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?

I Just Wanted to Be Different

Whoa, I’m getting fancy and inserting pictures in my entries! I can barely contain myself too!

Well, there is a deeper meaning behind the picture. The title of this post states “I just wanted to be different”. So I figured a snowflake would be an appropriate graphic as no two snowflakes are alike. No two humans are alike.

Sometimes we forget just how unique we are. There are so many humans in the world, it can feel like you are insignificant and don’t matter. If you have read any other things I have posted in this blog, you will know that it is something I talk about a lot.

When my violin teacher suggested to me at the end of grade 7 that I switch to viola, I will admit I was quite skeptical, as I’m sure you can relate if you are a violist as well. I thought it was a passive-aggressive nudge suggesting that things on violin weren’t going so well and that maybe I should just give up. I didn’t want to play an instrument that had such horrible jokes written about it, I couldn’t be that person! I rented a cheap one just to try it out and give it a chance. I did like the deeper, rich tone quality of the viola. Overall, I thought it was a much nicer and satisfying instrument to play. The next week when I went to my violin lesson, it was my first viola lesson. That summer, I went to the summer string workshop as a violist. I was still a bit shaky on alto clef, but by the beginning of grade 8, I was almost fluent in alto clef. By the time I started youth orchestra, it was like I had been playing viola for years.

I’ll admit I still wasn’t completely sold on viola. Part of me was still a violinist and missed soaring in those high positions on the E string. I’d watch the violinists have these crazy hard parts all up in 8th position while I was playing tremolo. I would almost wish that I could play something like that, I felt like I wasn’t challenging myself enough. I thought people would think that I was being lazy for switching to the viola. Yes, at one point in my life, I thought viola was “too easy”. Such a violinist thing to say. I did like being in a smaller section though. There aren’t many violists, especially where I was from. I felt I always got lost in the sea of violinists and was constantly compared to other people, making me always feel like the “underdog” or behind others. When I started on viola, I felt like I was my own category and I didn’t care if I was behind others or didn’t play as well as I “should have”.

It wasn’t until the end of grade 9 when my parents very kindly bought me a new professional quality viola (the one in the banner of this blog). As soon as I played it, I fell in love with the instrument all over again. It was so much nicer than that cheap rental one I had been using the past 2 years. It was from that moment that I knew that viola was my true calling. I was never meant to be a violinist, I was a violist. I didn’t switch to viola because I wasn’t good at violin, I switched because I genuinely enjoyed the instrument more and it suited me better.

As I began to identify more with being a violist, I began to be legitimately bothered by all these viola jokes. I knew they were just jokes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there actually was a prejudice in the musical world against violists. Where I was from, a lot of the viola players didn’t play very well or work very hard. I got the impression they were violinists, like me, told to play viola and took it the wrong way. Once they switched, they never really got any better. I guess they thought since they’re inferior to everyone else and never going to get any better, why bother? These people are the reason that viola jokes still exist.

I wanted to be different. I wanted to work hard and achieve things just like any violinist or cellist. Just because I’m a violist doesn’t mean I can’t work hard. I wanted to be that violist. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to win all the competitions.

As you can tell, this mentality didn’t work out for me. I ended up being way too cocky in certain situations and made myself look even more like a fool. I felt like I had done all this hard work for “nothing”. Now as a fourth year university student, I still haven’t won any major competitions and feel like I’ve let violists down. I wanted to be different and show that we’re not the out-of-tune, stupid, unmusical losers that those stupid jokes say we are!

But then, I take a step back and think. Am I practicing and working hard to impress other people? Am I wanting to win competitions just to prove that violists are competent individuals? Sounds ridiculous when you put it in those terms. Who cares if people don’t think you’re good or think you’re a loser? All that matters is that you put in the hard work and know you’re accomplishing things for yourself. People can think whatever the hell they want, they’re not your future employers.

I guess through all these years of being unsuccessful, I felt like people just thought I was just like every other violist in my city. When I moved here, I felt the same way. I tried so hard to be different but just couldn’t. But you don’t have to try hard to be different. You are different. Not everyone was meant to win all the competitions and be the person that everyone’s “in love” with. Winning competitions does not equate success. I’ve accomplished things that don’t get nearly as much praise or attention as a competition, but are unique to me and other people haven’t necessarily done. Not saying that I have an advantage, but I’m just as successful as those people who win every competition even though I don’t get nearly the praise and attention they do.

Bottom line is everyone is different. We all have our own set of achievements and stories to tell. Why do we waste so much energy trying to be like “everyone else” or prove that we are just as good as another person? I honestly think, not just myself, but all musicians put too much energy into trying to be different and stand out from other people. People will think what they think, but at the end of the day, we know what we have done and one day someone will appreciate that.

Supporting Your Peers Through Good Times and Bad

I’ve been checking the stats on this blog (more or less out of curiosity). I have never intended to have tons of readers or have this blog discovered by many people just given the nature of it. This blog (well, let’s be real, diary) has actually helped me immensely by putting my feelings and thoughts into words, even if it’s the most irrational, negative, self-deprecating thing you’ve ever read. The more people who read it, the more likely my identity is going to be revealed. I would feel bad if any of the people I said slightly negative things found this blog and called me out on it, even if violin kid found it I would feel bad! Thankfully, I can see the countries of the viewers to my blog and there are very few views from Canada (where I’m from) so the odds that anyone even remotely could have an idea of who I am is very slim and I want to keep it that way.

However, I’ve also noticed that the readers that I have on this blog have also dwindled. Not like I had tons before, but I would get the odd comment or like from people who genuinely enjoyed the content on this blog. One reason is that I don’t post regularly. I used to post every Friday on a variety of topics, and it wouldn’t be just about me. I would talk about topics that there could be a variety of opinions and thoughts on, like a “normal” blog. People like to read blogs that post often and regularly on a predictable schedule. People also like to read grammatically correct and coherent posts. I seldom proofread my entries. For not proofreading, I would like to think that I write very goodly, but occasionally I’ll read an old entry and find errors including spelling mistakes, run-on sentences, or incoherent sentence fragments. However, the way I see it is that this blog is more of a diary for me, would you proofread and edit your diary entries?

I feel like most of my entries for the past 4 months have been negative and self-deprecating, which reflects how I feel, but no one wants to read that. I’m not always a negative, bitter person, but that’s what people have seen in the past 4 months. I can totally relate, I don’t want to be around people who are boring and depressing all the time, but at the same time, those are the people that need the support the most. My last post that was successful was “Beginning to Feel like Myself Again” with 6(!) likes because it was positive and encouraging. Yes there were some ranty bits, but I talked about how I was going to overcome my anxiety about grad school and get back in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way begging for readers or trying to reach out to the random 3 people from Japan, United States, and Turkey who read my blog, but I’m just stating an observation.

I parallel this lack of interest (if there ever really was any) in this blog to my situation in real life. I feel like because November was a hard month for me, it was almost as if people didn’t want to talk to me or support me anymore. I’m not trying to be a drama queen, it legitimately feels like people are pushing away from me. Last year was a much more successful year for me and I felt like I always had a group of friends (albeit small) who genuinely cared about me and were always there for me. Of course, my family and my teacher are there for me no matter what, but the support from peers is just as important. I feel like this year because I had a rough start and a rough November, that people don’t want to be around me or go support me at my concerts. It may seem like I’m being over sensitive about little things, but the little things add up.

For example, I wrote two entries about the Concerto Competition. I know you’re sick of me harping on that (even if this is the first time you’ve read this blog), but I’m only briefly mentioning it. My pianist friend who accompanied me was helping me prepare and getting me pumped up for the performance, as any good friend should. The performance generally went well and there were a few rather noticeable wrong notes, but that’s just life as a performer. When I inevitably wasn’t selected to move on to the final round, it seemed as if my friend was less enthusiastic about my playing. We rehearsed for another piece later that week and she didn’t have as many positive things to say about my piece (nothing negative) but she wasn’t as excited to work on it. After the concerto competition final round, she wouldn’t stop bragging about the guitarist she played for and how well he played (despite not being selected as a winner) and thought maybe he should have won. Last year at the concerto competition after the final (she had won that year), she told me that she would have loved to see me play in the final round and share the winning title with her and that was genuine, she didn’t just say that because she felt she had to. This year, she didn’t even acknowledge that I’d played in the preliminary round and never brings it up. All she talks about is the guitar guy who made it to the final. I don’t like it when people say “You should have won”, but I appreciate the thought behind it. What, am I not good enough to play with her now? Do I really spoil her “fragile” reputation that much?

After the concerto competition, I’d signed up to play in some noon hour recitals. One for some unaccompanied Bach and the other two were with chamber groups. Normally, the issue with noon hour recitals is random people show up (and I’m guilty of it too) because they have to attend so many recitals to get a credit. But I like to go to recitals that my friends are involved in even if I’ve fulfilled all my credits because I believe it’s important to support my peers. I definitely told her about these recitals. I wasn’t going to be super anal about it and be like “You should go”, but I thought since we were friends that was implied. I’ve always gone to every noon hour recital she’s done and if there was a reason that I couldn’t, I told her and said I would have loved to be there. To my knowledge, she did not go to any of these recitals. In fact, none of my friends or supporters were at these recitals that I knew of. Of course, random people who were at the recital said “good job” as I passed them in the hallway, but they were probably just there to get a credit and happened to see me and thought it would be polite to say “good job”, but otherwise would have no reason to talk to me. I hate how music school is basically a “glorified” high school sometimes, people just never really grow up.

My friend never apologized or told me why she wasn’t at any of these recitals. There were 3 of them. I thought for sure she’d come to the third one because I did a piece with a singer and she does a lot of vocal accompaniment, but no. Although I never made it clear that I wanted her there, it was implied. I always went to her recitals whether she specifically invited me or not. And yes, she is the type of person who would normally apologize about missing a recital or concert that I was in. She missed the orchestra concert in October and texted me later that night apologizing that her rehearsal ran late, there wasn’t enough time to bus there, and she was feeling a bit sick and tired anyway. I wasn’t mad about that, sh*t happens. But I was a bit offended that I was involved in three recitals in a short period of time that she knew about and did not make effort to attend at least one. She may not realize that I was offended by this, but it’s too awkward to bring up. She’s playing for my final recital and until then, I don’t want to cause any fights or disagreement between us because I can’t take any chances on my recital potentially being sabotaged. She’s normally pretty reasonable, if I mentioned it, she probably would apologize but then it’s not a sincere apology because she would only apologize because I basically told her to.

It’s little things like that which add up and bother me. Maybe she’s pulling away from me because she senses that I’m not playing as well as I did last year and I’m a bit more depressed,  but that’s no excuse. Honestly, I feel like I could use more support than ever and I’m getting less than I ever did. True friends stick around in the good times and the bad. She’s been going through some tough times too and I’ve been there for her, but I feel like that’s not being reciprocated back to me. Like I said, I don’t want to axe her as a friend until after my recital (if I even need to go that route), but I don’t like the way she has been acting around me lately, and it all started because of the Concerto Competition. If I never played in the competition, I wonder if she would be supporting me and attending my recitals. She wouldn’t have seen how “bad” and “hopeless” I am and she wouldn’t be so embarrassed to be associated with me, well at least that’s the impression she is giving. It’s a general pattern in the music faculty, and just life in general. People tend to flock around people who are doing well and steer away from people who are depressed and bitter all the time.

Whether this blog ever gets more views or not, just know, to the three people who might read this, that it is important to support your friends through good times and bad. I know I may seem like I’ve pushed away people too, but now I feel like after having some space, I am ready to let people back in and I feel like they’re just done with me. I would say I’m glad I’m moving away and going to grad school next year, but moving to a new city is only a temporary solution to your problems. I found that out the hard way when I went away to do my undergrad. My first year was amazing and blissful and second year was a harsh blow of reality. Maybe that’s why people don’t care about me. I’m moving away anyway so whatever, they don’t have to deal with me for much longer.

Anyway, that’s all for today. I’m on winter break right now. I’ve been at home for about a week and I still have about another 2 weeks to relax at home. It’s pretty sweet. Having that physical distance away from school and the people in question has helped me a bit. Perhaps January will be a fresh start for everyone and all this nonsense will be totally irrelevant and not even worth confronting people about.