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.

Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth Year Struggles

Hello again! My postings on this blog are somewhat sporadic but I just haven’t really been in the mood to write anything lately (as you will see later on in this post). I began my fourth year of school two weeks ago and it hasn’t been treating me well.

I arrived on Saturday the 5th. I unpacked some stuff at my place and eventually got too tired so I just went to bed and planned to continue the next day. I didn’t think much of it. I woke up on Sunday and went about my day as usual. I was out for dinner with my parents. They had dropped me off and were planning to go back home the next morning so I wanted to go out with them before they left. I was fine when we got to the restaurant but all of a sudden this wave of extreme fatigue hit me. I was just so physically exhausted out of nowhere, I couldn’t even finish my meal. I was planning to hang out with my parents a bit more but I was just so drained that I had them take me home. It was 8:00pm. I went straight to bed and woke up on Monday morning (the labour day holiday) at noon. Mind you I wasn’t sleeping the whole time, I had trouble falling asleep as I had a lot on my mind and there were some loud hooligans in the hallway. On Monday I spent almost the entire day in bed watching YouTube videos. I would drag myself out of bed occasionally to go eat something but then it was right back to my YouTube watching. You’d think I was recovering from surgery or something. Getting in contact with my friends to see what they were up to was out of the question.

I didn’t really think much of it at first but I began to think that maybe there was something wrong. Normally I’m as motivated as ever to begin a school year and then later on I lose my motivation. Never have I began a school year wanting to lay in bed all day and not talk to anyone. Why the lack of motivation? Part of it was the summer program I was in. I had done the exact program in summer 2014 and it was amazing. I began third year more motivated then ever and I worked incredibly hard that year in all aspects. I do the same program again in 2015 and it has the opposite affect. I come back to school feeling defeated and inadequate. The level of playing at the program was exceptionally high this summer and I just felt like I didn’t belong musically. I’d see all these amazing people doing amazing things that I’ll never get an opportunity to do or be able to do and it just made me think, “Why do I bother?”

Also, what comes with being a fourth year is the looming thought of what I will do next year. Of course, there are the societal pressures to go to grad school. Ever since I was in grade 12 I knew I wanted to go to grad school. There was no question about it. Now, I’m not so sure if I should even continue in music. I really want to, it is something that I love doing and I can picture myself having a career in, but I am concerned if I am disciplined/skilled enough and have the mental fortitude to pursue it. I mean, if I get so offended and heartbroken from losing some meaningless competition at my school, how would I handle losing an audition at a professional orchestra? I can’t sit around in my room crying for days every time something doesn’t go my way in the real world. There is also the option of taking a year off but that is also frowned upon by people. The more years you spend working, the harder it is to go back to being a student.

I was always so opposed to and disturbed by the idea of taking a year off, but now I honestly think it might be best for my mental health. After two summers of doing programs, I feel like I’ve been in school nonstop since the beginning of second year. I haven’t had a real break. As sad as it sounds, I’m at a point where I need a break from music. The pressures of being a music student/musician are getting to me too much. But then again, maybe the summer is all I need and I can have a fresh start next year at grad school. As much as I want a break, if I start grad school right away after my undergrad, then I can be done and take as long of a break as I want. If I take a year off, it will be nice but I will only be prolonging my schooling. Why is life so hard?

I thought once classes started and I got into a routine I’d snap out of whatever this was. Not really the case. I haven’t had any days where I spent the entire day lying in bed, but I haven’t exactly been in the practice rooms for my 4+ hours a day either. If anything, this is the year where I need to get my sh*t together and practice more than ever. But no. It’s not that I haven’t practiced, I’ve made some good progress on the Clarke Sonata and my unaccompanied Bach, I’ve just been dragging my heels on my concerto and my other recital rep which I haven’t even confirmed yet. Yay me. I have to have all this rep learned by January/February if I’m going to be doing grad school auditions and I’ve wasted most of September moping around. I mean, it’s not too late to turn things around. There’s still 9 or so days left in September and at least 3 or 4 months left. I thought I’d gotten myself back on track last week, but then I fell back into my moping again. It’s kind of concerning, if I don’t start getting my act together soon, then I won’t be able to learn my rep in time for grad school auditions and I’ll have no choice but to take a year off. At least if I can push myself through the auditions, I have the option to change my mind or defer it for another year.

I guess if it’s any solace, I’m probably not the first music student, and won’t be the last, to feel like this in fourth year. It’s a stressful time. I’m so close to the end of my schooling and the beginning of my professional life. There are so many options available to me both in music and not in music. I guess I just have to take things one step at a time and get through this year first. I’ve gotten through 3 years of university, why should this one be any different? I have to find that sense of motivation and determination within myself. It’s there, I know it. I wouldn’t have made it this far if it wasn’t. I need some more positive self talk, rather than focusing on negative things.