“Existential” Crisis Part 2

pretty by Pearly85, on Flickr
pretty” (CC BY 2.0) by Pearly85
As of now, I have completed my first year of master’s. Woohoo! Do I have a clearer idea of what I want to do with my life? No. If not it’s even worse.
Now, I’m at the phase of my “existential” crisis where I am brainstorming what kind of jobs I could do outside music, but still would allow me the flexibility to take on freelance gigs and teaching. I’ve worked too hard to give up music altogether, but bills need to be paid. I know freelancing musicians in their 30’s whose parents still help them pay bills because they’ve never had a job outside music, never made a symphony, never had a teaching job, etc. I could never be one of those people, my parents would kill me.
There’s always Starbucks haha. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m above working at Starbucks and I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned from working in retail, but I don’t want to get stuck working there for 30 years. I would only get a job at a place like Starbucks as a means of gaining more work experience and working toward a higher skilled job.
One idea I had is to be a Tax Professional (not to be confused with an accountant). Yes, I know this is out in left field, but aren’t all musicians out in left field? H & R Block offers an income tax course and if you do well, you can apply for a job (although it doesn’t guarantee a job). I did a bit of research and it is quite a time commitment. The course is 6 hours a week, so two 3-hour classes in the evening or a 6 hour class on a weekend. This would be a nightmare to schedule while in school, I can’t guarantee I’m free at the same time every week at a particular time. I also have lots of gigs on weekends so I wouldn’t want to do the weekend course. I still want to pursue music professionally to some extent so cutting myself off to gigs and professional opportunities would not be a smart move. It’s also only offered September-December, so I couldn’t take it during the summer or something. It also doesn’t appear to be offered online. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, I could always take it the year after I’m done school, but then I wouldn’t be able to (potentially) get a job right after graduation. It’s a big time commitment for a course that wouldn’t guarantee a job, but I guess it’s no different than taking 6 years of music in university that doesn’t guarantee a job haha. Also it’s not like learning to do taxes is completely useless knowledge.
The other left field idea I had was becoming some kind of fitness instructor. I used to go to lots of fitness classes (and should get back into it) if you’ve read old posts on this blog. Again, this would involve taking lots of courses that may or may not be flexible while I’m in university for music. It would also not result in a guaranteed job. Why is life so risky? As great as it is to have “Plan B” I don’t want to go around spending thousands of dollars on random courses for random jobs and then never get a job at all.
So yeah, that’s where I’m at. I think what sparked this is I recently took my first professional orchestral audition (whaa?). I know I can hardly believe it myself. I obviously can’t say which orchestra, for the purpose of anonymity, but it was a relatively small-ish sized orchestra and there were less than 20 people auditioning. The whole experience was super overwhelming though, I was definitely taken aback by the whole experience, I had no idea that’s what it was like. I mean, obviously I knew it was going to be intense, more intense than excerpts class in school, but I guess you don’t really know until you do it. I always thought I knew the excerpts inside out and backwards and would play fine, but that was not the case. I’m sure a prodigal 12 year old could have done a better audition. When I got there it was so weird. The whole audition felt like it took 2 seconds. I couldn’t believe I just played an audition. I also realized that day that the curtain has a dual purpose. Both so the panel doesn’t know who you are and favour certain people, but also if you play like absolute sh*t, they don’t know who you are. It’s really a different experience doing a live audition, and I feel so naive for being taken aback as I was. I knew that being successful in programs would not be an accurate indication of how I would do in a live audition situation. Typically for music programs, you submit a video and you can record (and listen back) as many times as you need to. The reason why I’ve generally been successful in summer programs is because I can take as many times as I need. In a way, it’s kind of a false representation of my playing.
Basically, I’ve learned that one of my weaknesses is live performance. It kind of explains now why I’ve been so unsuccessful in competitions all those years, yet people still managed to not think I was an idiot. Yes I may not give off the best first impressions, but if you take the time to work with me and get to know me, I’m not an idiot I swear! This is a flaw that I have with auditioning for symphonies though, I know I could do a good job playing in the symphony, practicing the music, building good relationships with my section, etc. but I’m gonna have a hell of a time getting through the audition process. Hence, my existential crisis. Help me.

My “Existential” Crisis

What a dramatic title, I know. Haven’t you figured out by now that I put my raw thoughts on here and just say random crap? I can be as dramatic as I want, or not.
Basically, not like I’ve never thought this before, but I guess as I’m plowing through my master’s I sometimes wonder if I was ever meant to be a musician. I absolutely love what I do and could not imagine my career focusing on anything else, but maybe it’s all a lie.
I often talk about how when I was in middle/high school and even undergrad to an extent that I always felt like I got the short end of the stick. Of course, my teachers would always try to be positive and encouraging and pull the “don’t compare yourself to others” card. I know I wasn’t the best player. There’s no question that the people who consistently beat me in competitions played with much more technical command than I did, but I still felt like there was value in the work that I was doing. I knew I wasn’t the best but I still practiced consistently everyday. I practiced and worked to the level of these “superstar” people even though I knew I wasn’t. I wasn’t about to be one of those complacent “I’ll never be the best anyway who cares” people. Granted, I know I should have been practicing more in high school and I potentially could have been a lot better, but I’m amazed at how much practicing I did get done in my crazy schedule.
Now I look back on it all and think that maybe not winning these competitions and not getting chosen for these awards was the universe’s way of telling me that I was not meant to be a musician. No one wants to say it to my face, everyone’s too polite. I hear of people at my undergrad school who played at an equivalent level to me who are winning the concerto competition and such. I should just let go of the past but it’s hard not to feel a little bit resentful. I can’t really help but feel a little “That could have been me if I was one year younger” yadda yadda. When I entered those competitions, I had to compete with really high level violinists and pianists. Now that they’ve won those competitions and can’t enter anymore, it opens up the floor for others, and I’ve graduated so I will never get my chance. If I was still at my undergrad school, who knows, maybe I would have been chosen, or at least been selected to advance to the finals. Or not, because clearly the universe hates me.
Now here I am in the final stretch of my first year of master’s. I have one year of school left in the foreseeable future. An Artist’s Diploma is not out of the question, but definitely not right away. I feel like I haven’t really accomplished enough during my schooling to go “out there” into the world and I honestly don’t think any miracles are going to happen in the next year or so. I want to get my master’s. I’ve come too far to just throw it all away, but is it worth fighting with the universe? If the universe, or God, or whoever is out there just really doesn’t want me to be a musician, then why am I wasting my time? I’ll never be one of those “superstar” players even  if I decided to commit to practicing 8 hours a day now.

25% Done Grad School

As you can imagine, my first semester of grad school went by like a whirlwind. I can’t believe I’m already 25% done, it’s going by too fast!
Of course, the inevitable thoughts of what the heck am I going to do after my degree are imminent. I honestly have no clue.
No one said that you had to have your whole life figured out by age 22, but I still wish I had more sense of direction. It seems like my fellow master’s colleagues have their lives all planned out, but maybe in reality they are just as clueless as I am.
Don’t judge me, but I used to think that getting into a symphony orchestra right after master’s was a reasonable goal. Coming from a small city where there are not many violists, I had a skewed view of the competitive factor of music. I thought that as long as you worked hard, you would eventually reach your goals.
Now that I have left the comfortable bubble of my hometown, I have come to realize that there are actually a lot of violists out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a viola peer group but there are only so many positions in symphony orchestras and sadly not all of us will get one. That’s the frustrating thing about a career in music. You can practice for hours and hours, work super hard, absolutely love what you do and still never get a job. Literally any other career path, you will eventually get a job after many years of hard work. I know I’m oversimplifying things, but that’s how it feels.
Many of my provisional post-master’s plans involved playing in a symphony orchestra of some description. Now that I realize that may not happen, I have no clue what to do. I don’t want to contribute to the stereotype of music graduates working at Starbucks, but I have to pay the bills some how. Freelancing scares the heck out of me, but you have to start somewhere I guess. I have very minimal experience in teaching so I’d never get a teaching job.
I feel like I’m not the world’s most employable person either. I spent much of my time in undergrad refusing part time jobs or teaching positions during the school year so I could focus on my personal practice. This is not to say that I’ve never had a job, but the jobs I did have are not necessarily going to look good on my resume. I’m also not bilingual, which can be a huge disadvantage if I want to continue living in Eastern Canada. All this time I wasted practicing to get a symphony orchestra job could have been put toward making myself a more employable person outside of the music field. I don’t even know if I’d be qualified for a job at Starbucks to be honest. They’d be like “Oh it’s nice you have a master’s in music, but you’ve never worked retail so you probably can’t handle the stress”. And they’re probably right.
Of course, one solution is to pursue a DMA or Artist’s diploma, but that only delays the inevitable. I can’t be in school forever. I’ll need to get some kind of job. I just don’t think I’d get hired anywhere and freelancing can be scary. Sometimes I resent being from where I’m from, and having this skewed view of reality for most of my life, but I can’t change that.
Another thing I also ponder is should I have done my master’s right out of undergrad? Obviously, as I mentioned before, I’m 25% done so I’m not going to drop out, that’d be foolish. I know some of my friends in 4th year undergrad who are taking a gap year and now I wish I explored that option more. When I was super stressed out last year, I did consider it, but I figured if I could push myself to do the auditions, then I could re-evaluate then. Once I pushed myself to do the auditions and got accepted, it seemed foolish to take a gap year. Now I question if it was worth pushing myself through all that stress. I feel like a much stronger person for not giving up, but at the same time I could have been using this year to get more professional experience and make myself a more employable person before pursuing a master’s. The trap with that I saw was getting too comfortable with professional life and never wanting to go back to school.
Ugh. Why is life so hard? Why can’t someone just tell me what to do?

Supporting Your Peers Through Good Times and Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationships

If you’ve read other posts on this blog, this post will be quite out of character from what I usually post. But it is something that is on my mind and arguably relevant to music.

Just a quick update from my last post, things have been going really well this year. I’m back in the groove. I think the problem was that I did way too much over the summer, more specifically music programs and other music things. I felt like I didn’t really get a break and before I knew it, it was right back into school. I guess it was important that I took that time in September before things got too hectic to relax. The first two weeks of October have been way more productive than my whole September.

Now, on to the actual post. On Facebook and Instagram, I’m constantly seeing pictures and posts of people and their boyfriends/girlfriends, fiances, and spouses. As I progress into my twenties, more and more of these people are my age (and possibly a few years younger!). I remember being annoyed and felt a bit left out by naive high school relationship posts, but looking back I’m glad I was never in a relationship like that in high school. Now, at age 21, it’s a bit different. I feel no pressure to get married any time soon, but seeing so many of my friends being in relationships makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Should I be looking for a relationship? Should I be, at the very least, going on dates?

The easy answer is not to compare yourself to others. I’ve never been one to be desperate for a relationship or go out of my way to make it happen (ie. online dating). I was more open minded to the idea of dating when I was in first and second year. I remember going on a date in first year that kind of scared me away from dating for a bit. He was a nice and sweet guy, but he was rushing into things too fast. After the first date, he was already talking about being in a relationship and I was definitely not ready for that after one date. Despite explaining that, he didn’t seem to understand so I had no choice but to cut off contact with him. I’ve never really been on a date since then but I’m glad I didn’t rush into something that I wasn’t ready for. I never regret not being in a relationship with this guy.

After that first date, I formed my friend group (most of whom I still hang out with). I started to develop feelings for one of my friends in the group. There was already a couple within this group and I know the guy I liked was skeptical of couples within friend groups so I wasn’t sure what he’d think. Of course, being somewhat inexperienced with relationships, I was all grade 7 girl, “What if he doesn’t like me back? How do I tell him I like him?” Eventually, I told myself that I would tell him. I knew he would be skeptical and that I wasn’t the type of person he normally would date, but you don’t know until you ask. The worst thing that can happen is that he’ll say no. Yes, it might be awkward, but we would get over it. That night, we were all having supper in our residence cafeteria and my worst fear happened (but really, it wasn’t the end of the world). He announced to us that he was going on a date. My first reaction was “What?” I didn’t mean it to be rude but it seemed to come out of nowhere. He said back to me “Why do you sound disappointed?” as a joke, but ironically I was a bit disappointed! I never told anyone in the group that I had feelings for him. I never even mentioned it to him. I got over him, even though he didn’t last long with this girl.

The summer after my first year, I had a job. I started to develop feelings for one of my male co-workers. I thought maybe it could work out as we lived in the same city during the school year. There was another girl at work that he actually did like and asked her out but she wasn’t interested in him. But I couldn’t help but wonder if he had feelings for me too, he would sometimes say things to me that someone who was just a friend wouldn’t normally say or do. He said to me one time that I looked more attractive with my glasses on, or something like that. Another time, I had a really stressful day and I just needed to rant to someone. He came with me into the lounge and listened to me and gave me a shoulder to cry on. He stayed there for a few minutes and cuddled me like a boyfriend would and he said “If you ever need to rant or cry about something, just talk to me”, which was really sweet. It was hard to tell as he was one of those touchy-feely type people that stands two inches away from you when you talk to them and he always puts his arm around people. After our job was done, there was about another month until school started. I was going to message him and be like “How are you? How’s the rest of your summer going?” Nothing too forward obviously, but it would be a stepping stone. Of course, I chickened out. He never messaged me either, so either he wasn’t interested in me or was also chicken like me and wasn’t sure if I was interested. This is why I hate relationships! I lost contact with this guy as he was not in the music faculty and our paths seldom crossed. It was unfortunate as he was a really good friend and even if we were never in a relationship, I’d still hang out with him on occasion.

Once second year started I kind of lost interest in the idea of dating and relationships. Second year was a hard year for me in many other ways and dating was the last thing on my mind. Once third year began, I began to be more skeptical of the idea of being in a relationship. Since my time in [the city I live in] is coming to an end, I don’t want to get into a serious relationship that would potentially tie me down or prevent me from having the freedom to move to any city of my choice for grad school. Now of course, we could always break up at the end of fourth year or whatever but I wouldn’t want to be with someone looking for marriage right away. As a fourth year, I pretty much have the same stance.

I still feel like I am doing something wrong or that I should have maybe put myself out there more in terms of dating. I still have this irrational fear that lack of experience in dating (more specifically the actual relationship part of it) may negatively impact me when I actually want to get married. You’d likely not marry the first person you were in a serious relationship with, but what if you were in a relationship for the first time at age 30 or older, where the pressure to get married is more prevalent? In my opinion, I think relationships and even dates are valuable experiences in finding a suitable marriage partner, even the cheesy high school ones. As you date more people, you begin to see what qualities you like and don’t like in a person. You have options to choose from, essentially. By the time you’re ready to be married, you just know that it’s the right person. I know I was always frustrated by those people that are constantly in and out of relationships and going on a bazillion dates each week, but in a way that’s good because they have been with many people and may have a better sense of what they look for in a partner. For someone like myself, my fear is that I will be 30 and still never have had a boyfriend and be faced with the dilemma of marrying the first guy I date or take a risk that I’ll find someone else. I mean, that’s 10 years away, why does that bother me? I could meet someone next year when I move away for grad school and be in a relationship, but maybe not. Who knows.

As if worrying about getting married or being in a relationship wasn’t stressful enough, being a musician adds a whole new level of stress to this. I told you I’d tie this back into music. In case you haven’t noticed, being a musician is not a normal job. I don’t go to an office from 9-5 everyday and have every weekend off with no question. No, I work when people have time off. As an orchestral musician for example, your Friday and Saturday nights are spoken for as that is when symphony concerts are. Obviously, I need to marry someone who respects and understands this. I know that sounds silly but you’d be surprised how many people just can’t wrap their head around a musician’s schedule. The big question is, do you marry someone who isn’t a musician or another musician? I know plenty of people who have done both, and it seems to work for them. I could understand marrying a non-musician for financial reasons, but then as a musician (especially outside a university environment), how do you meet non-musicians, let alone connect with them on that level? Obviously, a fellow musician would completely understand and be easier to connect with. But then, there’s the financial concerns. Being a musician is never a stable job, unless you’re a school music teacher, but even then, budget cuts to arts programs happen all the time. It also adds another level of uncertainty if you have a family to support.

I’m not sure what made me think of this, but I’m glad I put my thoughts into words. I’m also not sure why it seems to be bothering me now. I’m only 21 and I’m certainly glad I’m not married. I guess seeing more and more of my friends getting engaged and being in relationships (including the people you never thought would be in a relationship), almost puts pressure on me in a way. It feels like I’m on the outside looking in. At the same time, the only person who’s putting the pressure on me is myself. No one has ever judged me for not wanting to be in a relationship or not being interested in dating. A lot of people actually think it’s great that I’m so focused on school and don’t have to deal with relationship drama. I don’t know, it’s so complicated, but I already feel 100 times better even just putting my thoughts in words.