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 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.

Seniority rules, or does it?

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had a great New Years with family, friends, or even just a quiet night by yourself. Trust me, after spending many New Years with my family, as much fun as we have, I miss having a quiet New Years.

I digress. This is definitely a debatable topic and there is no right or wrong answer. I’ve been in many situations where I’ve been frustrated with someone getting chosen as principal or the winner of a competition just because they’re older than I am, and also situations where a younger person is chosen because they play better than I do.

In high school and middle school I find that seniority tends to rule. Why? At that age, teachers tend not to want to hurt the students’ feelings and want to give everyone a chance. I think this is generally fair. When I was in youth orchestra and high school band, I didn’t mind when the grade 12’s were given the big solos. I thought it was a nice way to reward them for their hard work and allow them to show how they’ve progressed.

Most of the time, that is no big deal. However, what if there is a more skilled player who is in grade 10 or 11 that would play the big solo much better than the grade 12 student? Do you pick the grade 12 student because seniority rules or pick the younger student because they are a more skilled player? This is where things get kind of wishy washy. I’ve been in both situations where I’ve been the one chosen only because I’m older or I wasn’t chosen just because I was younger. I guess the simple solution is to compare their playing abilities. If the older and the younger student play equally well and either one would be qualified to play the solo or win the competition, I’d say give it to the older student. The younger student still has a few years to do something like that and if they already play that well, they’ll be even better in a few years. However, if the younger student is very clearly at a much higher level than the older student, then I think, with careful consideration, it would be appropriate to choose the younger student.

It’s not that simple though. Choosing the older student can cause some hard feelings if the younger student feels they play better. Choosing the younger student could probably cause more hard feelings. If you’ve read any of my Concerto Competition rant posts, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the sense of working so hard to make it to where you are and then someone who’s barely worked just gets lucky and takes it away from you. I felt like when I was in grade 12, I got ripped off. No recognition for what I did, just a not so friendly, “Have fun at university, now get the hell out of here!”

Despite those incidents, I feel like university is a different mentality. Some things have preferential treatment for upper year undergrads or master’s students, but other things are fair game. University is supposed to prepare you for real life and protecting people’s feelings by giving everyone a chance is not always the solution. In the real world, not everyone gets a chance, in fact very few people get a chance, especially in music. It’s not “your turn” just because you’re the oldest candidate or most qualified. You have to work to get your job and work even harder to maintain it. If your feelings get hurt in the process, good.

Even though university is a more impersonal environment than high school, depending on the school you go to, you may get even more attention than you did in high school. At a smaller university, everyone gets to play in the groups they want. If they don’t get in first year, they will eventually as the older students graduate. At larger schools, you have to audition to even get into the orchestra or concert band. If you slough it off, you don’t even get to play with a large ensemble! Even if you get in, you can get kicked out! At a smaller school like mine, you’d really have to suck to get kicked out. I’ve only seen one person get kicked out and even then, he was given several chances to redeem himself (more so than he would have gotten at a bigger school). I guess this raises another point, would going to a bigger school be better as it replicates the “real world” a bit more, or is it important to go to a small school and get the extra one-on-one attention you wouldn’t get elsewhere?

I digress (again). While my school, and presumably others, tend to take seniority into account for ensemble placement, I feel this is not necessarily considered in the competitions. In the concerto competition, first years have won two years in a row. There’s also another scholarship competition in which first years have also been highly successful. I found this a tad irritating, I’d worked for 3 years to be in the final rounds of these competitions, and some first year wonder kids just get in like it’s no big deal. But then, if the adjudicators truly thought their performance was better than mine, I guess that’s what they went with. It still is frustrating to see first years take away something that I worked so hard to have. If they had chosen myself or another upper year student, these first years would have had 3 more years to win the competition. I guess it’s the prestige of being that first year who won against all the fourth years and masters students, but still. Again, as I mentioned before, it’s preparation for the real world. My job can be taken away by someone who’s not even born yet if I don’t watch out. No one protects your feelings in the real world. In a way, these first years who won the competitions are the ones that should watch out. Just because they beat out fourth years and master’s students in their first year doesn’t mean they’re entitled to a job right after their degree.

I hope this post made sense. I guess the main point I want to make is that nothing will ever replace hard work and a strong work ethic. Whether you receive preferential treatment for being an older more advanced student, or you have strong technical skills at a young age, ultimately no one truly has an advantage over another in the real world. You can’t let early successes get to your head. If you feel like you’ve never accomplished anything, although you’ve heard this before, that just means that you’ll accomplish something even better in the future that will mean much more to you than some silly competition or getting first chair in the orchestra.

Why don’t people like me?

Sometimes I wonder what is it about me that people don’t like. I’ve noticed this pattern pretty much my whole life. I’ll start at a new school or meet some new friends and life is great, but a few years go by and I feel like no one cares about me anymore. Since the common denominator here is me, I can’t necessarily blame other people anymore. I apologize if I have made an identical post on here describing my high school experience, but it is relevant back story now.

I know what happened in high school. That wasn’t fully my fault, but maybe there were things I could have done. I had a good friend that I met in grade 8. I didn’t really click with the people in my class, so whenever a new person moved in, it was my chance to make a new friend. I clicked with the new girl in grade 8 and we were instant besties. We did everything together and she was the first friend I ever had that I felt like I could be myself around and confide in.

When high school started, of course I wanted to make new friends but I didn’t want to lose this friend. Yeah, you could say I was “clingy”. Most new friends in high school were friends that I met through her, so they weren’t really my friends, but her friends that I happened to hang out with. If I hung out with my friend, her friends came with the package deal.

It wasn’t a big deal at first. We had lots of fun group outings and hang outs in grade 9. It was nice because I never really had a group of friends when I was in middle/elementary. I had people that I would hang out with at recess, but we would seldom hang out outside of school with the exception of birthday parties. I was always the pity invite to people’s birthday parties.

Grade 10 is where some tension with that group began. I became significantly more busy in grade 10 with the IB program and of course, my music. I wasn’t completely serious about music yet, but it was definitely something I was leaning toward. I was involved with several music groups around the school, took private viola lessons, and played in orchestras and chamber groups outside school. The friends in this group were not necessarily involved with music, but if they were, they just sang in choir or played in band. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it doesn’t take that much work to be casually involved in band or choir (especially choir). It’s basically two rehearsals a week and the amount of practicing you need to do is fairly minimal. Not saying that it isn’t a valuable experience, but being in band and choir alone does not equate to the amount of effort I put into my music as I wanted to pursue a performance degree. Very few people at my school understood that.

I was still able to catch the odd hang out with them, but it was always on days that were inconvenient or awkward for me. They could tell I didn’t want to be there or was too tired to be there, but they were never able to hang out at convenient times for me because they had something that day. They would get mad if I said no and had no real conflict. For example, if I had a string of concerts and incessant rehearsals for a week, they would expect me to be available to hang out with them on the first day I was free. I would be too physically exhausted to hang out and just want a day to myself so I could watch TV and chill. No, not Netflix and chill, they didn’t have Netflix then. They would occasionally ask me to hang out with an hour’s notice which just wasn’t feasible when I was that age. I lived at home with strict parents and every night (especially school nights), I was drowning in homework and with that, it was a miracle if I had time to practice sometimes. If there was ever a concert or somewhere I had to be on a school night, it would cause anxiety for me because my biggest worry was that I wouldn’t get my homework done. Of course, they didn’t do nearly as much as me, so they could get all their homework done by supper time. To summarize in one sentence, they didn’t understand or appreciate what I did and how much time and effort I put into it.

My one friend from the group moved away at the end of grade 10. The group basically disintegrated. Everyone from the group found new friends in grade 11 and I kind of got left in the dust. I tried to hang out with this other friend from the group, but I couldn’t stand her friends. They showed no interest in wanting to get to know me and went out of their way to exclude me. They would make plans for the weekend and talk really loudly so that I knew that I wasn’t invited. Most of the time I didn’t care anyway, but sometimes it was on days that I could have come. I went on a Europe trip in grade 11 and it was the worst until I finally had the courage to get away from these losers and talk to some new people. I think the only reason I hung out with them is because you always choose the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t know. At least I knew I would be bossed around and ignored by these girls, but I didn’t know if it would be any better with talking to new people. Would like me or let me hang out with them? The last straw was when these girls left me behind in Venice. The whole day, they walked around, not waiting for me. They took selfies, completely oblivious that I was there. The least they could do was offer to take a picture of me or ask me to take a picture. One of the girls dropped her wallet and I happened to see it. I thought of just not telling her, but because I’m such a nice person, I picked it up for her and she didn’t even say thank you. I bet if one of the other girls picked it up, she would have hugged her and said like, “OMG thank you so much!”

The last straw was this one day in math class. I had math class in grade 11 first thing after lunch. Sometimes I get there a bit early and just sit and wait until class starts. These girls were in my class and although lots of people were talking and it was kind of loud, they were talking about me and I was sitting right in front of them! I hard fragments of the conversation like “Yeah, in Europe she just wouldn’t stop following us and finally she left us. And now she’s mad that I didn’t invite her to my end of school party.” A$$hole. First of all, what did I ever say to her that made her not want to hang out with me again? I have always treated people with nothing but respect. When people were blatantly rude to me in high school, I was genuinely baffled as I could not (and still cannot) think of any reason why they would not want to hang out with me anymore. Yes, I was busy with my music stuff and couldn’t always hang out and have to cancel hangouts sometimes because of that random rehearsal that I forgot, but besides that I never did anything that I knew would hurt anyone’s feelings. Second of all, she left me, not the other way around. And lastly, if she’s going to treat me with such blatant disrespect and talk $hit about me while I’m sitting right there, I don’t want to go to her stupid party anyway. I’d rather have no friends than “friends” who openly hate me. It was that day that I finally accepted that I would no longer have any friends and I didn’t need these toxic people in my life. I think I skipped math class the next day and just went home after lunch and cried the whole afternoon.

Grade 12 was by far the worst year ever. I just did what I could to get through and it was difficult. I got my schedule arranged so I would have a spare right before lunch the whole year. That way, I could go home for lunch on most days and minimize my interactions and visibility among people. I had no friends, but because that’s high school, I couldn’t let people see that. It worked out most of the time because I drove to school most days so I could make that work. There were those days where it didn’t work because I don’t have my own car and my mom would sometimes need the car all day. That caused a lot of anxiety for me back then because it meant that I had to find somewhere in the school building to eat lunch where people couldn’t see that I was eating alone. I didn’t want to be like mean girls and eat in the bathroom. Sitting with those girls again wasn’t an option either. If I didn’t drive, I couldn’t go sit in the back seat of my mom’s car and eat there either. I usually ended up sitting in front of my locker and looked busy with homework so that maybe people would ignore me. I was super thankful when I graduated high school because that meant that I would never have to see these people again and I would finally be surrounded by people who cared about music just as much as I did.

And now, I feel like I have come full circle. My life is no where near what it was in grade 12, but I feel kind of similar depression-type feelings now that I haven’t felt since grade 12. I feel like for whatever reason, people don’t like me anymore and the friends that I have are starting to push away from me for whatever reason there may be. It’s not quite the immaturity level of these girls in high school, but it’s still a bit puzzling. I’m starting to think that maybe there is something about me that is causing this to happen now in 3 different schools and 2 different cities. Like I said, I am pretty sure I haven’t said anything that would offend or upset people and the only reason I can think of that caused people to steer away from me is that I haven’t been playing as well this year and I’ve been a bit more depressed.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s how the world works. People flock around those who do well, and stay away from depressed and bitter people.

Unnecessary Rehearsals and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

I have decided to come here and discuss a pet peeve of mine that has bothered me since middle school and high school. Unfortunately, this still occurs in university and I don’t understand sometimes.

I remember being in elementary/middle/high school bands, choirs, or orchestras. In those kinds of groups, you get a wide variety of skill levels. There are students who are very dedicated and likely to go into music, students who have no intention of pursuing music but still are just as dedicated, and the students who just don’t care and are there because “My parents said I had to”. I always found in those groups the people who needed to practice the most were the ones who didn’t. The more dedicated students, or students that took music lessons outside school tended to practice regularly and could play their parts very well, even on the first reading. Despite the teacher’s best intentions to teach the kids that rehearsals are not substitute for individual practice, many students treat it that way all the way from elementary school to the end of grade 12. Honestly, if you’re not planning to pursue music in university or you don’t take private lessons, it really only takes maximum of 20 minutes a day to just run over all those difficult passages in band/choir music (perhaps more like 30-45 minutes for orchestra music). It won’t be better right away, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and improvement will happen over time. Improvement will not happen by showing up to rehearsal every week playing the passages over and over again in a sloppy manner, it only reinforces bad habits.

I’m definitely not suggesting that all high school band kids are like this by any means. When I was that age, there were plenty of students who were very dedicated to the band and really wanted to be there. I could tell they took the time to practice things that they couldn’t play and even if it wasn’t perfect right away, there was improvement each week. It’s unfortunate that even one person who doesn’t have this simple, fundamental skill of being in a music ensemble will bring the whole group down. What ends up happening is the band/choir/orchestra director will panic when the concert is coming up and the pieces still aren’t ready and schedule an extra rehearsal or sectional. Nobody in the group wants this. I remember being in a group in high school where we rehearsed only once a week. The teacher thought that would be fair as we’re all busy and it would give us more time to practice. Unfortunately, people weren’t able to take that initiative and we had to go back to rehearsing twice a week. High school kids aren’t adults, but they still have things to do; homework, other music groups, sports teams, clubs, jobs, etc. and don’t need to worry about extra rehearsals on short notice. These rehearsals are added solely for the benefit of the people who do not practice, the people in the group who took the initiative to learn their music are being unfairly punished. Essentially, these rehearsals are put in place as a substitute for practice, which is just unacceptable in my mind. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy; if you treat students like they don’t practice, they won’t. I remember in high school choir, our song wasn’t sounding so great and people hadn’t learned the words yet and just as we were leaving rehearsal, the teacher said “We’re rehearsing tomorrow at 7:30am” and expected everyone to be there. I remember that same teacher expecting us to come into school on days off or holidays if we needed that time. That would never happen in a professional orchestra. Yes, it is for the benefit of the group. It would be much better to schedule extra rehearsals than have a half-baked performance, but wouldn’t it be better if the people in question did their job? Who is to blame; the teacher for not getting after these students to practice or the student for not practicing? I don’t have an answer as it really does depend on the context and the people involved.

Part of the problem could be the long period of time between performances that elementary/middle/high school music groups have. The group will start rehearsing in September and there may not be a concert until November or December. Most students would probably think, why spend hours practicing the music in September when we don’t need to perform it until December? It’s not that simple. If you were running a marathon on September 1, would you start training on August 31? If you were trying out for a sports team, would you start practicing the night before? It’s the same thing with playing a musical instrument. Just because you don’t have a performance coming up in a week doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be practicing. The kids who take piano, violin, or cello lessons from a young age tend to be more successful if they take up band or choir later in school as they are used to the idea of practicing every day to not only learn the music, but to refine their technique and overall musicianship. This can be a hard message to convey to someone who just picked up an instrument for the first time in grade 6 band, but it is still important if they want to be a valuable member of any musical ensemble. It is irrelevant if these students intend to pursue music beyond high school or not, they are still playing in a musical ensemble and need to work as a team. If they aren’t willing to practice or learn their music, then they should not play with the group at all. Unfortunately, the “my parents made me be in band/choir” people are still around until the end of grade 12.

In a university music program, you’d think that we’ve matured a little bit from this. Well, I guess it would depend on the school, but not always the case. Obviously, the “my parents made me be here” people would never get into a university music program anywhere. If they do by some miracle, they are weeded out by first year. Because in university, we are now adults, the profs cannot schedule extra rehearsals on short notice. I believe there’s some policy the prof cannot add any extra class meetings, assessments, etc. that are not listed on the class syllabus distributed at the beginning of the term. However, there have been many times where I felt we had more rehearsals than necessary. We used to have a conductor who would give us no break between concerts. For example, if we had a concert in late November, we would be expected to rehearse the music in December for our concert which wasn’t until February. Of course I never really said anything but it didn’t make sense. Any work we did in December would be forgotten when we resumed after the break in January. It would have also been nice to have a break to study for finals and stuff.

Our current conductor gives us breaks between concerts only sometimes. We just had a concert last night and I was actually really hoping that there wouldn’t be rehearsal tomorrow. We haven’t received the music for the next concert and it would be better if we had fewer rehearsals that were more productive. I get an email today that we are having a rehearsal but it’ll be more or less a sight reading session. I couldn’t believe what I had read. I could do that in my own practice room on my own time. I honestly think sight reading as a group at the university level is a complete waste of time. Yes, sight reading is a valuable skill to practice, but you shouldn’t waste 50 people’s time to practice this skill (*cough* chamber music reading parties *cough*) If you haven’t looked at your music, don’t even go to rehearsal. But here is that self-fulfilling prophecy again. The conductor is basically having this rehearsal as a substitute for individual practice. He basically thinks that the people in the orchestra will not look at the music unless we have a “group reading session”. Pardon me for having a bad attitude, but this is absolute bull$h!t. People in the university orchestra are preparing for a professional career (for the most part). There is no luxury of a low-pressure group reading session in a professional orchestra, so why would we have that in university? If people don’t look at their music, they need to learn that lesson themselves. This is not doing any favours for students planning to have an orchestral career. I was almost thinking of skipping this rehearsal just to make a statement, but literally my only motivation to go is that I will get in trouble if I don’t. It’s just so frustrating that I am in university, almost done my undergrad, and I am being treated like a child and I am kind of forced into acting like one too. I should be going to rehearsals because I want to, not because I’m afraid of getting in trouble with the profs.

Teachers from elementary school to university really need to stop running on the self-fulfilling prophecy. How are students going to learn to take responsibility if they are constantly spoon fed with extra, unnecessary rehearsals? This doesn’t just apply to music students either, the self-fulfilling prophecy is evident in pretty much any classroom for any subject. For example, I remember having random “homework checks” in math. The only reason I would do homework would be so I would get the arbitrary marks on the homework check, not so I would learn and reinforce the math concept into my mind. If a student fails the math test because they didn’t do any of the assignments, that’s their fault, not the fault of the teacher for not doing homework checks. I actually found that the class average was higher in classes where the teacher didn’t do any homework checks. Not treating high school students and adults like children actually causes them to smarten up and do their work.

Reflections on my life post-high school 

Now that it’s June, something that’s popular topic of discussion right now is high school graduations, proms, and the like. It makes me think back to my high school graduation which was three years ago now. I know that’s not long ago, but it’s crazy to look back and think about how much I’ve matured and changed in such a short time. I’ve moved away to a new city, started university, met amazing friends, flourished as a violist/musician, learned a lot about myself, and so much more.

It’s also interesting to note that the graduating class of 2015 are the grade nines when I was in grade twelve. This means that starting in September, there will be no more students at my old high school that I was in school with at the same time; it’ll be a completely new student body. It’s crazy because when you’re in high school, you always think of the grade nines (or freshmen if you prefer) as little kids, no matter what grade you’re in. Even when I was in grade 10 I’d call the grade 9s little kids. Now, all the “little kids” from when I was in grade 12 are graduating high school. They’re going to university, college, work, take a year off, and otherwise beginning their adult life. It’s always crazy to see people younger than you reach certain milestones in their life as you anticipated that age or event in your life so much when you were younger and then you finally make it there.

One interesting thing that I’ve become aware of and was taken a bit aback by is how awkward it is to come home for the summer. This was never an issue in first year. When I came home for the summer, people were excited to see me again and were curious about how school was going. I even visited some of the teachers at my old high school and students from younger grades that I knew through music said hi to me. It was almost like I’d never left. I wasn’t greeted as warmly when I came home after second year, but it was still nice. Right now, being home for the summer in third year has been quite awkward. Of course, I have great chats with my old teachers and other adults, but I’ve lost the connection to people my age. It’s almost to the extent where I don’t feel welcome here anymore, which is both freeing and a bit sad.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times in previous entries, I never really had a lot of close friends my age. I had some people that I talked to and connected to just because they were there. Once we didn’t have to see each other every day anymore, we drifted apart. Of course, after first year it wasn’t too awkward to talk to them as I’d only been away for a year. After two or three years, it’s just too awkward. The only foundation of our friendship was the fact that we were in the same class or played in the same music group and had to see each other all the time. I strongly believe that people come in and out of your life for a reason and if these people were not meant to be my BFF’s, then there’s no need to force it to happen. I know for a fact that when I go on to do my master’s, there will be some people that I will definitely keep in touch with who I met during my undergrad, and others that I will not.

Another interesting thing I’d like to address is how I keep in touch and connect with the adults that were significant to me when I was in high school. While I was in high school, and even middle school, I always wondered why kids my age didn’t want to talk to me. I was nothing but respectful and nice to people, what had I done? After being away for three years, I finally have an answer. When I was younger, I was always mature for my age. I don’t mean that to say that I’m better than other people, but what I mean is that I always thought about things from a more adult perspective from a younger age. I tended to have thoughts and interests that were well beyond my years. I used “big words” all the time and people thought it was weird, of course now no one would care. More often than not, I found it easier to talk to adults. I was that kid in elementary school who talked to the teacher doing playground supervision if there were no other kids who wanted to play with me. As a general rule, I preferred to have friends who were 2 or 3 years older than me. I found it difficult to be friends with people more than 2 years younger than me. Of course now, my age has caught up to my maturity level and I blend in with people my age. I still have a preference for friends who are a few years older than me, but I now also have friends who are a year or two younger and I don’t feel like I’m talking to a little kid. I’ve also met several people in university who were just like me in high school; mature for their age and left out.

I have really made a home in my new city and found where I belong. It’s sad that I don’t feel welcome when I come home anymore, but it’s the reality. It’s exciting that I’ve found new people in my life that I connect with better than anyone in my hometown and I can only hope that it continues that way. I’m almost considering not coming home next summer. Usually I come home for about a month or two when I’m in between finals and a music program or summer job. Next summer, I almost want to just get an apartment for the summer and live somewhere else. I’m not sure what my plans are and if that would be practical, but it is something I will do eventually. I do feel bad about thinking about that too as I love my family and I know they’d be upset if I didn’t come home for the summer.

Regardless, I’m heading to a music program soon, so I’m beyond excited to see my friends and meet more amazing people. All of this will feel irrelevant quite soon.

My beef with concerto competitions Part 1

This is a big topic on which I have a lot to say and lot of personal stories, which is why I’ve decided to make at least two parts for it. Violists, in my experience, are either apathetic to concerto competitions or frustrated with them. I wish I could be in the apathetic group, but I find myself frustrated with concerto competitions. This blog entry will focus on my high school experiences with concerto competitions.

My first concerto competition experience was in youth orchestra. The first or second year I joined youth orchestra, they began an annual concerto competition to choose the soloist for the concerto in the following year. Of course, I was one of the younger members at the time and I knew I wouldn’t get chosen, but I figured it would be valuable to play and get the experience as playing a concerto with an orchestra definitely was something I was interested in. 

As the years went on, I saw several people win. Secretly in my mind, I was thinking that with each person that won, it increased the chances for me. Basically, it  was like a line up and you could predict who would win the next year based on who was chosen as runner up. It’s such a small city that one could argue the competition was somewhat staged. 

Things changed in grade 11. It was just like any other year entering in the concerto competition. It was my way of keeping disciplined making sure I polished at least one movement of a concerto every year. In grade 11, I was working on the Weber Andante e Rondo Ungarese as my “concerto” for the year. I know it’s not a concerto, it more of a showpiece, but it is written with orchestral accompaniment so it is acceptable to play for a concerto competition. Also, if there are any bassoonists out there by chance, it’s originally written for viola and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I really liked that piece and I felt extra motivated to practice that year as that was when I made the decision to go to university for music. When I performed that day of the competition, it felt super amazing. As of that day, it was one of the best performances I’d ever had. I can’t really describe how it felt, but if you’re a musician, you know what I mean when you have a really good performance and it just feels extra special. I knew that regardless of the results, I would remember this performance forever. As it turned out, I ended up being awarded second place. I’d never come so close to winning a competition like that before and I was on cloud 9. I know that seems ridiculous but after so many years of watching the same people win over and over again, I was finally being recognized. Even though I didn’t win, my performance still stood out over 10 others (or however many performances there were). 

When grade 12 began, I started to think about the concerto competition in a different way. It was my last year playing in youth orchestra. I figured my last year would be a nice send off to university. People would even ask me how I would travel back and forth from school to rehearse with the orchestra if I won the concerto competition. This was enough to get it in my head that it was my turn to win because I got second place the year before. I spent the whole year thinking about how I would work out the logistics of travelling and what concerto I might like to play. Bad I know, but my naive 17-year-old self didn’t think it was bad. 

May comes around and with that is the concerto competition. This was it, my chance to finally play with an orchestra. I played and it was a good performance , but it didn’t have the same feeling as my performance the previous year. It just didn’t have that amazing feeling afterward. I wasn’t worried, I figured if they wanted me to win anyway, then it would happen. As you can see, this is going to end badly. 

The judges come out to announce the results. They announce the honourable mention and runners up. Of course, I’m sitting there waiting to hear my name. When they did finally announce the winner, it didn’t even register with me at first. I thought they were still listing runners up. It was the first time (and only thus far) in my life that I’d experienced legitimate denial. I was literally in denial that I didn’t win until it was over and everyone walked out of the auditorium. I was also upset over who they had chosen. I heard her play and she definitely was not the best person who played, and I don’t just say that out of bitterness, a lot of other people were quite upset with the decision. Regardless of who they had chosen, it wasn’t in my control at all.

This was the experience that really put me in my place and shaped me to who I am today. I learned a very important lesson. As important as it is to be confident going into a competition, you really have to be careful not to be too overconfident and make assumptions. You also don’t want to go into a competition sloughing it off like its not a big deal. It’s a hard balance that I still strive to achieve. 

This is my background with concerto competitions and explains why I have issues with them in the first place. Stay tuned for part two where I talk about my experiences with the concerto competition in university and more about what bothers me. 

Letter to my high school self

Dear prospective music student,

It’s been a tough four years; it’s definitely not easy to pursue music at a high level while enrolled in a public high school. You did a great job, even when it was tough. You made a lot of sacrifices, especially in your social life but it will all be worth it in the long run. I know it was hard to see all the kids in your class have friends to talk to and hang out with everyday. I know it was hard to look on Facebook and see all your classmates doing fun and simple things like going out for supper, going on a weekend road trip, or just simply grabbing coffee after school. I know you wanted and tried to be a part of that but got rejected several times. You were always that “weird music kid”.

In particular there was that one group of girls you always sat beside at lunch on those rare days you didn’t have  rehearsal and couldn’t go home for lunch. You wasted so much energy trying to fit in with them. They had no idea the amount of commitment and passion you have for your music. They would never understand the amount of hours you put in to pursue music at the university level. The moment they called music “stupid” to your face is when you should have just walked away and stopped speaking to them. I know the reason you passively sat by those girls is so that judgy passers-by wouldn’t see you sitting alone and call you a loner. Honestly, little things like sitting alone in the hallway seem like a bit deal to you now, but in university no one cares or notices if you eat lunch alone.

I know you feel a small sense of regret that you didn’t get the full high school experience. You never got to go to a party or really try alcohol outside of the odd glass of wine. You only went to school events like dances in grade 9 and 10. Frankly, with the schedule you had, there was no way you would have had the time! You were at school everyday at 8:30am, crammed in as much homework during your spare and lunch hour, probably had a rehearsal after school, went home to grab supper, possibly off to another rehearsal, and then finally home at 10:00pm. By the time the weekend came around, you needed that precious time to sleep in and catch up on all the homework you didn’t have time for during the week, and even then, you were still juggling rehearsals and concerts. Somehow you magically fit in 1-2 hours of practice when you had the chance. It wasn’t as much as you would have liked, but given the schedule you had I’m surprised you practiced at all.

You will definitely make up for all of this in university. Yes, you will be very busy with classes, lessons, and rehearsals, but it’ll be a much more manageable schedule as it will be all music related commitments. Any student that goes through public school while trying to pursue a musical instrument at a high level to get into a university program honestly deserves some kind of award. Because of the superior time management skills you cultivated in high school, you will find time to not only get all your homework done and practice, but you will have a bit of a social life too. You will get to experience parties, bars, university sports games, road trips, and simple hangouts like coffee and lunch. Trust me, it’ll be much more fun than any high school experience you missed out on.

Yes, I said social life. I know it seems crazy to think right now that there are people out there who want to talk to you, but university is a much more welcoming and accepting environment than high school. You will be surprised at how many people will want to talk to you and be your friend. When you live on campus in your first year, you will have tons of friends outside the music faculty. You’ll also meet a lot of international students, which is always an eye-opening experience. Despite the fact that a lot of these friends you will meet have never played a musical instrument, they will be 100% supportive of your music and think you’re the coolest person ever that you can play an instrument at such a high level. And of course, you’ll meet tons of people in the music faculty who are supportive of your pursuits.

Graduating high school is probably one of the most liberating experiences in life. You’re finally out of the prison-like structure of the public school system and you can go out and do what you’re passionate about. You don’t have to speak to any of these people that you’ve known and hated since kindergarten. You can forget about those girls you tried so hard to fit in with and they will certainly forget you. It’s hard to have to see these people every day and talk to them simply because there’s no one else to talk to. Another awesome thing about university that you don’t get in high school is each year of university, you will make new friends. That never happens in high school, once people get their friend groups figured out in grade 9 or 10, they don’t need any more friends. Moving away to a new city after high school is honestly the best decision for you and you will benefit from it in more ways than you already see.

Congratulations on graduating high school, it’s only going to get better from here. I’m excited for you!

Sincerely,

Your 2015 self