“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.

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 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.

Letter to my first year self

Dear first year viola major,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Your 2015 self