Coming to Terms with Myself

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a breakthrough, for real this time. Fourth year has treated me rough with numerous breakdowns and questioning of my intentions in music. I seriously thought I was not good enough and inadequate compared to my peers.
I am not inadequate. I am doing just fine. I think the major issue for my confidence issues is merely the fact that I’ve only lived in smaller cities with very few viola players. This forces me to compare myself to violinists, pianists, and other more “competitive” instruments where winning and entering competitions is a big part of what they do. That’s not necessarily a viola thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some viola only competitions out there, but compared to the competitions made for violinists, pianists, singers, and other instruments, it’s relatively insignificant. And even those competitions that all instruments and voices can enter, the violinists, pianists, flutists, sopranos, and even cellists dominate.
Naturally, when I’ve lived in two cities where violinists, cellists, and pianists rule the world, I will feel somewhat inadequate. Of course I’m going to feel like a bad player when I’m always the one that doesn’t win the competitions when literally everyone else and their dog has. I always felt like I was doing something wrong or something was wrong with me. I didn’t want to think that my instrument choice was “bad” or “wrong” in any way.
Well, in these past few weeks, I’ve come to a realization. These people don’t play the same instrument as me. I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but it’s so important to remember. I want an orchestral job. No violinist, pianist, or cellist is going to take that away from me; only other violists. Violin and piano careers revolve more around solo playing. Viola careers seldom involve any solo playing. There is no pressure to win or even enter competitions with violinists and pianists, so why was I putting so much unnecessary pressure on myself?
A lot of it had to do with the fact that I was trying to prove something. We all know that’s just the worst mindset to have and I learned my lesson on several occasions. Violists, as I experienced myself, usually get the short end of the stick in life. Yeah, viola jokes are just jokes, but it’s almost like there is an actual prejudice against violists. Sometimes people just legitimately think that violists are inferior to violinists. We have it harder in that sense than other “underdog” instruments like bassoon, bass, or tuba. Since the viola is so similar to the violin and most violists were once violinists, we are just constantly compared to violinists and it’s honestly really unfair and inaccurate. Violists don’t generally win competitions because our repertoire is limited and does not show off the technical brilliance of the instrument in the same way that the violin repertoire does. It’s not that we’re bad players, it’s that for so many years violists were disregarded as the “inferior musicians” and unfortunately, not a lot of good solo repertoire was written. In the modern day, we recognize the talent of violists more, but most of the great works for viola have been only been written in the past 100 years. Twentieth century works, although great pieces, are not always appreciated at competitions as much as romantic repertoire, which the viola lacks.
With this in mind, I felt like since I first picked up a viola, it was my mission to prove to everyone that I was just as good as any violinist, cellist, or pianist out there. I wasn’t going to be one of those “typical” subservient violists who doesn’t try. I was going to get some results. Of course, I set myself up for disappointment. I took not winning competitions a lot more harshly than I should have. I thought I would never get into university because I didn’t win any of these competitions and that the jerks who won the competitions instead of me that weren’t even going away to university would take it away from me. I couldn’t help but feel like I was “behind” for my age. Regardless of that, I pushed myself to do university auditions. I was more insistent on getting the heck out of there than worrying if I was good enough. When I started in university, it was like a second chance. I wasn’t competitive at all in first year, it was actually the first time in my life that I was okay with who I was and where I was at musically. I accepted myself.
This all changed with violin kid. I have actually now come to terms with him and we are actually on friendly terms. I have gotten to the point where I don’t really care about what he does with his life as it really has no impact on me and my career goals. He wants to be a soloist or a concertmaster. It makes sense for him to put himself out there and win competitions. For me, I’m an orchestral player, so putting myself out there for orchestral opportunities is what I need. Back then, I saw him as a threat. I reverted back to my high school mentality. It seemed like the whole school was in love with him and I needed to show him who’s boss. It almost felt like the people who supported me in first year had “converted” to supporting him. I became obsessed with the idea of beating him in a competition to prove to everyone that violists are just as good as violinists and that I was a good player too.
As you can imagine, that is just a complete waste of time. It didn’t work in high school, why would it work in university? That mentality never works and I’m glad I learned that lesson now in university and not while I’m trying to get a job or something. I’ve actually “retired” from competitions in a sense. There was a scholarship competition in January that I made a conscious decision not to enter. I feel so much better about myself for not entering competitions. I know that getting an orchestral job is a competition, but I’ve been disappointed enough times in competitions, I think I’m familiar with it enough that I’ll be fine in the real world. Plus, I don’t have to worry about violinists, pianists, and cellists.
I think going away to do my master’s will be the right thing. I know I’ve talked a lot on here about my anxieties with going away and worrying about not being good enough, but I think it will be the fresh start I need. Sure, I may meet more violinists that drive me insane and I may not necessarily be “running away” from problems, but at least I will have more violas at my side. I think being in a school where there are more violists will actually help a lot of the issues I’ve had my whole life. Because there will be more violists, I won’t feel like I have to compare myself to violinists and pianists anymore. Sure, there may be violists that are better than me and winning competitions, but at least I’m not unrealistically comparing myself to people who don’t play the same instrument I do.
Here I am, a fourth year student, about to go off to grad school auditions in a couple days. I feel like I’ve come full circle now. In first year, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove and I was okay with where I was at musically. I had some ups and downs in second, third, and the first half of fourth year. But here I am, once again, not feeling like I have anything to prove and okay with where I’m at musically. I feel like I’m finally ready to take on grad school auditions.
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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.