This past August, I have begun writing a monthly column for the Southeast Michigan Flute Association Newsletter. Below is the article I wrote that was published in the August 2017 issue.
If there is one major piece of advice I took away from studying flute in Paris for two weeks this past summer, it is to never let go of the individuality in your playing. There is something to be said about a performer that can go onstage and tell a story through their music each time they perform. Once we reach a certain point in our musical careers, everybody becomes able to compete on a similar level with each other's technical and musical abilities. There is a saying that once you have performed a specific task for 10,000, you have mastered it. If you really break that statement down, that means that anybody that has practiced their instrument 3 hours a day for approximately 9 years can be considered a master. Needless to say, this field can get extremely competitive.
So, what do you do when you reach a point where everybody is technically a "master" of their instrument? For one, competitions get a lot harder to judge. Auditions get harder to judge. And judging all of the above often becomes subjective to the personal preference of the committee. How do we differentiate ourselves as players at that point?
I've listened to multiple success stories of musicians I look up to about their careers and the steps they've taken to make a name for themselves in this industry. When practicing your butt off every day becomes a given, what is the extra step that we as professionals-in-training need to take to become noticed professionally? One thing that really spoke to me during one of our career lectures at the Da Capo Alliance Paris Flute Class this past summer was that you need to actually live in order to be able to let yourself shine through in your playing. You need to allow yourself to experience real life emotions and you need to allow time to find yourself. I think that too often, we as musicians lock ourselves in practice rooms for too long without venturing out into the world and experiencing things because we have this crippling self-doubt that tells us "if we are not practicing, we are failing". To be able to effectively perform a piece that conveys many deep emotions, we must have felt these emotions personally. I'm not advising you to go out and get your heart broken in the name of music, but experiencing deep emotions through developing personal connections with others (especially in your adolescence and developmental stages) is crucial to us as performers. We cannot become anti-social beings when music itself is a social and communal art form.
Personally, I am most moved by a performer when they look like they are completely invested in the music. Whenever I watch somebody perform that conveys the emotions they want to portray both musically and physically, I can feel myself experiencing the same emotions they are from an audience's perspective. If the music is crying, I feel sad. If the music is laughing, I smile. Many people attend live performances solely for those reasons - to feel something.
This portrayal of emotion through musical performance is partially selfish for us as well. For me, music is very much an emotional outlet. If I am having a bad day, music is the first thing I turn to. If I am having a good day, music is also the first thing I turn to. I often feel that playing my flute helps me convey emotions that I cannot physically speak. It sounds very cliché, but it is very true. If we examine the relationship between the performer and the audience, both sides are there to bond not only over a common interest, but a common emotional and aural experience as well.
So how do we differentiate ourselves in an audition if everybody is playing the same piece and the 100 people competing can all play the Ibert Concerto flawlessly? I think that you should strive to invest yourself so emotionally in your performance that you let everybody listening know what you have to say. Not only should you aim to perform with confidence and perfection (I am still absolutely a work in progress with all of this), but you should strive to tell everybody in the audience who you are as a person through every performance you give. I truly believe that this is a HUGE factor of succeeding, no matter what your profession is. You want to win a competition? Play like a winner starting from the moment you walk onstage. One of my favorite examples of this concept is about Carol Wincenc, who essentially "wins" every performance and competition before she even plays her flute based on her confident walk onstage and stage presence. Not only is she an incredible player, but she has incredible confidence and wraps the audience around her finger from the moment she steps onstage. That is something I really admire about her.
Once you have taken all of the necessary steps towards striving for musical perfection in your studies, I believe that success will come if you truly believe in yourself and your abilities. Strive to prepare for each competition or audition as much as you can beforehand, and walk onstage like a winner.
Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you.
Throughout my few years of concentrated music study, I have found myself thrown into many events where I have had the opportunity to meet many amazing, talented and established musicians, producers, arts managers, etc. Even when I walk down the hallways of the College of Musical Arts at Bowling Green State University, passing any faculty member is like walking through Hollywood and passing celebrities. Sometimes, we music students take for granted the amount of talent, wisdom and experience the musicians we study under truly have. I have attended many events with professional musicians both locally and internationally, and I think it is very important for me to note what I have learned throughout that process.
First off, when attending an event that you know many professional and renowned musicians and artists will be at, make SURE to dress appropriately and professionally! What you wear to these types of events is truly everyone's first impression of you, and you want to represent yourself in the best way possible. If you are attending a formal dinner, it would be appropriate to dress as you would going to a job interview. If you are attending a more informal party, still be sure to dress as if you were interviewing professionally (because, in a way, you are!). It would not be appropriate to show up in a suit and tie or a formal evening gown to every professional event you attend, however, it is important to look professional and presentable at all times. Wear something you feel confident and comfortable in, because if you feel at all uncomfortable, it will come across to the people you meet. I have a few different outfits that I wear to most of the events that I attend, and they are outfits that I have worn many times and I know that I feel completely comfortable in them. Dress professionally, and people will treat you as such.
Second, when you address people, be sure to never assume anything. For example, if you are meeting the principal flutist of the *insert city here* Symphony Orchestra, have never seen them before, and ask them something like "where do you study in school?" that is something that some people could take offensively. Introduce yourself, smile, explain where you study or where you are locally performing, and often people will reciprocate with themselves. I have been in a few situations where I made the mistake of assuming that I knew things about a person and turned out to be completely wrong - embarrassing. Luckily, they were nice about it, but I have learned never to assume I know everything about a person and instead let them tell me themselves. When you meet professional musicians, it is so important to treat them with the utmost respect, because they have worked so hard to get to where they are in their careers today. Ask them about their professional journey, what led them to do the things they have done, what they liked about each job or institution they've studied at, and other things about their careers or their playing. Try not to talk too much about yourself unless asked, and be sure you are genuinely interested in them and what they are saying. These people you meet are mentors that you can look up to and gather career advice from, so be attentive and soak up as much information as possible!
Lastly, be yourself and be confident. Never put yourself or your playing down, and never say anything negative about others. Potential employers, teachers or mentors are much more likely to want to work with you if you are positive, encouraging and hardworking. Do not try and be someone you are not, and get rid of all negativity in your dialect. I have seen many people not get hired for a job because they would talk negatively about others in front of potential employers or people associated, and it is just not a nice thing to do in general. Remind yourself that you are here for a reason - because you deserve to be - and conquer the room through your radiant smile, kind heart and genuine interest in others. Developing good people skills is absolutely essential to becoming a professional musician, and though talent plays a big role in our career development, you must also be able to relate to and befriend your colleagues, teachers and students. Musicians cannot often stand alone, and building a strong sense of community within your professional network is absolutely crucial for success.
Think back to the fearlessness and confidence of your younger self, before self-doubt prevented you from continuing to venture onto try new and potentially risky things. If you were anything like me, being told that you couldn't do something made me want to do it that much more. Unfortunately, the society we live in often creates an environment of hostility towards the ambition of young, budding artists. If you are seen as a talented individual, you will more than likely have a handful of people that will always try to cut you down or hold you back simply because they feel threatened by you. We get sucked into this never-ending spiral of worrying too much what others think of us and we are not focused enough on what we truly want and why we are pursuing this career for OURSELVES. This pressure can come from all different directions; your peers, your colleagues, and even sometimes your role models. In a competitive field, too many people like to see others fail so that they can rise above. This environment creates a hesitation of young musicians to truly put themselves out there and research or audition for other opportunities outside of their own school. I've found that a lot of students tend to wait for opportunities to be handed to them than they seek opportunities to go after themselves. I think this mentality can be very dangerous for one's career and does not give the student the skill set they will need to find a job in the music field after graduation. I also think that if you spend your entire undergraduate career in a practice room (not advising against practicing a lot in any means - practicing is super important!), you will not likely build as many connections with other musicians who may end up being able to help you get a job in music in the future. I have heard of so many stories of really talented musicians getting jobs right out of graduation because they met the right people while they were in school, and those people recognized their talent and helped them find employment. The field of music is as social as it is individual; we practice and perform for ourselves, essentially, but we could not survive without the power of collaboration. I believe that, as an undergraduate student, you should be taking every possible performance opportunity and gig that you can just to build connections and gain experience performing in many different settings. You should research all of the solo competitions around you and enter as many as you can, and you should research any masterclasses or performances by both solo and orchestral musicians in the area and make it a point to attend the ones that interest you.
I have found so far that success in music does not solely rely on talent, but it also relies on your collaborative skills on both a personal and musical level. I have made so many important connections within the flute community by simply interacting with people at various flute events and asking them about themselves and where they're at in their career. I cannot tell you how much people truly appreciate you being genuinely interested in themselves and their work, and I think that too often we are too consumed with our own careers that we neglect those of the talented and amazing people around us. Another key to musical success: surrounding yourself with people who are more talented, more driven, and more ambitious than you are. This may sound like a competitive environment you are creating, but it is competitive in a good way. As a musician, you are constantly improving and constantly learning new things about music and about playing your instrument. If you surround yourself with people who aren't motivated to succeed or practice, you are essentially putting a limit on your personal growth. For me, positive motivation can be extremely uplifting and makes me want to improve for myself, not for anybody else. Everyone is different in that sense, but I think that if you live your life never wanting to be around people that are better than you because you get too competitive over it, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. The point that we as musicians can separate competition from a mutual love of playing is the point that we can allow ourselves to be happy and successful.
If you are unsure of where to start by networking and making connections with other musicians, create a website, facebook page, instagram account, etc. that you can allow yourself to begin putting your work out there through social media. I've found that social media is the medium that gains the most positive response from our generation from a career standpoint, and I have also received many private flute students and gig opportunities through my usage of it as well. Make sure you have recordings of yourself online, and don't let one or two mistakes in the recordings push you away from posting them. Another flaw I truly believe we have in our society is believing that we can be perfect. Nobody is perfect, and setting that high of standards for yourself when deciding what to post online prevents a lot of people from posting anything at all. Of course, if you crash and burn in a recording (I'm speaking from personal experience here), do not post that online. However, if you crack one note in a run but it is otherwise all correct, don't let that one crack stop you from sharing your art with others. Sometimes the beauty lies in the minor imperfections, and I promise you that your audience will likely not even notice a minor mistake and instead how good you sound. On my instagram account, I post "practice videos" of pieces I'm working on and photographs/short recording clips of performances and competitions I'm doing. On my facebook page, I post some of my own theories I am developing about flute playing and about being a musician in general. It is sort of like an "express" version of my blog post page on my website. Social media networking is a great, free way to begin building connections with other musicians and begin finding performance opportunities and private students. Post often, and make sure to always respond to your followers questions!
Attend as many networking events as you possibly can, and be social! Follow up with the musicians you meet via social media or email and get their contact information. Be friendly, and have lots of positive energy when speaking to potential employers, colleagues, etc. Never badmouth other musicians OR yourself when speaking to people, for that could easily burn bridges between you and the musician you are talking to. If you ever are in need of a musician for a gig or performance, contact these people you have met and offer them the position. Networking in a professional setting goes both ways; you cannot expect to be given everything if you never give yourself. Lastly, never stop wanting to improve yourself. Whether you're practicing, researching performance opportunities, or wanting to become a better person, remind yourself that no one is going to hold your hand through your career and offer things to you on a silver platter. Become self-motivated and driven, and market yourself in a positive manner. It is never too early to begin your career, and it is never too late either. No matter where you are in life, start wanting things for yourself and stop waiting for things to be handed to you. If you want to play in a symphony orchestra, start from the bottom and don't stop until you reach the top. If you want to work in a music store, keep applying until you get hired. If you want to become a good musician, don't stop practicing. Ever. :) Your career is in your own hands, and your future is limitless.
Questions? Comments? Please let me know, I'd love to hear what you have to say!
"Listening to recordings of myself makes me want to lock myself in a practice room for a thousand years"
"Every time I think I sound good, I'll just listen to a recording of myself and will feel bad about myself again"
"Recording myself makes practicing so depressing!"
Do any of these common phrases sound familiar? If they do, you are the furthest thing from alone. I have these thoughts often when I practice, and I hear a LOT of other musicians constantly saying similar things. Somehow, in our culture, we have engrained a very negative attitude towards recording yourself playing. I believe it stems from submitting recorded auditions to various competitions and summer festivals. These recordings must be inherently perfect, especially since you technically have an unlimited amount of tries in the given time frame to record your best take. I am not at all speaking poorly on our high standards musically when entering prestigious solo competitions and summer festival audition processes; I am glad we have such high expectations because it sets a precedence of talent level for the generations to follow and allows us to maintain an extremely high level of respect for music which is very important. However, when we remove the art of recording ourselves from a competitive standpoint and begin to incorporate it into our daily practice, these extremely high standards and pressure of being perfect in every recording follow us into the practice room. Recording yourself for a competition and recording yourself as a practice tool are two extremely different things. When you are recording yourself competitively, you are striving for as close to perfection as you can achieve. When you are recording yourself practicing, you are recording to listen to things you can improve on that lie deeper than technical perfection. You are looking for instabilities in your tone throughout the course of a phrase, out-of-tune intervals, inconsistent vibrato speed in your long tone practice (unless intentional), etc. You are listening not to tear yourself down and consume yourself with everything you are doing wrong, rather, you are listening to hear things you would not simply by playing your instrument in a practice room. There is a threshold to which we as musicians can help ourselves improve without ever taking a step back to truly listen to what we sound like without worrying about actually playing our instruments in the process. We can only allow ourselves to hear so much while we are actually playing, and we too often rely on the advice of others to dictate what we should be practicing to improve our sounds, techniques, etc.
I have noticed that many people will outright refuse to record themselves because they fear their egos are already fragile enough, and if they hear themselves play they will become more discouraged. If we can consciously separate our "recording modes" between competitive recording and practice recording, we may stand to have a healthier outlook on hearing ourselves play on a more regular basis. No more recording anxiety! If you are truly very fearful of hearing yourself play, first have a friend listen to it and write 3-5 things that they loved about it. Read those before listening yourself, and try to keep the positive in mind. Listening to yourself can absolutely be counted in your practice time as well. After you feel that you have practiced a passage to the extent of which you can without actually hearing yourself play it, do a run through of this passage and record it. Take a break. Sit down with your headphones in and a notepad and your music in hand, and pretend to be your own professor. Write down what you think you should do differently, what you liked and didn't like about it, but ultimately be sure to keep it positive and encouraging. A positive mentality in the practice room is absolutely essential, because whatever you practice WILL translate to how you perform onstage. My beloved professor, Dr. Conor Nelson, emphasizes this often. He refers to it as "positive practice", and I think it is a strategy all musicians should adopt.
Questions? Comments? I would love to hear from you.
I have been studying a lot of performers I look up to recently. Analyzing their movements. Trying to figure out what makes them so enthralling to watch and what makes each of their performances so engaging. I have come to the conclusion that the one thing that sets a talented artist apart from a remarkable one is the emotion that they bring personal experience and emotion into the music. In my opinion, anyone who has an extensive background in musical training can learn to be a great musician technically, but it takes a higher level of musical enlightenment to connect the objective repertoire to your own emotions, and then proceed to be able to convey these emotions to your audience.
How do we reach this level of musical enlightenment? Is it a teachable thing, or must it come naturally? This question I haven't come up with a solid answer to yet, because I think that it varies depending on the kind of person you are. For me, I have never really had trouble conveying my emotions musically, but I struggle to be able to control them when I play. Often, my music gets far too intense for the appropriate style of piece I am performing, and I am constantly told to hold back and not give so much away at the beginning. I am an emotional, extroverted person, so music is in a way my medium of emotional release. For an introverted person, it may be more difficult to convey your emotions, which is not by any means a bad thing. If you are this type of person, it may be helpful to develop a story ahead of time that you want to communicate to your audience through the piece you're playing. Listen to a recording of your piece, and close your eyes and try to picture a living memory that the music reminds you of. Hold onto that memory, and every time you pull out that piece to practice, take a few moments beforehand to center yourself and get into the moment. Practicing with intention and an image in mind will translate into your performance. If you are extroverted like me, you may want to experiment with the same type of thing: listening to the piece and developing a clear memory or image to tie to the piece you're playing, but prolong it. Mark where the climactic point in the music occurs, and make sure your imagery doesn't peak before then. Practice holding back, and gradually building up in intensity towards that point. Of course, this tactic will not work for every piece you play, and you must continue to be sensitive and respectful of the musical style. However, it can provide a structure for a practice method you use in the back of your mind for every type of music you play, whether its a solo piece, chamber piece or even a large ensemble piece. Often, I find myself drifting into an image during a piece I'm playing with a large ensemble, and I try to pick up on the imagery that the other musicians performing with me are producing as well.
I have found that the most moving and inspirational pieces of music I have ever heard are ones composed for a specific person or have a specific story tied to them. Music based on personal experience never fails to move me, and I also believe that musicians that draw from personal experience and translate it into their music often have the most emotionally moving performances as well. If you take a step back and think about it, pursuing music as a career without having a burning passion for it is like continuing to date someone you don't necessarily like because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Artists and musicians of all forms are some of the most emotional people I have ever met, in the best way possible. To create art means to dig deep within the darkest parts of your soul, and make yourself vulnerable for the sake of the music. Every time we perform, compose, create, write, we are exposing our weaknesses and publishing them for the world to see. We are giving part of our soul to the work we are creating, and sharing our emotions with whoever cares to listen, read, watch... Producing music without passion and without emotion can be the kiss of death to an artist, because the raw origins of artistic creation were based around releasing and sharing emotional hardships. I believe that if you possess the ability to emotionally move your audience, that in itself is musical success.
It is the end of the semester, and if you are anything like me you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders right now. You are struggling to study for your final exams, struggling to stay motivated, and nearly in tears because you are emotionally exhausted and just need a break from everything. You are likely either preparing for your juries or dwelling obsessively in the aftermath of your college's concerto competition. You begin to start worrying about everything. Why didn't I do better in my competitions this year? What if I'm not talented enough to make it in the real world? Believe me, I get it. I have been there. I am still there. The pressure of having to constantly compare yourself to others and constantly be worrying about whether you are where you're supposed to be competitively in your studio can be soul crushing. While music should be played for pure enjoyment, it can often get extremely competitive and consume your entire well-being. Most of this competition we face is a result of the self-destructive nature of our own minds; desperately wanting to tell us that we are not enough, we are not strong enough, we are not talented enough. Sometimes I wonder how to shake all of this negativity, and I wonder if it will ever completely disappear. I've come up with some thoughts of ways to become happier with all of this, and to be accepting and loving of ourselves when the going gets tough.
As musicians, we are destined to fail. That may seem like a harsh statement, but I believe it is the first step to acceptance of the fact that not doing well in a competition or an audition does not necessarily reflect our own ability. More often than not, it reflects the thoughts of the adjudicator. You could have a flawless audition or performance with lots of attitude, musicality, and passion and not pass the audition or move onto the next round of the competition. This does NOT reflect poorly on you, it is merely just what the judges were looking for. Sometimes, the reason you don't pass on could be as simple as they didn't like the composer of your piece or something along those lines. When you hear dozens of flawless performances in a row, I believe that simple things like that must begin to come into consideration. Otherwise, how could you possibly choose who will move on? Failure is devastating, no matter how small of a scale it impacts. However, the more times you fail, the more you will begin to achieve mastery. You will learn better each time how you best handle failure, because it is different for everybody. For me, I must let out my emotions. I must vent to people and I often get very upset and do not want to do anything for the next few hours. It is my way of healing, and it is okay. Other people can accept their failures in the most respectful, distinguished way and I cannot emphasize enough how much I admire that. But you must learn that everyone handles it differently, and you must be respectful of each person's method. Each time you fail, you learn something new about things you can work on with your playing. With me, it gives me fuel to work harder and practice more meticulously in a very detail-oriented way. It gives me fuel to prove people wrong the next time I play for them, having fixed all of the criticisms and gained a newfound determination to succeed. However, there is no way to perfect and refine the way you fail other than to keep trying and always remember that you are in a great place, and that you are enough; you are strong enough, and you are talented enough to make it in this world. Always remember that failure not only makes you more determined to succeed the next time, but it also makes you stronger both as a person and as a musician. If every opportunity was always handed to you on a silver platter, you would never develop a strong work ethic and you would never truly appreciate how wonderful success based on your hard work feels. It is one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure, especially when you work so hard on something that doesn't work out for you in the end, but I know that it will all be worth it someday.
Building back up your confidence after an ego blow can be difficult, but it is much easier if you have a strong support system. Find people who can relate to what you are going through, and people who are unconditionally supportive of you even at your worst moments (to all my friends who have seen me as a complete emotional wreck and have offered endless support and wonderful advice: this one's for you). Be appreciative of them, and reciprocate the kindness. No one is perfect, and everyone goes through their own rough spots. Offer the same support and positivity that they have offered you on their darkest days. Remember that no matter how small someone's problems may seem, they are still important because they may be consuming them. Never brush off a friend in need if they are trying to talk to you about something that's upsetting or worrying them. Always offer open arms and always make time for them, and they will do the same for you. Find a strong support system and people who will help build you back up every time you are knocked down. Be to them what you want in someone who supports you, and don't be afraid to walk away from people who don't offer you the same love and support back. You are worth more than surrounding yourself with people who want to see you fall and who want to tear you down.
Lastly, try to remember a great personal victory for yourself. Think of that time you received positive feedback from an idol, when you won that competition, when you received the best compliment from your teacher on how impressed they were at your progress. Hold onto that, even through all of the difficult times. Always remember how good it felt for your work to pay off, and how good it felt to succeed. Keep that feeling, and let it fuel your drive. We, as humans, live to succeed, so when it doesn't happen it can come as a great shock. Remember that taking time to yourself is never something you should be ashamed of after a hard day or a hard week, and giving yourself ample time to rejuvenate from a failure is necessary. At the same time, remember that one little failure is not the end of your world, rather, it is just the beginning. Professional musicians have failed hundreds of times, but those failures have not stopped them from achieving their dream. It is important to experience failure, and it is important to try to not let it consume you. This is often easier said than done, but you will be much happier if you try. I have had my share of not so pretty moments of times where I let failure consume me, but I acknowledge that it is just a part of my healing process and each time it seems to get a bit easier. Do the same for yourself, and forgive yourself for anything you may have done in spite of failure and work towards accepting it more peacefully each time it happens. And on top of everything else, always remember to compliment yourself on things you are proud of or things you think you do very well. No matter what anyone else says, you are the key to your own happiness and you are the only one who has the power to decide how to handle a tough situation. If you tell yourself you are worth it, everyone else will see it too.
Thanks for reading. Any comments/questions/thoughts can be directed via personal message on facebook or via email at email@example.com.
In the field of music, I feel that there is a somewhat prominent complex about learning how to take a compliment. On one hand, if you accept it without question, you fear coming off as pompous and expecting of praise. On the other hand, if you doubt the compliment, you risk appearing insecure and possibly disrespectful to the person giving you the compliment. Personally, I often struggle with knowing exactly how to respond when given a compliment about my playing, my stage presence, or anything relating to music. Are they just saying this to be nice? Do they feel bad for me? These are questions and doubts that often play over and over in my mind in these situations. I feel that young musicians often have such low self esteem that it is nearly impossible for them to hear a good response to their playing because they are so used to everyone being so critical about it. I also believe that it is important to be humble, but you must uphold a certain degree of confidence to back that up so that you don't begin to self-sabotage your career because you feel that you aren't worthy. Every one of you reading this right now, no matter your age or career path, is good enough to succeed in your own field. One of my favorite quotes from my current professor at BGSU is "there is room for you out there", meaning that there will always be a place for you in the field of music. Believing it may be difficult sometimes, but it is crucial that you have confidence in your abilities. People are drawn to confidence, and people remember confident, poised people that they meet.
I personally have had to work a lot on building up my self confidence. My freshman year of college was very emotionally difficult. Like many high school superstars, I had to go through a rather drastic ego check. I came from being one of the top high school flutists in the state of Michigan to the bottom of my studio in college. It was hard for me to watch others get performance opportunities and win competitions when I would be sitting in the audience wishing I was up there performing, or watching them win as I lost. My self esteem plummeted and it took me nearly a year to build it up to where it is today. I still struggle with it a great deal. I am telling this because I know that many, many other students are either going through or went through the same thing I did. Music school can be absolutely soul crushing at times, especially when you invest so much emotionally in things like performing competitively and establishing a name for yourself and things don't always work in your favor. In high school, I would receive compliments as if they were a text message popping up on my phone (quite a frequent occurrence, if you know me). I took them for granted. I was never rude but I certainly could have been more humble. Now, whenever I receive a compliment, my automatic instinct is to overanalyze that person's motives and if it were genuine or not. This all relates back to how much you believe in yourself and your abilities. If you don't believe in yourself, why will anyone else? It seems like a harsh truth, but it is extremely true.
My advice for taking compliments is to always smile and say thank you. Sometimes, that is enough of a response. If you always return the compliment, or find yourself searching for something to compliment about the other person in response, it may come off not very genuine. If you say "thank you" and then precede to list off all of the things that went wrong in your performance or anything negative about what that person was complimenting you on, you may come off as rude and ungrateful. To you, it may seem like you are being humble, but to them, it sounds like you aren't accepting their compliment. The best way to handle a compliment if you aren't sure on what to say is always being genuinely appreciative and gracious. No matter how big of a name the person is (i.e. Jeanne Baxtresser or a middle school flutist you met at a clinic), compliments are extremely meaningful and you must treat each as such. After all, who doesn't love hearing positive feedback about themselves? It is an extra little reminder that you are loved. :)
Lately, I've been seeing a lot of negativity. Whether it is on social media, in classes, during ensemble rehearsals, or even in passing, there seems to be an increased level of agitation and irritability between students and faculty. People say that it is common to hit a wall towards the end of the semester, and it is common to experience "burnout" and encounter a week or so grace period where you are just constantly in a bad mood. This tends to happen at our busiest times, naturally, when we don't have a lot of extra downtime to regroup and rejuvenate. This phenomenon commonly called "burnout" can be toxic, especially to professional relationships. I notice people who experience this begin to complain a lot more about the tasks at hand, become a bit more hostile towards one another, and have little motivation to do anything musical. In a perfect world, we would have ample amount of time each day to unwind, reflect, and rest. It seems that in America, however, no such thing exists. I have had friends who have studied abroad in parts of Europe, and they have said that the European way of life overall is much more laid back. They said that in many parts of Europe, the people schedule "tea time" in their day, as a couple hours to just rest and reflect. In America, that is often thought of as being "unproductive", or "lazy". Being a musician, I believe that we often experience this issue firsthand. It is difficult for me to sit down for a few hours each day and just do nothing. I am CONSTANTLY working. On my lunch breaks, I bring homework to do. When I'm watching a movie, I am either doing homework or mentally going through my music. During my breaks between classes, I am almost always practicing. The only time my mind is truly off all of my responsibilities is when I am out with friends, and even then my mind is constantly racing, reminding me of things I need to accomplish before the day ends.
At the same time, my life has become very short-term. I take my schedule one day at a time, because that is the only way that I can stay sane. My life is only as busy as the day that lies ahead. I believe that there are both pros and cons to this lifestyle. The pros are that I am less likely to become overwhelmed because I tell myself that once I accomplish everything on the agenda for the day my tasks have been completed, until tomorrow. It allows me to rest easier and build in time to exercise or participate in leisure activities if I accomplish all of my daily tasks on time. The cons are that it is hard to conceive long-term goals with this mentality, and sometimes I find myself accidentally procrastinating on projects or preparing for performances that sneak up on me much sooner than I had planned for. I also find it difficult to make time to keep in regular contact with my family (parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) and to maintain simple life tasks such as doing my laundry frequently, scheduling appointments, and grocery shopping. I have been thinking about ways to create a good balance between short-term and long-term time management a lot lately, and have come up with an extensive calendar system for myself both on my phone and written down. For each person, this system of schedule organization may vary based on how your brain most effectively keeps track of the tasks at hand. For me, as soon as I find out about a deadline for a project or a performance date, I immediately place the date in my phone calendar and set alerts to remind me of it a week before and two days before to give me time to prepare if it has slipped my mind. In addition to this, I also create weekly to-do lists that I leave out on my desk in my room to remind me of all I need to accomplish. I usually divide this to-do list into three separate categories: what I need to practice, what homework I need to complete, and what errands I need to run (grocery shopping, submitting applications before deadlines, dropping things off, etc.). Each day, I mentally run through this checklist and consider all of the free hours I will have and decide from there what I will begin to accomplish. Especially during the end of the semester, things can begin to pile up quite rapidly, so I find it extremely helpful to mentally prepare myself ahead of time to avoid getting extremely overwhelmed. If I know that a project is due a week from today, I will start the project and then sleep on it, and complete a bit more each day until I complete it so that I have time to revise and finalize the project before submitting. If I have a big performance (like the Concerto Competition) coming up in a week, I will make it a point to complete at least one full run through without stopping (preferrably with a small audience) every single day from memory until the competition. It reduces my stress and anxiety, and it provides me with a lot more performance experience that will hopefully lead to a successful performance when it counts. It also allows me to make many, many mistakes in front of audiences with friendly, supportive ears so that when I am under pressure, I am less likely to make those same mistakes if I am aware of them. I find that it really helps to "pre-prepare" for events like these, and it helps me become more successful in the long run.
During my short time enrolled in music school, I have learned a lot about attitude. I have learned that it is extremely easy to make yourself absolutely miserable, and it is easy to fall into a downwards spiral of negativity that leads you to becoming irritable and somewhat mean. I have experienced phases of this, and I'm certain many others have as well. I have also learned that you will receive back what you give. For example, if you become a person who constantly scorns others and judges them harshly on either their actions or their playing, you will get negativity back. If you are one who makes a point to compliment others on what they are doing well on rather than being jealous or feeling threatened, you will receive compliments back. If you have a large ego and you take compliments for granted, you will not receive as many. If you humbly accept compliments with a smile and a "thank you", people are more likely to keep giving them. It is these seemingly simple facts about life that can become so distorted when people are under an extreme amount of stress, and it is important to keep reminding yourself that staying positive is the only way to being happy. You have the power to create your own happiness, much like you also have the power to destroy it. It is important to remind yourself to be humble, no matter how talented you think you may be. This is how you build connections, and this is how people remember you. Nobody wants to hire an egotistical maniac who may be very good but is impossible to work with. You are much more likely to be hired (assuming it isn't a blind audition) if you are not only talented but humble about it and have a positive attitude towards music and your career. It may be difficult sometimes, but try to create a mantra for yourself and come back to it when you are feeling discouraged, jealous, threatened, or any other sort of negative emotion. It is very easy to get torn down in this field, but it takes extremely strong-willed people to know how to build themselves back up, and those are the ones who will go far.
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