Grad School has Begun

Wow, I’m just amazing at keeping this blog. Well to be fair, I don’t write it with the purpose of people reading it so who cares if I post entries regularly haha.
Anyway, I have officially completed about a month of grad school. A year ago, I never thought that I would be in this position. It’s been quite a journey overcoming all of these challenges that I dealt with over the past year. I’m by no means 100% alright now, but I can appreciate where I was last year and where I am now.
It’s been quite a transition moving to a new city and starting at a new school. I had the advantage of already knowing several students through summer programs and other connections, but it’s still definitely overwhelming! There are definitely things I do not miss about undergrad, but things that I do. Things are going well with my teacher here, but I do miss my undergrad teacher a lot. It never really hit me until I got here. He was like a father figure to me, I was able to confide in him and ask for advice (not just on musical things). I feel like I’m missing that here. I wish I could tell my undergrad teacher about all the amazing people I’ve met and all my adventures thus far.
I guess the next challenge is settling into a routine. The master’s schedule is generally more flexible and conducive to finding individual practice time, but I still feel like I’m all over the place. One day I’ll get in a solid 6 hours. The next day I’ll only practice 2 hours. Then the next day I do 4.
Another challenge is finding a peer group. I am fortunate to go to a school with a decent sized viola studio, I luxury I never had in undergrad, but I don’t really have a group of friends that I can regularly go out for coffee with or hang out with. I just kind of have acquaintances that I see in class everyday and people that I make casual, friendly conversation with. I guess that’s better than nothing, but I do sometimes feel a bit lonely. I know a lot of people, but I don’t have a ton of close friends. I guess it’s still early in the year and there’s still plenty of time to meet people and get to know people. I guess it’s somewhat more difficult as a master’s student to make friends because master’s students tend to be more reclusive than undergrads to begin with. I remember in undergrad I didn’t have much interaction with the master’s students until 3rd or 4th year, and even then it was limited.
Anyway, I won’t bore you too much now. I’m sure there will be more things to talk about as the year goes on. I’m a bit tired now and don’t feel like being super ranty. This was more of an update in the off chance there are people who read this blog that might be curious what I’m up to.

Am I ready to do a master’s?

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

Drifting Away from Friends

 

Before I begin, just a quick update. I am officially done my undergrad now! Woohoo!  I got all my official marks back and everything. I will, at some point, do a more detailed post reflecting on that experience. For today, I wanted to do another off-topic rant post. I apologize if this gets to be on the lengthy side, there are a lot of background information and details, but I will try to summarize as best I can.

Basically, fourth year was somewhat challenging for me. If you don’t believe me, read anything posted from September-December 2015. One thing that added to the struggles were some falling outs with various friends. I guess you could say if this was ever going to happen, my last year was the best year for it, but it was still difficult.

First off, I had a circle of friends outside the music faculty that I’d met from living in residence over the years. As important as it is to be making connections with other musicians, it’s nice to be able to get away from them too. I always made an effort to hang out with them with my weird schedule, but it usually worked out. This year was tough though. At the beginning of the year, it seemed like everyone in the group started dating and most of these developed into relationships as the year went on. I wasn’t seeing anyone as I was way too stressed out to take care of myself, let alone be there for another person. As the year progressed, it seemed as if they all started to have their own lives/schedules with their boyfriends and girlfriends. I’m not saying that I’m mad at them for it, it’s just unfortunate that I was the odd one out. To be fair, I kind of had my own life too with my grad school auditions. In second term we hung out maybe once or twice. Whenever I had some free time I would shoot a message to the group, and I’d always get a response like “Oh not tonight, I’m busy”. Once you get too many messages like that, you just stop asking. I was hoping to hang out with them one more time before I left and so I asked when they were done their finals. They said they would get back to me then. I messaged one of them individually to see what was up and she said “Oh sorry, I’m at my boyfriend’s house for the weekend”. I understand relationships are important and take commitment, but a friendship is also a relationship that requires a certain amount of commitment too. You can’t always be blowing off your friends for your boyfriend or girlfriend, especially in this case as she promised that we could get together before I left. To be fair, we hadn’t set a specific date yet, but still. We could have hung out before she left for her boyfriend’s if she knew she was going.

Okay, that one was easy to summarize. The next friend and my issues with her could seriously be a novel (or two, or three). I’ll type as much as I can here before it gets ridiculous and if it still bothers me, I’ll write more about her in a future entry. This is also why I can’t ever share this blog with anyone who goes to my school (well, former school now) as things could get so awkward.

Basically, I met her at the beginning of last school year (September 2014) and she was a super nice person and we became instant best friends. She was very kind, genuine, and did really nice things for me. She said she was interested to visit me in my home town in May (of 2015) and I asked my parents if she could stay with us and they said sure. Things went pretty well until then, I didn’t really have any major issues, until she came to my house.

She’s one of those people that I should have seen the red flags sooner, but I guess I dismissed them. Sometimes you can be blind to things your friend says/does. Even before she got to my house, it was kind of sketchy. She was planning to visit another friend who lives in a nearby town as well. To tell this story a bit easier, let’s give them fake names. My friend is Jane and her friend is Alice. My friend originally told me that Alice’s mom would drop her off at my place on Sunday for whatever day it was. These were plans we made in April. A couple days before, she texted me and said “Oh, I’m going on a day trip to [insert town here] with Alice’s family so I won’t be able to get a ride to you until Tuesday”. I didn’t make a big deal of it, but I was still kind of upset with the miscommunication and I felt like I was getting the short end of the stick here. Alice was getting a nice long visit and I was being cheated by 2 days.

Tuesday comes and I go to pick Jane up and we start hanging out. The first day was great, we had a lot of fun. No complaints. The second day is where I started to get a bit pissed off. We were putting on a recital at a local church. She had played piano for me in my third year recital, so we thought it would be fun to repeat the program in my hometown and then she could do some solo piano stuff to make it a full length recital. I had taken care of posters and putting them up everywhere, but I hadn’t yet done the program. I wanted her help with it. We’re in my room and I open up my laptop to Publisher (It’s always an idiot proof way of making stuff in terms of formatting). She insists on making it on Microsoft Word and grabs the laptop from me. She had a very opinionated way of doing programs I guess. Every time I made a suggestion, she would dismiss it and make it sound like she knew everything. For example, I like putting birth and death years of composers, but she doesn’t. Then she put bios on the back. I had a bio written that was obviously way too long to put on the back of a program, but I was prepared to cut some stuff out. Let’s just say she beat me to it. She was all like “Sometimes you don’t get to include everything you want to include”. Duh, I wasn’t born yesterday. Long story short, I didn’t like how cocky she was being.

Fast forward to the recital.  There is more to it, but one point I wanted to make is how hung up she was on the fact that I had a recital for free admission the previous year, before I even met her. We did this recital as admission by donation, but she actually wanted to charge people (like $5 for students/seniors, $10 for adults or something). I did that recital for free as it was my very first public recital. I was doing it as preparation for being a performance major. I didn’t want people to be like “Oh, you think you’re good enough to charge money now”. She decided the best time to “lecture” me about this was at intermission at our recital. It’s like, yeah, maybe I should have charged admission but it’s none of your business!

Another thing that bothered me is how she just felt that she was entitled to go wherever she wanted and have me drive her there. I’ll admit to being a bit of a homebody when I go home, I don’t really go out anywhere. I like the feeling of not having to be anywhere after a long school year of running around everywhere. Let me also point out that I don’t own a car so I used my parent’s car to drive places. She doesn’t drive so I don’t think she understands basic vehicle etiquette, especially given that I was using someone else’s car and there were times where my parents wanted to go somewhere but couldn’t because they didn’t know if we’d be back, etc. There was one point where she needed to meet up with Alice to drop off some music or something and say bye for the summer. We met at a coffee shop, it was very brief but I was a bit annoyed. Alice does live out of town, but when Jane was visiting them, they did come up to the city many times and I was around. All it took was a phone call or a text and I could have met them for coffee/lunch somewhere. I get she was visiting Alice, but since she can use her time visiting me to visit Alice, why couldn’t she have visited me? She had about 2 weeks at Alice’s place and 5 days at mine. I call double standards. Maybe you’re thinking she’s closer to Alice than me, but that’s not that case (this is getting rather long so maybe I’ll have to include that in a different entry).

Here’s the thing that took the cake, and I’ll end this entry off on this. On our last day together before she left, we planned to do a little roadtrip to a nearby town just for fun. On our way out, my parents confronted us about use of the car. This was the turning point for me as I actually sided with my parents. I think it was quite unfair how we just went places and drove all over the city. She seems to have this idea that if you have a car (or a friend with a car) you can just go wherever you want. I think my parents just honestly wanted to get to know her better and do more things with her, which is not unreasonable I guess. They wondered if they could come along with us and I said it would be fine. When we were alone Jane just went ballistic. She was all like “I can’t believe you let your parents come on our road trip. I can’t believe it! It’s going to be really awkward then. We’ll just be sitting in the back seat and making awkward small talk with your parents. It’ll be awkward silence We can’t listen to music and sing along. This has never happened when I was staying with friend’s parents before. It’s all because you’re an only child. Your parents are jealous that you have friends and do things and so they want to join in on everything you do. You need to tell them not to come!”

Who. The. F***. Says. That. Like, I do understand where she’s coming from, but you don’t have to lecture me like that. It’s not my fault. I mean, a simple “Hey, I was kind of hoping that the road trip could be just for the two of us, is that okay with your parents?” would have been fine. I don’t need a psychological analysis of my life. Also it bothered me that she could have the nerve to say that while staying at my parent’s house. Excuse me but my parents let you stay there for free and provided a room and food for you. The fact that they let me have a guest was very generous of them as well, especially given that I do not pay rent to live there. You do not get to go into my house and insult my family and be blatantly disrespectful to my parents. Thanks to her, I may never get to have the privilege of hosting another friend at my parent’s house ever again as it was such a negative experience. I probably took most of it, but I get the feeling there were aspects of it that my parents weren’t too pleased about either.

I promise I’ll end it off soon. Basically, the falling out aspect of it is when I got back to school in September. Over the summer, we were both really busy and didn’t really keep in touch that much. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. I guess I thought maybe she’d apologize to me in September. I like to see the good in people. I thought wrong. She still brings it up from time to time like “Wasn’t it weird when your parents wanted to come on the road trip”. She really doesn’t realize how much she hurt my feelings and I’ve never really forgiven her for it. It sucks because all school year, I basically held this grudge against her and every little thing she did just bothered me. It was hard this year, I felt like I was being so phony around her and in a way, pretending to be her friend. That’s not like me at all. Normally I never let grudges get to this point. If I have an issue with something a friend said, I tell them in a non-confrontational way or if I sense that I said something that rubbed them the wrong way, I’ll apologize before things get awkward. Not with her. She has such a outgoing, opinionated, and loud personality that I feel intimidated a little bit. There are times where I’ve tried to call her out on something small and she’ll get very defensive and go into her “lecture mode”. I don’t know how I would have brought up bigger issues like the ones mentioned above (and others that I might tell on a later date). Sometimes getting these grudges out in the open can strengthen the friendship, other times it’s the end. I wasn’t necessarily scared about her reaction, I guess I just didn’t want to make a big deal because I was moving away anyway.

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.

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, dates, 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