Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thoughts on the pursuit of music...

As I fly back to Boston this rather dreary evening after spending the holidays at home, I was supposed to go pay a visit to my old community theater to have a Q&A with the kids about what it is like to pursue music as a career. Unfortunately, that visit did not happen this time around, but I hope they know that they are often on my mind. 

I owe a lot of my continued musical pursuit to that theater. Without those experiences, I may not have had the courage to follow this path. It may seem weak or cowardly to say this, but I believe there is some truth in it. Plagued with chronic self-doubt, I will openly admit that there have been numerous times when I have been ready to throw in the towel and say maybe this isn’t for me. Luckily, those have mostly all just been melodramatic fits of frustration; it is safe to say that I am not anywhere close to giving up. The truth is, giving up would be the easy way out. No more struggle to be heard or “liked,” perhaps a significantly less amount of tears and significantly more amount of Netflix. (Okay…there’s already quite a lot of Netflix happening…) But anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows I never do anything the easy way. 

In lieu of the visit that did not happen, I wanted to open a little window into what this journey toward a musical career has been recently. Part of this was written 20,000 feet above ground and part in flannel pants back home in my cozy (and expensive!) Boston apartment. This is a life full of extremes and simple joys. One week can involve a nonstop schedule of work (yes, a grown-up, non-career-related desk job), practice time, rehearsals, and trips in and out of the city, while the next can be incredibly boring. The simple joys are getting to put on those flannel pants when you finally get home from a 16+hour day or having Hungarian honey (my favorite!) in your tea. 

(Full disclaimer: These are my personal experiences and thoughts, and everyone has an entirely unique journey to travel.) 

I am 28 years old. Steadily approaching that big 3-0 number. Sometimes that stresses me out beyond reason, and other times, I welcome it because it means greater moments of this journey are yet to come. There have been a lot of exciting things happening lately. I am beginning to come into my own voice and with that, opportunities are slowly beginning to open up. I chose the classical voice route; it suits me well, but it requires incredibly more patience as the voice matures later. I am finally beginning to truly understand my voice, how to use it and its purpose. That long-awaited feeling of being “consistent” in my singing is starting to be real. Yes, bad singing weeks happen, and it sucks. Those are the weeks when it feels easiest to just “call it quits”….those are the weeks when it is most important to push that thought train right off its tracks. 

This year has brought about a lot more auditions, both good and bad… I have walked into rooms welcomed with open arms…and into another where they flat out told me they didn’t want to hear me. THEY invited ME to come sing for them and then dismissed me before I opened my mouth. I’ve begun to conquer my somewhat irrational fear of NYC. And my audition that is set to be next weekend in New York will be in a glorious boot cast because I managed to break my big toe walking down the street. It sucks, but somehow I will figure out how to get there and back and walk into that room like it’s a normal day. My throat still works. :P (I have a theory that I am getting all of the weird audition scenarios out of the way in one season, so that nothing will ever phase me in an audition setting! haha!) 

Another note on auditioning… This is actually the career. At least a good chunk of it. People tell you this, but they don’t really tell you this till you get to the point that you realize it yourself. After each audition, the question is, “Okay, what/when/where is my next audition?” It is a constant scouting for audition postings and chances to be heard by directors. But let’s get real…auditioning is bizarre! You are basically voluntarily putting yourself into uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing scenarios of judgment. Most of the time (except in the case of the rude people from that particular audition mentioned above), the adjudicators want you to do well. Who honestly wants to sit and listen to bad auditions all day? Everyone handles auditions differently. I have discovered that I have a lot of anticipatory anxiety, but when I walk into that room, I am typically fine. It is a feeling of, “This is what I do.” Believe it or not, I actually had fun in one of my auditions recently! Shocked me, too! But I’ll take it! Your goal is to get to a point of feeling like walking into an audition is as normal as going to the grocery store. It is part of your “normal” life events. 

Rejections happen more frequently than acceptances. It is hard not to take no’s personally. I have never had a thick skin, but I have learned over time how to handle this. Shed your tears, get angry, but then it’s time to move on. (And careful what you say in public…you do not know who may be sitting beside you on the bus/train or behind you in a restaurant.) Some of the rejections I have received have actually been fairly comical. You have to remember it is most likely not about you personally. They met you for maybe ten minutes in that audition room (and that is if it was a good audition!). You may have sung the best in your life and still get a no because they may be looking for a particular sound (or dare I say it…a particular look…). I am a believer that the opportunities that are meant for you, you will get. If you don’t get a particular opportunity, that just means there’s something else out there for you. Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay. No matter what, you have to be true to yourself. I embrace my weirdness. :) 

It’s okay to sometimes do things for free. I know I will probably get a thunderbolt thrown at me for saying this! Yes, the ultimate goal is to eventually be paid for what we do. That’s the dream. But you can never do this career for the money. Some of my best performances have been pro bono. You never know who may be in the audience or who may know whom. (The music business is a small, small world!) And on that note, ALWAYS BE PREPARED! It will give you a calmer mind, and amazingly, your breath will be helpful instead of nervous. Plus, you will gain trust.

I’ve barely embarked on this career, and I can already tell you that it can be incredibly lonely. Learning to be in solitude is important. There is often travel alone, meals eaten alone, and not to mention the countless hours in a practice room alone. Your social life is very different after you graduate school. You no longer see your friends every day. In fact, you begin to see them less and less. Sometimes, it feels like you have no social life. This is not true. It has simply taken on a different face. You come to find that you can often pick up right where you left off with some people, no matter how much time has passed in between. 

Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook. Seriously, don’t. Media thrives on deception. Social media is no different. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook because it allows me to stay connected with people around the world. But you see a curated world in social media posts. You see only what they want you to see. And speaking of which, that is the same for your profile. Before you post, if there is a question about anyone seeing it, maybe it means you should re-evaluate before pressing submit. Your profile is part of the impression you give people both on and offline.

Everyone has an opinion. You have to be your own filter and decide for yourself who/what you are going to listen to. I’ve heard the gamut. There is no one way to do this career. Those who tell you there is a “prescribed path” are crazy. Everyone’s path is completely individual. 

Singing careers are expensive. Application/audition fees that you have to pay whether or not you are invited for an audition, traveling to said auditions, making recordings for applications and websites, voice lessons, coachings, pianist fees, audition/performance attire, photocopies, health insurance, transportation, accommodations, credit card bills, etc. It adds up quick. Living in the city is expensive in itself, but it’s all relative. You lose the sticker shock after awhile (until you visit home and realize the price difference!). I work full time while trying to figure out how to make it in this career. I wish I didn’t have to, but it has forced me to put myself into a routine.

That routine includes practice time. When I get home from work, my day is not nearly over; now, it's time to go back to the piano. (The timing of this is primarily so that my neighbors don't kill me for being so loud later in the evening! I'm very lucky that none of my current neighbors have ever said anything about me interrupting their dinner on a nearly nightly basis.) Some weeks, practicing is a precious commodity, and it pains me to not have all the time I want to devote to this. Having less of it helps you make the most of that time, though. When a performance is coming up, memorization time is stolen on lunch breaks, on the bus, walking down the street, etc. And yes, I am often lazy. Like now…I am back in Boston and should get back to practicing after taking the past week off, but then there’s Netflix, again… :P 

You have to be your own motivator. No one is going to make you practice. You have to find that within yourself. The true test is going back to that piano even when there isn’t an audition or performance in sight. That is what will keep you going. 

There is a lot of not knowing. Not knowing what comes next, not knowing if/when something will happen, not knowing where next month will take you…continuous not knowing. But guess what! No one actually knows ever…in any field! We are all learning as we go through life. Plan as much as you can, find some sort of consistency in your life to hold on to, and keep working on trusting the process. All in due time, right? 

Read! A lot! Articles, biographies, psychology, history, novels, plays, even blogs. Another nice thing about Facebook is seeing these recommendations shared by friends. I have a handful of friends that love to post things just like this blog post. I know finding the time to read isn’t always easy, but do as much as you can. (And perhaps that means a little less of that Netflix time…haha!) 

I don’t have any secrets on how to break into this business. I wish I did. Believe me, it’d make my own life a lot easier if I did! I am still trying to figure that out myself. I don’t know if I will ever make it or if I have what it takes. In fact, I don’t even know what “it” really is. I don’t think “it” exists. The journey just continues. I am not in this for the fame. For me, success is continually singing. Right now, success is simply getting another audition. I do know that I belong in this world, so I will find whatever it takes. And if one day I say that I’ve given it a good run, but I’ve had enough, I have given myself permission to walk away. However, I can never walk away because of fear. (That’s called running away!) Actually, giving myself that permission was liberating and gave me momentum.

I say none of the above to deter you. Rather, I hope this honesty encourages you to keep at it. There is glamour and excitement in pursuing music, and there is nothing like traveling as a singer. It carries with it a sense of purpose greater than oneself -- the pursuit of giving music back to the world. I want and hope for the life of continued travel like this. I have come to understand exactly what it means, and I am ready for that if/when it comes my way. But behind the glitter, the life is real. The frustrations, the exhaustion, the nonstop learning, continuous stream of no’s, the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing, sacrifices, and solitude exist. Take heart in your dreams and know the world is full of possibility.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Adventures in House-sitting

My friends have gone off to Europe for two weeks and left me to watch over their house, pets, and plants. (Hopefully, all the plants will survive my reign!) They live down the street from my place, and I feel like my apartment is slowly walking over here because every day I stop by and pick something else up!

As jealous as I am that they are in Europe and I am not (and despite my cat allergy), I can't say that I am not enjoying hanging out in a cozy little house with a basement overflowing with vintage opera recordings and music books, a giant TV, plenty of practice space (when I am not distracted by the aforementioned things!), central air conditioning, a back porch for lounging, and a milk foamer in the kitchen. I no longer understand what life is like without foamed milk. Spoiled? Slightly. Of course it comes with its ridiculous situations, too. I wouldn't expect anything less in my life! For instance, like trying to make friends with the parrot. (Yes, a legitimate parrot.)

Parrots are one of those animals that only bond with one person, so naturally she bit me on the first day. No blood, didn't hurt. We're good. So, I tried to make friends by singing to her...which only made her afraid of me, and now she scurries to the corner of the cage every time I come in the room. Perhaps this is for the best. Then yesterday, she decided to pull a Houdini, undo the lock, and escape the cage!!! Luckily as soon as she saw me, she squeezed right back in the cage through the opening she'd made in the door like a little kid that got caught playing instead of being in bed, but imagine my shock of walking into the room to find a giant bird chilling out in the middle of it! This bird and I now have the relationship of the monkey and Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum!

The one cat that always used to growl at me is now being friendly, while the other cat crazily bounces off the walls every evening. And my uncanny ability for my foot to always find my dog Rafiki's pee apparently transfers to animals in any house... I should probably just give up on wearing socks!

And so continue the chronicles of my crazy life! What ever will I encounter next? =P

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"The good life is a process."

I think this blog is becoming a series of redundant chronicles on process and perfectionism! Even so, it is something clearly occupying my mind and work in recent months as I continue my discovery of where my voice fits in this world and search my heart for where I want to go, what I want to contribute in this life.

I recently returned from a small music festival outside of the city, where we had 12 days to rehearse and present three concerts of completely different repertoire. It was crazy, exciting, at times stressful, and a great learning experience.

In four days, we put together a concert of the medieval Carmina Burana, a Bach cantata concert in about two and a half rehearsals, and then a fully staged world premiere chamber opera in only four days! AND we threw four masterclasses in there. I walked in feeling inadequately prepared and nervous about accomplishing so much in so little time. (Personal history has continually proven that my feeling of being "unprepared" exists primarily in my head, and one day, perhaps, I will begin to believe it!) However, with several deep breaths and a level head, I faced each rehearsal head on, offering the best I was able. After this experience, I feel like I can do anything. That was certainly a test of how much one can handle...which is far more than you ever thought. And there will always be a learning curve, no matter the level of preparation or amount of available time. Not allowing that to hinder our growth and make us shy away from the work is a defining characteristic of a professional. 

We always wish we had more time for this or for that, but sometimes, life and this career throw you a situation that may not be what we deem ideal. Nonetheless, we have a job to do, so we set to it. A challenge to be embraced. Yes, there will be mistakes (and believe me, I owned plenty of those!), but it is the reminder that it is always a process. Learning music is a process, rehearsals are a process, and performances are still a process. That last one is the real kicker. It is ingrained in us that performances are like final exams, a product to present. We feel pressure to be "perfect," to be "beautiful," to be the "best." The truth of the matter is, all of those are subjective measurements. 

Music is never static. Rather, it is in constant motion. Our art exists on a canvas of time. Unlike a stroke of the paintbrush, a melody cannot be pinned down. Without voice, it is mere black print on a page. Each moment, each note, can never be repeated exactly the same because that exact moment will never exist again. A "product" implies completely finished, unchanging. A performance, on the other hand, is an opportunity to share the process with others. The audience becomes a participant in our process, which is one of the joys of performing. They are ready to be entertained, inspired, to laugh/cry with let them! It is their process as much as ours. Perhaps, this is their first time at a medieval concert (it was my first time singing one!) or their 1000th opera. Either way, whatever happens in this particular performance will be heard for the first time. 

In those 12 days, I learned many things, both positive and negative. Above all, I realized: (1) I can handle a lot; (2) despite the sacrifices and how taxing it can be, I still want this very much and think I could handle the jet-setting life; and (3) I need to perform more. My soul is fueled by music, and I know this is where I belong. It feels so natural to be in that element. It won't all happen at once and doesn't need to. It will unfold in due time. No, I am not really sure "what's next," but I do know that I'll be back at the piano, continuing my process. (And perhaps, I'll come up with a brand new topic to write about for once!)


(Oh, and of course, we made sure to squeeze some shenanigans into the club frequenting, cave and rock adventuring, wedding crashing, 1am beach time, etc!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I have a theory...

As of late, the inner musings of my mind have taken to developing theories. Just as I have moments of discovery in my lessons (usually whilst squatted in a duck position singing scales), my strands of thought slowly ravel into a deliberate tapestry of question and answer within itself, and carrying eccentric yet completely logical sense to back it.  

For instance, I have a theory that my clumsiness is directly linked to being left-handed. Hear me out:

The whole world is designed for right-handed work. We are taught to walk on the right side, the handles and blade angles of scissors and knives are for right-handers, computer mice are on the right-hand side…just to name a few. Therefore, as a left-hander, I have had to learn how to do everything backwards. And then there’s the fact that I was taught the right-handed way to do things like knit and throw/kick a ball, so then I am just even more mixed up! Add then that the gravitational pull is clockwise, i.e. the right, (I am not sure if that is correct, which could be a flaw in my theory.) in the northern hemisphere, I have to go in the opposite direction than I was programmed to go. Thus, why I am so clumsy I usually can’t walk straight even if completely sober!

The evidence is real, too… Which hand did I burn…twice? The right. Which hand did I stab last month while cutting an avocado? (long story…) The right. Therefore, I have concluded that perhaps I should consider moving to somewhere on the other side of the equator. Then, the gravitational pull would be in my favor. Ridiculous? Sure. But you can’t deny its logic.

My most current developing theory: We as a society breed perfectionism. That may seem like a fairly harsh statement, but I feel it is true. In some form or another, at least. This is especially true in music…which is ironic, being that live performances are more exhilarating than recordings because of their spontaneous, fleeting nature and vibrancy of beauty that you can feel; there is a literal conversation happening between performer and audience response. Engineered recordings, on the other hand, can almost create a barrier with their lack of flaw; I sometimes feel uneasy when it is too perfect, too measured. Very ironic indeed because…

From an early age, we are scolded for doing something the “wrong” way, for forgetting to dot an ‘i’ on our paper, assignments are handed back covered in red ink, your hand slipped on the piano and pressed the wrong key… And I was certainly the kid that would be angry and in tears if I got less than an “A” on anything. In fact, it took me an entire year of college to realize that a “B” was still an acceptably good grade. My family would also pay vivid testament to my incessant need at age three for my socks be folded precisely the same. (Yes, I do agree that genetic make-up and predisposition must clearly play into perfectionism to some extent.)

Now, I am by no means condoning a slack in learning things solidly and strictly. On the contrary, I think that is extremely important and necessary. In this career, you cannot just be good…you have to be exceptional. What I am saying is that perhaps we (and certainly I know I am incredibly guilty of this!) take things a little too far, becoming afraid of making mistakes and, thus, completely missing the point of musical expression.

That fear can be crippling. It furthers self-doubt and fuels anxieties. What if I fall? (Definitely something I completely will do – and have done multiple times – on stage!) What if I miss that note? What if I forget the words? What if they don’t like it? What if I crack on the high note? Was it good? What if I skip three pages in the score, and everyone gets off because of me? What if I come in late on that entrance? The list of questions like this is endless! If you notice, they are almost always a “what if” scenario, which means it hasn’t even happened, so how do you even know it will?!

And what makes that fear even worse? That people will “know” if you #$%! up. And even worse than that? The critics in the audience that are just waiting for you to make a mistake that they will then take and place in ink for the world to read about even after the fact. Or at least, that is what we think.

I have a friend that is certain to point out the flaw in anything…the singer that sang a bit sharp at the end of that phrase, the singer that splatted on the high E-flat, etc. This drives me batty! Because who cares if they sang that ONE NOTE a bit sharp or their voice cracked ONCE in an entire two-hour performance?! If everything else besides that was stunning, who cares?! The knock-you-back-to-earth reality of that is, not many. Those that do are perhaps just afraid to acknowledge the greatness of the other 99% of your performance. And when we berate ourselves for that stupid mess-up, perhaps we are the ones afraid of acknowledging the good. 

All my life, I’ve struggled with perfectionism. I am afraid of making mistakes, even in a lesson or coaching…the place where it is especially okay to take risks and fall flat on your face. I call this “diligent student” syndrome. It’s the reflex to please, seek approval, and essentially, be “perfect.” This is even more ridiculous than my left-hander theory! Get real, Sam! How do you expect to learn and grow with that tension and mental block (whether conscious or unconscious)?! Do I really care if they “approve” or think it is “good”? Part of me does, the rest definitely doesn’t. But it’s that part which does that holds the fear.

Last week, I fell upon the notebooks of lesson transcriptions from my two very dear times studying with J├ínos in Hungary. Those pearls of wisdom he imparted to me resonate even more now than they ever did, and not surprisingly, there was a repetition in his words about this exact topic: It’s okay to make mistakes, and stop trying to be “perfect.” I will leave you with two quotes from those notes:

“It is very important that you know I do not expect you to be perfect...especially the first time. You are allowed to make mistakes. I expect it. It is enough if you are [genuine] in your practicing. We all strive for 100%, but we never get there. It is impossible. We must aim to grow and to remain consistent and move higher. That’s how you must measure improvement/progress, not at how far it is from perfect.”

“The ‘aim’ is never the technical work. The aim is the expression. It is the music. It is very important that the technical work is correct, but that is never the aim.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Embracing Joy and Process

This past weekend was gloriously filled with music!

I had the great pleasure of going to hear a former colleague’s band play a show in Cambridge. I dragged my roommate along to the show with me, and as we walked into the bar, we were greeted by John, himself. He was finishing grad school as I began, so I mostly only knew him through little conversations in the library, but nonetheless, it was wonderful to see him, again, and have a few moments’ chat before the show.

It was beautifully inspiring to see the genuine love of music shine through the band’s performance. A brilliantly talented and classically trained cellist, John has found his niche playing electric cello now! (And he never let on that he can SING, too!) I’m excited to see what the world continues to have in store for them as they share their music and talents!

Saturday was spent with Medici TV’s livestream of a masterclass with Joyce DiDonato, collecting words of wisdom about process

“…It’s always a process…breathing is a process, rehearsing is a process, a 3-hour performance is a process, every audition is a process, every sing-through of an aria is a process. It is continual. The ‘result’ is for you guys [the audience], but nonetheless, it is always a process…”

 “If you’re smart and brave, you will stay constantly curious. If you let it, it’s totally overwhelming at times, and that’s okay.”

“Control: give that up right now, because we are not in control!”

“Do not let that you still have another level to go destroy you. It’s exciting, and you need to embrace that.”  

Those words followed me into my own voice lesson the next day.

Sunday night brought me to an Oscar Night party at a friend’s place, where more talking than watching the show happened! I saw several friends I haven’t seen much this year, since I am not at the school all the time now. It was great to catch up! And the continual cycle of conversation topics with each one: finding our own paths, hearing stories of auditions and not knowing what life will bring, the amounts of fear that follow that, and reminding ourselves to enjoy the journey and the process! (There it is, again! Process.)  The latter is something we too often lose touch with for being too busy worrying about if/how everything will be okay. And for all of them, I know it will be more than okay because they are passionate and work so hard; the music is their focus, not just the striving for success. 

My heart overwhelms with joy, watching my colleagues that are so filled with passion and humility write their stories and seeing such deserved successes unfolding for them. It’s an infectious sort of excitement…the kind where you can tell the gratitude is certainly not lost on them. Like children on Christmas morning, you can see the shimmer in their eyes. I am surrounded by such talent, and I hope that I, myself, may be worthy enough to be included in that realm.

"Your joy of singing is your weapon, your tool. It's really intoxicating." 
~Joyce DiDonato 

Jealousy is a frustrating demon that truly seems to make no sense at all and is so simply curtailed – or perhaps even nonexistent – in situations such as written above. Yet, why do we then all feel it at some point or another? It is, admittedly, one of my greatest battles, second perhaps to the self-doubt. No matter what level one is in this profession, that little voice in our head loves to try and add its own thoughts and judgments on the matter. How annoying!

Not being in school now, my study has become more internal, more for myself. Not in an egocentric way but rather, focused on improving myself. I am my only comparison. To be a better me, a better singer, a better musician today than I was yesterday and tomorrow than I am today. And thus continues the process.


Monday, January 5, 2015


New Year’s seems to be a time when everyone begins to make goals (both serious and fleeting) and begin with a “clean slate” (and a slightly grumpy January 1 after a late night out). I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps due a bit to laziness but the rest because we are always evolving. Every day is a choice of how we will view it, how we will spend whatever moments we can spare for our own in that day, and how we approach anything. (Granted, I find myself sitting on the couch watching Netflix far too often in those spare moments! However, I strive to find my inner momentum within the couch potato.)

A new year begins, and we jump headlong into the idea of a MAJOR life change, as if with the snap of our fingers, we will be able to find that model’s body or accomplish Herculean tasks. As a dreamer, go-getter, overactive thinker, and aspiring Wonder Woman who can do it all, I am right there with y’all! No, I’ll never find that svelte silhouette; however, I do jump straight into the deep end when I get an idea in my head, which is probably akin to deciding to run with the bulls in Pamplona.

My determination (rather than a resolution) this year: to focus my energy, perspective, and thought on being supportive, rather than competitive. We all have something unique to offer, and it really is not a competition. Whoever planted that seed in our brains, I spit on them. (Figuratively, of course!) Egos have no place in our work, especially when they are cast upon others with intent to demean. And it only becomes worse when we look at auditions and the event of competitions. They are, indeed, the chosen life…and they are, indeed, what I believe to be the most destructive element. (The whole concept of “competitions,” to me, seems completely contradictory to our mission of communication through art.) No matter, we will continue to attend auditions and competitions because we love our work, and at some point, hopefully the right opportunities will eventually come along.

Perhaps this post is being fueled partially by a random encounter with another singer on New Year’s Eve, who sadly could not see past the end of his own nose, praising himself for his high accomplishments at a young age, casting stones of belittling comments, and actually laughing at the sheer mention of my being a soprano because we’re “a dime a dozen.” The things he said anger me, but that does not nearly upset me as much as the fact that his mentality and ego propelled those thoughts to begin with.

The rest of the fuel comes from recent observations and discoveries in my own continually changing mentality. What am I trying to prove? Who am I trying to compare myself to? Who am I listening to? What is my self-talk saying? What does the world see? Who is defining success and failure?

The answers: I don’t have to prove anything. If I can do it, then I do it. (And if I can’t do it, I’m stubborn enough to likely try to figure a way how to make it happen anyway!) I am comparing myself to singers in their 40s and 50s. What good does that do?! Dial it back, Sam, and put it back into perspective…compare yourself to people in your own age bracket, will ya?! I am listening to myself and my trusted teachers and mentors. All else can keep on walkin’. Many people are going to be just like that kid last week, but they are not allowed to poison your purpose with their ego trips. My self-talk has become very consciously observed and steered into constructive commentary. I hope the world sees a genuine me. And no one defines my successes and failures but me because there is no singular path.

It has taken me 27 years to come to this point, and I still confront the questions and infiltrations of self-doubt every day. It is difficult not to fall into that downward spiral of doubt and thoughts such as, “Oh, she’s better than me” or “I’m not good enough.” We watch our friends get incredible opportunities while yourself getting passed by; you’re happy for them outwardly but internally struggle with some anger it wasn’t you. In reality, it was their opportunity, not yours, so why not strive to be happy internally, too?!

Life is a journey and a continual process. Yet somehow, we return to the piano day after day (okay…most days…) because that is our purpose. To share music with the world and create a more beautiful place to live. That begins with supporting the endeavors and successes of colleagues and being there to listen and encourage during the failing and flailing. I may fail and flail a bit at this determination of mine, but I will try again at each opportunity to practice.

“You will never make it… ‘It’ doesn’t exist for an artist. The work will never end… It will always be there for you – even if in some moments you lack the will to be there for it. All it asks is that you show up, fully present. It’s not about you…You may not yet realize it, but you haven’t signed up for a life of glory and adulation. The world needs you… We need you to help us understand that which is bigger than ourselves, so that we can stop feeling so small, so isolated, so helpless.” 
~ Joyce Didonato

(I encourage you to read more of Joyce’s inspiring words here.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Doing what *doesn’t* come easily.

Four days a week, I find myself observing the ways of corporate America. I often feel like my life has become an episode of The Office; I am not entirely sure what everyone actually does all day every day, but whatever it is always seems “an important matter of consequence.” (Yes, I yet again reference “The Little Prince.”) A musician fits very oddly into this crowd. 

I count myself very lucky for the job that I am fortunate to have, the paycheck that thankfully appears in my bank account every two weeks and currently allows me to cover my monthly bills, the full benefits, and the flexibility allowed to me in order to keep music as number one priority in my life. These are things not typically afforded to someone fresh out of school. However, it is definitely a contrasting way of life than I have ever experienced.

In music, I am a participant; in the office setting, I am an observer. What I observe every day at work frustrates me endlessly. Perhaps it is merely the difference in the personalities surrounding me when compared to the creative world, or perhaps I am the one that does not understand. But every day I wonder… Where is the passion?! Where is the greater ambition/drive?! What fuels their fire?! Do they get excited about anything?! Or is everything only about analytical work and “matters of consequence”? 

I often have discussions with a non-musician friend that is married to a musician, trying to explain what life as a musician is like and how musicians/artists differ from what is seen as “the norm.” We think and perceive things in a very different way.

Our “work” and “play” lives are completely intermingled. The same thing that brings us the greatest joy, respite, and release, also tends to bring us the most stress, frustration, and gravity of responsibility. All of the lines are blurred, and you are never quite sure where one ends and the other begins.

I relate it to someone being a mother: when someone becomes a mother, they are never not a mother. A musician is always a musician. Even if your instrument is in its case, you are a musician. Putting it away does not subsequently switch off that part of your brain. And singers don’t even have the luxury of placing their instrument in a case, so it becomes even more inseparable from whom we are. My intentions in saying this are not meant to be myopic but rather an acknowledgement that our thought processes are affected by the musical wirings of our brain.

“Office life,” on the other hand, is more easily departmentalized in my brain: I go to work, do what is to be done, and my personal life remains separate. Actually, in that sense, it is a liberating feeling to be able to turn off the computer, walk out of the office, and not have to think about any of it until the next time I arrive. This job is what I do till 5pm, not who I am.

A typical day in my life begins at 7am when I wake, does not end till around 10pm, and rarely do I fall asleep before 12:30am. As soon as I leave the office, my life takes place, the life for which I have/am training. Practice, rehearsals, teaching lessons, attending concerts, and occasionally sneaking into various master and studio classes. I think I “study” more now that I am not a student, and it is so great!

I was asked by a coworker yesterday if I had any plans to “slow down” any time soon, stop leading a double life and just work [like a normal person]. Comments like that, although perhaps being well-intentioned, anger me. Yes, I would love not to be constantly exhausted and sometimes be “normal,” but I was not born to be normal. I was born to be me. I’m weird. I’m a nerd. I love learning. I won’t let go of my dream. And I won’t stop singing. I sit at this desk because it pays the bills and builds a resume of “real people” skills. It is what I have to do (and it will be a great story to tell the day I’m on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon!).

I am smart, but I have never been a wunderkind. I have always been able to “carry a tune,” but learning how to sing or the inner-workings of music has never come without much hard work. Music is not a “silly” pursuit. It is the decision to fight for what ignites my passion and do what doesn’t come easily.