I don’t even know what to call this

Apparently I just don’t have anything to rant about anymore. At one point I basically complained about something every week in here. I think now that I’m a master’s student and realize how much energy I spent getting wound up over little things in undergrad, I know now that it’s not worth it and there are many more important things to focus on. Who cares that so and so won such and such competition.

I did a program full of music programs this past summer, as a contrast to my summer 2016. There were nice aspects of having tons of “free time” in the summer to relax after a rough school year, but I will be honest I was super bored most of the time. I couldn’t move into my new place until September 1st so I was stuck at my parent’s house until then. I was unsuccessful in a lot of my summer program applications so I did one small program in May and another in August, but that left a giant gap of nothing in between. One could argue I could have used the time better, I was working on some repertoire for the coming year but it wasn’t like I was practicing 8 hours a day. I could have spent the time doing tons of studies and technical work or reading through a bunch of rep for fun, but I just wasn’t motivated to do so. I’d done a couple of “freelance” gigs but I’m from a small city in the prairies where there really aren’t a ton of freelance opportunities and I felt like there really wasn’t much for me to do. I could have gotten a job I suppose, but I wasn’t sure what kind of place I would find or what programs I would do so I didn’t want to tie myself down. I was prepared to move in July or August, but of course I got stuck with a September lease.

I knew I couldn’t do this to myself again. The city where I’m from just isn’t conducive to a musician starting a freelance career as there are few opportunities and when I did get an opportunity, I felt like I was the “outsider”. For instance, I helped teach at a summer string workshop and because I had recently obtained a Bachelor’s degree, I wanted to do some more teaching and possibly even perform with the faculty in a concert, but I felt like I was excluded from the “core” group of the faculty. I only coached one group at 4:00 and so I had the whole day I could have been doing things and helping out, but no one would allow me. I went away for university so I feel like people think that I think I’m better than everyone else, which is just ridiculous. We’re all musicians at the end of the day.

Hence, I went a bit program application crazy for summer 2017. Since I was in a much better mental state I made much better audition recordings than the year before. I applied to 5 programs and only got rejected from 1, which was okay because I’d applied to that one as an after thought anyway. Of course, now I have the opposite problem from summer 2016. Which programs do I do? I’m always caught in the dilemma of going to programs I’ve been to before because I really enjoyed it or met a really great group of friends but then going to new programs so I can broaden my social network and travel to different places. I ended up choosing 2 programs that I had attended in the past, but I ended up having an amazing experience and wouldn’t have done my summer any other way.

Now I have just began my second year of master’s, and possibly my final year of post-secondary education. I can’t deny it much longer that I’m going to have to become a responsible adult and contribute to society in some meaningful way. If you read the past two posts on this blog, I am definitely still in existential crisis mode.

Basically, I’m not sure what to prioritize going into this school year. Every other school year has been straightforward, you go to lessons, practice X hours a day, apply to summer programs, repeat. Now I feel like I’m at a different stage of my life where perhaps my priorities can be shifted in a different direction. For instance, I feel like I should make professional engagements a bit more of a priority. Last year I turned down a professional gig as it was near the time of my recital, but I felt bad about it given that other students who also had recitals around the same time took that gig. At that moment, I just felt like I was so overwhelmed with school that I just needed a break but I also worried that turning down that gig could have burned some bridges in the professional world. Now I’m considered “unreliable” or “flaky”, however on the flip-side, because I didn’t take that gig, I felt a lot more prepared for my recital. I took most of my academic seminars last year so I do have more “free time” this year to take on professional gigs.

The other question is where do I live. I makes sense to continue living where I am, as I have done some professional gigs and made a few connections, but I’m not sure. A thing that worries me is not being bilingual. I don’t want to reveal the city I live in, but being bilingual is advantageous. Already, there are a ton of jobs I can never get because I don’t speak French. Obviously, music gigs are fine to be an anglophone, but I feel like I would need to look for a part time job outside of music to help pay the bills. Anything retail, customer service, or administrative would be off the table for me, or I wouldn’t be the first choice. It’s not like it’s impossible to learn French, but I would probably never be 100% fluent or sound authentically Quebecois. There was a music program I almost did this past summer that would have helped me learn French, and would be something to put on my resume to demonstrate French proficiency to employers. It’s not like I can’t do that program in summer 2018, but I wouldn’t have it on my resume until September 2018.

I’ve already established that moving back home is a big fat no-no. Summer 2016 was kind of a trial to see if that could potentially be an option (it was always my backup plan) and it was a huge fail. There’s really not a lot going on and even in the summer I was there, I felt like I really had to force myself in to get that opportunity teaching one group at the workshop. I do worry that I wouldn’t be able to have a varied enough career as a musician and that people would be unwilling to help me because I’m the “elitist” who went away for school.

I could move somewhere totally different. The only issue is of course not knowing enough people (or the right people) and not having a social network. The advantage of having attended several music programs is that I do know people who live in pretty much any Canadian city I could ever move to, but it’s still intimidating.

And then there’s the question of what to do in my summer. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do more programs and postpone real life for 4 more months, but real life is inevitable no matter what I do. If I’m travelling or going to tons of rehearsals it might be hard to arrange jobs for September, but people have done it. My school offers a one year diploma program so I could postpone real life for one more year. I’m less inclined to do a doctorate, but I suppose that’s another “procrastination tool”.

Interestingly, I feel less insecure about being “good enough”. I know that was something that I worried about a lot in pursuing a career in music, but now I feel it’s the least of my worries. I feel like I’m a lot more at peace with the level I’m at as a musician. That’s not meant to be a defeatist comment, I still think I could improve a lot more and I want to work hard this year, but I don’t let thoughts of being inadequate plague my mind. I guess I worry now about being “good enough” as an employee in general, as opposed to just as a violist.

Sometimes I feel like I’m super anxious to have my entire life figured out. I did undergrad right out of high school and master’s right out of undergrad so I’m by no means “behind” in life. I’ve met plenty of people who are older than me, still doing their undergrad, and still take a gap year(s) before master’s. While you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, even to feel better, it does reassure me that if I have a year where I’m not sure what I’m doing or just do random freelance gigs that everything will work out in the end. I guess even though I chose a career path that doesn’t lend itself to a stable job, I still want to have some sense of direction and feel like I’m working toward something.

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“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 and can’t hold it against you. 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 auditions for summer programs would not be an accurate indication of how I would do in a live audition situation. Typically for music programs, you submit a video and you can record (and listen back) as many times as you need to. The reason why I’ve generally been successful in summer programs is because I can take as many times as I need. In a way, it’s kind of a false representation of my playing.
Basically, I’ve learned that one of my weaknesses is live performance. It kind of explains now why I’ve been so unsuccessful in competitions all those years, yet people still managed to not think I was an idiot. Yes I may not give off the best first impressions, but if you take the time to work with me and get to know me, I’m not an idiot I swear! This is a flaw that I have with auditioning for symphonies though, I know I could do a good job playing in the symphony, practicing the music, building good relationships with my section, etc. but I’m gonna have a hell of a time getting through the audition process. Hence, my existential crisis. Help me.

My “Existential” Crisis

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

25% Done Grad School

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

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.

Why pursue a career in music?

Good question. With little to no job security or stability, who the hell would want to be a musician? A lot of people who study a music degree will end up pursuing other career options outside music. Why do we study music then if it’s such a horrible career?

Because we love it, put simply. Why waste your time studying something or working in an area that you aren’t passionate about? It’s not always about studying something that leads to career that “makes money”. I think as a society, we put too much pressure on young adults to go to university and pursue high-paying careers such as law, medicine, or business. We tend to look down on young adults who study music because it’s a low paying job at best and not every music graduate will get a spot in a symphony orchestra. The problem of not being able to find a job upon graduation is not exclusive to music, but music is probably the hardest career path to find a job and make a sustainable living. You don’t get that stability like you do in a typical 9-5 job. You have weird hours which change from week to week. It’s hard to maintain friendships outside music because you’re free when everyone else works and vice versa. If you’re a freelance musician, you’re living day to day and may not know what’s paying your rent, or if you’ll make rent from month to month.

I think a lot of it has to do with a lack of understanding in society in general. A lot of people don’t see a place for art, music, drama, or dance in society as it is not an “essential” career. If there were no fine arts, the world would not end as long as we have our “essential” careers like doctors, lawyers, police officers, etc. All these fine arts disciplines are just “entertainment” and “fluff”. A lot of people really don’t understand the many years of hard work to become a musician, artist, dancer, or actor and think that even professional musicians are doing it “for fun” or as a “hobby”. I want to slap people on the face who think that. We have to pay rent and put food on the table too!

I think that art has a greater function in society than just mere entertainment. I think one thing we have lost in our society today is the idea of the Renaissance man and being well-rounded. Back then, people would be equally proficient as artists, musicians, scientists, inventors, and you name it. People studied certain things because they were genuinely interested in them, not because they would get money if they did. While that is certainly not the focus of our society today, I think we can re-incorporate that. I think university should be a time to explore your interests and passions, rather than be so focused on what kind of career you will have the whole time. If music interests you, study music. If philosophy interests you, study philosophy. If science interests you, study science. Walking into university and having no idea what you want to do or study is not a bad thing. You may discover an interest in a subject area that you never thought you would enjoy. Once you have been in university for a while, you will have a better sense of what career path you might want to take. If you have to switch majors or change your degree to accomplish that, there is nothing wrong with that. Even if you took a music degree, it is still possible to go into law, medicine, science, or any area of study you want. Life’s too short to force yourself to finish a degree that you are not interested in. Even if it takes you 8 years to finish your undergrad, you took that time to discover and find something you truly cared about, rather than rushed through a degree that you could care less for.

Also, another misconception or misunderstanding that I think is present in society is the idea that when you study something in university, you have to get a career in that area. Do you expect all philosophy students to become the next Descartes? Do you expect psychology students to be the next Freud? Do you expect science students to be the next Einstein? So why do we place high expectations on music majors to become the next Beethoven? I feel like a lot of young musicians graduating from university feel the pressure to get a career in music. We seem to regard it as a “failure” if someone is unable to get a career in music and has to search for alternative career paths. Yes, this is where the joke that fine arts majors end up working in Starbucks comes from. To be honest, this is not exclusive to fine arts majors, a science student could end up working at Starbucks if they don’t get into med school and can’t find another job. And honestly, some people are content with just working at a minimum wage job for the rest of their life, despite having a university degree. Why should we criticize them? It’s their life, not ours. Yeah, maybe they could be working harder to find a better job, but it’s their decision. We pass too much judgement and put too much pressure on young adults to be successful and pursue lucrative careers, but it’s just not possible.

This wasn’t your typical defending music as a career path post. Most people come at it from the angle of explaining all the benefits of studying music and learning a musical instrument. While this isn’t invalid, I think it’s discussed too much in blogs and articles. People come at it from a whiny angle, in my opinion, “Hey! Music is academic and intellectually stimulating too!” they say, but it’s not really answering the question of why we should pursue a career in music. We should pursue a career in music because art is such an integral part of our society and we’re passionate about it sharing it with others. If you are passionate about something, you will find a way to make money with it. If you decide after your music degree that you want to become a lawyer, that option is still available to you too. No one is “locked in” to a career path at age 22 or even age 35, frankly.