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.
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Letter to my high school self

Dear prospective music student,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Your 2015 self