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.

Am I ready to do a master’s?

What a crazy and terrible thing to be thinking about, you might say. After all that hard work and emotional trauma to get to the position that I’m in now, you’d think that I could finally relax. Well, you thought wrong.
As excited as I am to begin this new chapter of my life, and as much as I think it is the next logical step in my musical training, I am a little bit skeptical of it, which I’m sure is normal. Part of me wishes that I waited until I was a better player musically and technically. My undergrad school offered a one year diploma program (although most people do it in two). Typically people would take it after undergrad while doing grad school auditions or use it as a pre-master’s program before starting the master’s program there. Occasionally people took it after master’s as a way of staying in school and taking more time to decide what to do with their life.
I considered doing this diploma program for a while, all the way until the beginning of fourth year. Once all the drama and emotional struggles of the school year kicked in, I soon realized that I needed to get out and that my time at that school was coming to an end. There was no way in hell I was spending one more year there. The only other options would be doing a gap year, or a similar diploma program at another school. I’m still at the point in my life where I need to still be in school, I need to keep studying and practicing. A gap year would not be conducive to my progress. I figured that if I knew I wanted to go for a master’s anyway, I might as well do it now.
Now that I’ve been accepted to a master’s program, registered for courses, found my place, etc., now I’m questioning if it was the right decision. I feel like I’ve always been “behind” or “inferior” to other musicians my age. I feel like only in the past four years have I started to make progress, but it’s not enough. Everyone else made progress as well and since they were already so far ahead of me, I will never catch up. Four years of good practice habits and a great teacher is not going to make up for 12 years of poor practicing and a not so great teacher. I only have two years of school left to get my sh!t together and then I’m out in the world. That’s scary! If things keep going the way they are now, I won’t make it. My only hope is to take an artist’s diploma (or something) after master’s, but after two years I might be done with school.
Where I am now musically and technically is where I should have been when I began my undergrad. It shouldn’t have taken me a whole undergrad to learn how to practice efficiently and address my technical issues that I’ve had for years. I came a long way in my undergrad, but it wasn’t enough. I should have started it the way I am now so that I could make some real progress. Now I feel like I could make some real progress, but I only have two years of school left. Whether I like it or not, it’s looking like I need to take an artist diploma if I have any hope of doing anything musical with my life. But there’s also that part of me that thinks that it may already be too late. As meaningless as university competitions are, I can’t help but think that never making it to the final round of the concerto competition was a sign. If I can’t even make it to the final round of some small competition at some small little school in Canada, then why do I think I have a chance at winning a national or international orchestra audition?
I think about people that I know that are starting undergrad in the fall. They are in a way better position than I am. They play at the level that I do now (if not better) and clearly have effective practice habits down to a science. If they can do that already, it’s scary to think where they will be in 6 years after they are done their master’s.
I used to believe that having  a strong work ethic was all that mattered, even if you weren’t the person who won all the competitions or the one that everyone thought was the greatest. If you were consistent and worked hard, you would be successful even if it took many years. Now I think that’s something that I told myself and teachers told me to make me feel better. I’m too far behind and I’ll never catch up even if I practiced 8 hours a day.

I Just Wanted to Be Different

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.

More Than One Right Way

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. 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 music major. He tended to be braggy about how it was so nice to practice so much. However, the trade-off is that he is a technique robot and barely has any interests outside music. 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 (arguably more so than a public school student) 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.

Letter to my first year self

Dear first year viola major,

I’m glad things went really well for you this year! You’ve met so many great friends and improved so much as a musician. You’re so much happier with your life right now in general. I told you it would be so much better when you didn’t have to see people you don’t like every single day. It almost feels like you have the perfect life right now; supportive friends, family, teachers, and you’re doing what you love. 

Don’t get too comfortable. Your first year of university is always deceptively easy, for you anyway. Yes, there are some people who can’t handle it, but it is designed so most people will make it through while still weeding out those who can’t.  Second year is going to throw some curveballs at you that you may not be prepared to deal with, but I know you are a strong person and that you will make it through even when it feels like you want to drop out.  As I like to say, second year is the year that kills. If you make it through second year, you’re set for the rest of your degree. 

First of all, you’re going to meet this violinist who thinks he’s the greatest thing on the planet since sliced bread. He is very good for his age, his technique is virtually flawless and he’s accomplished more before he started in university than some people do in their whole degree. You’re going to feel very threatened by him. Everyone in the music faculty is going to be in awe of him and worship him like he’s some kind of God. You’re going to feel abandoned, like you’re “so last year”. Remember that people still care about you and support you just as much as they did before. Just because this kid exists doesn’t mean that you all of a sudden suck. 

This violin kid in question is going to win lots of the competitions around the school and community. You’re going to feel a bit of resentment as you didn’t even enter these competitions in first year and here he is, winning them with ease. If there is nothing else you get out of this, don’t let him live in your head rent free. He is not any more inherently powerful or better than you as a human being and you can waste a lot of time and energy by obsessing over every little thing he does. It seems like the whole used faculty is in love with him and enthralled by what he’s doing. Why can’t people be equally enthralled by what you do, you ask. Well, consider this, Do you want hundreds of people who barely know you fascinated by what you do? Or, do you prefer the small group of people who you know very well that are genuinely supportive of you whether you win a competition or not? I think you know the answer. 

The important thing to remember about this violin kid is that he lacks a lot of intrinsic motivation. I bet any money that if one day this kid stopped winning every competition and people stopped liking his Facebook posts, he’d just quit. You are a much stronger person as you keep practicing every day regardless of the outcome. One day, your hard work will pay off and this violin kid will get put in his place once and for all. I know it’s frustrating to see people like this, but don’t let them get to you. You’re going to feel like you want to drop out, on account of this kid. That will be the most irrational thought you will have all year. You’re not in music school to impress him or try to be better than him. You’re in music school because you are passionate about music and you want to pursue a career in music.  Never lose sight of that. 

This kid is going to get into the same music program as you. That’s going to be initially a frustrating as you worked really hard for many years to be accepted into that program, and now you have to share it with violin kid, of all people. It still may seem like people care about him more than you, but don’t let that get to you. You know you worked really hard to be accepted and tried many years. It may seem unfair that he gets in on his first try, but I bet he wouldn’t have been as persistent as you if he didn’t get accepted the first time. 

Congrats on a good first year! Second year will be very challenging, but never give up. I know you can do it! 

Sincerely,

Your 2015 self

Frustrations with Facebook

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. If you haven’t read that post, please take a couple minutes to at least skim over it so the next few paragraphs make more sense. 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”. Honestly if I had no idea what was going on in his life, I think my overall quality of life would be better. 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 find myself somewhat morbidly curious about his life. If anything, I try to get past how annoying and frustrating I find his posts and mock them. I have a small group of friends and school and we just mock everything he posts and says on Facebook and comment on just how ridiculous they are.

For example, he won a competition with the local symphony orchestra to play as a soloist in their outreach concert series for high school students. The concert “tour” was basically performances for various high school and middle school students. I’m not doubting that it was a very prestigious opportunity and I think any young music student would really appreciate an opportunity like that. The thing that bothered me (or thing that I found hilarious) was the way he announced it to Facebook. He said something along the lines of “It was such an honour to be featured with the ________ Symphony Orchestra in their tour this week. Soloing with such a wonderful orchestra five times in one week was truly amazing.” Of course, what he conveniently left out was the fact that they were outreach concerts for students, which I believe was the most important aspect of the opportunity. From my understanding of this opportunity, these concerts were mostly for students of low income and less fortunate families who can’t afford to enroll their children in music lessons or go to the regular symphony concerts. The fact that he would capitalize on this opportunity and make himself sound like a world class soloist touring around with a symphony is absolutely heartless in my opinion. I’m not doubting that playing a solo with any orchestra would be a phenomenal experience, certainly if I’d had that opportunity I’d be over the moon, but he didn’t really appreciate the outreach aspect of it and how much his music must have meant to those students. He twisted the words and left out details to get more likes.

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.

It’s not just this particular violinist either. Lots of people post about winning ________ competition and playing with __________ orchestra and yadda yadda yadda. It’s like all the musicians of the world were on a mission to make me look like even more of an idiot than I already do (if that’s possible). People brag about the most trivial things that even I wouldn’t publicize. The bragging post that bothers me the most (and if you make these kinds of posts, let this be a PSA to stop) are people publicizing their marks on Royal Conservatory of Music Exams (google it if you’ve never heard of it). I absolutely cannot stand those posts and they need to stop. I don’t give a sh*t about how you got 95% on your grade 10 violin and if anything, you’re creating an impossible standard that I will never achieve. When I was taking my grade 10 viola exam, all I wanted was to get a mark over 90%. I saw all these Facebook posts of people achieving marks in the 90s on their exams so I thought why couldn’t I be one of those people? Despite all my hard work and preparation, I only achieved a measly 78%. If you know anything about RCM exams, 78% is nothing to sneeze at. The examiners are highly subjective and just completely unfair sometimes (a lot of the time). I could have played the exact same for a different person and gotten 86%. I was incredibly upset for days when I found out that I had gotten 78% and people tried to console me and say that it’s actually a pretty good mark for a grade 10, but I was still convinced it was a failure. Why? These f***ing f***ers on Facebook who posted about getting 90s. Of course, a lot of fine musicians who work really hard and practice efficiently get 78% on their RCM exams too, but they’re not going to post about that on Facebook. In fact, there is no need to publicize what marks you get on RCM exams, all that matters is that you pass. No school or employer is going to judge you for getting 78%, all they care is that they can see you’ve achieved that particular level. The worst part is that I once considered redoing the exam to boost my mark. I wasn’t required to do so as I had scored enough points to pursue an ARCT exam when I was ready for that. I never ended up redoing the exam because I realized that I wasn’t doing it for myself; I wanted to do it for the approval of others, which was absolutely unhealthy as no one needs to know in the first place what marks I get on these exams anyway. I can’t believe I was once willing to spend another $300 (or however much these exams cost these days) just to attempt to achieve a higher score to brag about on Facebook.

This leads nicely into what I really don’t like about Facebook, people sharing their accomplishments. I’m not really in a position to assert this as I definitely do post about my accomplishments on Facebook. I have a lot of relatives, non-music friends, and others on my Facebook that would otherwise not know about things that I accomplish had I not posted them on Facebook. It’s basically a quick and easy way of letting everyone know what I’m up to so I don’t have to individually contact people. And yes, of course, I get likes and supportive comments. Not as many likes as a lot of people, but enough that I know there are people out there that care about me. As a violist who can’t play in tune, I don’t often win competitions or get accepted into programs/orchestras/etc. so it really means a lot to me when I get chosen for something like that, even if it seems trivial or menial to others. Something that means the world to me is often something that a lot of people just slough off or don’t even care about. A good example was the provincial competition I did about a week and half ago. I had qualified for this from a local music festival that I played at in March. A lot of people would take being selected to advance to the provincials for granted, but I was quite honoured to have been selected. There wasn’t much competition, but I still had to play at a certain level to be chosen. They didn’t have to chose anyone if they didn’t feel anyone played up to the standard they set. I’m glad I took the trip to play in the provincial competition. Even though I was unsuccessful and a bit annoyed and upset with the results initially, but I am a much stronger person now.

Anyway, I will stop myself from continuing on that tangent. 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. I’m nowhere near where I should be for my level, but 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.

That one violinist

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. He’s still in school and if anything, even more cocky and confident about being the greatest violinist alive.

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, and the way things are going, never will. 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 eventually convinced myself this might be short-lived and that he’d eventually get put in his place. 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 would almost have considered us to be friends. It was almost like a fairy tale ending; Two people who hate each other became best friends and lived happily ever after.

However, it’s not that simple. When third year (his second year) began, things changed yet again. Coming back from the summer program made him even more obnoxious and cocky (if that’s possible). We started the year off as friends but it really didn’t take long for that to dissolve. It seemed as though he was even more competitive when it came around to competitions and the level of his cockiness was just completely unacceptable. I remember before a competition, he was basically telling people he was going to win and they should stop practicing. At least in first year, most of his cockiness was in the form of bragging on Facebook statuses, but now, it’s completely unacceptable to say that to people. Despite his lack of social normative skills, he manages to win said competitions or otherwise have his ego pumped up.

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. I bet any money if he stopped winning competitions and people stopped liking/commenting on his Facebook posts, he would probably quit. I know for a fact I have much more intrinsic motivation than he does. 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.