankly, my accomplishments will never measure up to his. Everything I do, he will always be one-upping me, or five-upping me to be realistic. Anything I do will seem trivial or insignificant compared to what he does, even if I’m proud of it and worked really hard for it. I know I shouldn’t really compare myself to others like this, but it’s almost inevitable in a career in music. Your whole career is based on what people think about you. Obviously, no one is going to pick employers/musicians based on how many likes their Facebook posts get, but it’s still irritating in the short term.
My point is that I may never play as a soloist with a symphony orchestra or win a big scholarship competition, but I still accomplish things that I am proud of. Frankly, a lot of my proudest accomplishments have nothing to do with winning a competition, or even solo playing for that matter. Most of my top memorable performances are either orchestral or chamber music. I have a few recital performances that I look back upon fondly, but I’m definitely more of an orchestral musician than I am a soloist. The things that I accomplish seem simplistic and menial to others, especially if we’re talking about this violinist in question, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be proud of them or that they don’t mean a lot to me. Even if I never post on Facebook again, I will still be proud of accomplishments I make and there will be people that support me. I think the friends, family and teachers in real life supporting you in your accomplishments are far more important than getting arbitrary likes from your high school classmates with whom you’ve not spoken to in years.
Perhaps I should take a break from Facebook? Perhaps delete my account or at least the app from my phone for a bit? I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t done it yet. As irrational and wrapped up I get about what people post and the likes they get, I’m eventually able to calm down and rationalize it. The moment I can’t eventually come back to rationality is when I take a Facebook break. At the end of the day, it’s not about how many likes you get and how “popular” you are, it’s about your work ethic. I fight everyday to improve my intonation and overall technique. The work that I’ve done in the past 3 years of university are certainly commendable. I may not have won a competition or gotten an award to back up my improvement, but I know that I’ve improved and my teacher knows that I’ve improved and that’s all that matters. If other people don’t recognize the incredible amount of work I’ve put in to my technique, then that’s their problem.
At every music school there are the same types of people. The names and faces change from school to school, but all music schools have essentially the same cast of characters. There’s always that one kid who thinks he (or she) is God’s gift to music or something like that. It’s usually a violinist, pianist, or a soprano but sometimes a flute or trumpet player. There’s not always just one either. Perhaps there’s a whole group of them that hang out together and tell each other how much better they are than the other one.
At my school specifically, there’s this one violinist in particular that gets on my nerves sometimes, though I work hard to not let that happen. It seemed right from Day One, he had a mission; let everyone in the music faculty know that he was the greatest thing alive. Normally, these types of people are the kind that get to university, realize they’re not the best, can’t handle the pressure, and drop out, which is what I’d originally thought would happen to this guy. However, the exact opposite happened.
I remember the first day of second year when I went to do my orchestral placement auditions. I was super pumped for the new school year, I’d had such a great first year and it was the first time that I’d finally felt at peace with where I was in terms of my technique and overall musical ability. In high school, I always felt like I was inferior to others and that I was never “good enough”. After my first year of university, I no longer felt inferior. I knew I wasn’t the best, but it was okay, I had three more years to work hard and lots of amazing friends and teachers to support me along the way.
This violin kid (first year at the time) was already in the waiting room when I went for my orchestral placement audition. My very first impression of him was when he said the following to the professor proctoring the auditions, “When do I find out if I’m concertmaster?” I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard! First of all, who is this kid? Second, who says that, let alone to a prof? From that moment, I started my countdown of when he would drop out.
Unfortunately, for me, that never happened. He continued to have success in everything he did. He ended up not being chosen for concertmaster that year, but he won pretty much every competition he entered in. He’d always post on Facebook “I won ______ competition” and get 100+ likes and a bunch of comments that said things such as “OMG! Congrats! You’re so talented!” It didn’t take long before people at the school who I thought were my friends/supporters seemed to have converted over to him. I felt like no one cared about me anymore because I was just some violist who can’t play in tune to save her life.
In November 2013, I seriously considered dropping out. All those feelings of being inferior and inadequate that I thought I overcame in first year had come back with a vengeance. Nothing had really fundamentally changed about me, I was still passionate about music and continued to work hard. The only thing that had really changed was this violinist coming to the school. A more advanced player’s presence does not make you any more inferior, but I still felt that way. In his first three months at the school, he’d managed to accomplish more that I did my whole first year and start of second year combined. I never even entered any competitions in my first year and he won them all in his first year. It made me question if I even belonged in a music program anymore; if this kid can accomplish all this in his first year then why am I wasting my time? I reminded myself that I was in the music faculty for myself and not for other people. If other people are in love with him, there’s nothing I can do about that. I still had teachers, friends, and other supporters that were on my side. I figured it would be better to have a small group of people who truly appreciate and support what I do, then a bunch of random, superficial supporters who comment “OMG! CONGRATZ!” on my Facebook statuses.
In March, we found out that we had been accepted to the same summer program. I was excited as I’d heard this program was very prestigious. Since we were both going to be spending a good portion of the summer together, I figured it was time to make peace with him and let go of all my grudges.
I keep telling myself that these are the type of people that will eventually dig themselves into a hole and can’t get out. He lacks a lot of intrinsic motivation. Although I’d love to win a competition or something like that, I still practice and work hard when I don’t and that takes a lot of discipline and maturity. However, the more success he has, the less I believe that. Sometimes it just seems like his life is “perfect” even though it’s not that simple.
Possibly the best advice I’ve ever received about people like this was from my high school counselor,”Don’t let people live in your head rent free”. I can’t control this violinist’s actions or words as well as how many people “like” him and what they think. Hating a person is also a complete waste of time and energy. Love and hate are not opposite concepts, they are more or less the same as both involve putting energy into your relationship with someone. The opposite of love and hate would be indifference, where you put no energy into liking or not liking a person whatsoever and you could care less what they do. I strive to use my energy on what I can control; how hard I work and my overall attitude. This kid is always going to win competitions and be successful until the end of his undergrad and he will have tons of superficial supporters. There is no need to be concerned about that as nothing I can do would change anything he does or accomplishes. Being motivated by his potential failures is also very unhealthy and shallow. The only power that he has over me is the power I give him in my head, which goes back to the idea of not letting people live in your head. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it and stop comparing yourself to others.
Welcome to my blog! I’m not sure how you found it but welcome regardless!
The reason why I created this blog is basically because I needed a safe place to rant about my feelings and emotional struggles as a musician, but more specifically a violist. Perhaps no one will read this. But perhaps someone will find me on a wild google search and feel the exact same way. Who knows, I’m not in it to become popular.
The biggest thing that I struggle with is the gap between my technical ability and my musicality. I consider myself to be a very musical. Whenever I perform that is the first thing that people will comment on. However, my technique is no where near the level of my musicality and that holds me back. My biggest technical issue is intonation. I work unbelievably hard on my technique and I have improved so much but it’s not something that will be immediately improved. It’s a very frustrating, vicious cycle; every time I play for someone who has never heard me they will notice my musicality but point out my technical flaws like I don’t realize I play out of tune or something. It’s unbelievably frustrating. I want to improve and people to notice but it’s so hard and I constantly feel like I’m getting no where when I’m constantly reminded of my poor intonation. Intonation is also probably the most obvious technical flaw of a person as well. If you can’t play in tune, everyone will notice instantly, even people with no musical training.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that technical ability is often rewarded much more than musicality. It is hard to win a competition with musicality alone. Of course, if one can be proficient in both technique and musicality then the things they can accomplish will be amazing, but it is hard to have both. I’ve watched so many people who play with absolutely impeccable intonation and overall technique beat me in competitions despite the fact they played with minimal emotion or passion. The people who are considered to be the most advanced players at my school are impeccable with respect to technique but lack emotion and passion. This is NOT meant to be cocky, but if my technique was as good as theirs, I would beat them in any competition with my musicality. I understand why having good technique is often more rewarded; it takes a lot more hours of practice and discipline to achieve that. Musicality and playing with emotion is often considered to be a natural talent and can’t really be taught or practiced. Hard work and discipline is what gets you places, not natural talent. It’s fine to be naturally talented at something but it will only get you so far and then you need the work ethic to reach the next level.
Part of my, for lack of a better term, incompetence in technique is due to not having a teacher who was really disciplined about technique. I believe I studied for about 12 years prior to attending university. I did not do scales and studies nearly as much as I should have and part of it was perhaps my lack of discipline, but also due to not having a teacher who enforced it strictly. I’ve studied in university for 3 years now and I am much more disciplined about practicing technique plus my teacher is better about enforcing it. However, 3 years isn’t going to make up for 12 years of undisciplined practicing. I will have to work unbelievably hard if I want to “catch up” to these people who have been practicing scales for 5 hours a day since age 4. However, the musical background that I have is not “invalid” or “wrong” so to speak. I believe that because I was not forced to practice technique so diligently from a young age allowed me to explore music and find my own passion for it at a younger age; I was never one of those “prodigy kids”. I played several instruments/genres while growing up for my own enjoyment and I seldom felt the pressure to be the best or impress my parents. Because of this, I was able to play with maturity, passion, and emotion from a younger age than these technical robots. Of course, the challenge now is going back and working on my technique that these robots had nailed down when they were younger.
Anyway, I’ll stop there as this is only intended to be an introductory post and I have an entire blog to rant about whatever I want. I’m not sure which direction this blog will take, but I do predict that ranting about my technique vs. musicality will be a common theme in possibly all my posts.