This article was published in the March 2018 SEMFA newsletter.
Building confidence can be a very difficult thing. As a student, we are constantly being evaluated and are evaluating ourselves in order to improve. In order to truly learn and grow as much as possible, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to criticism. So how do we find a balance between constantly evaluating ourselves in the practice room yet play with overt confidence in our performances and rehearsals? One thing I have been struggling with lately is learning to prevent myself from self-sabotage when I make a mistake in a public setting. Making mistakes in rehearsals during a solo passage used to be detrimental to my confidence. I would drive myself crazy worrying that everybody around me thought that I was a bad flutist every time that I made a mistake, and this mindset would negatively affect the rest of my playing during that rehearsal. The more I worried I was about what others thought of me, the more mistakes I made. This seems ironic, but the root of this problem was that I had not yet truly learned how to play confidently under pressure because I had not practiced doing so. I also had to learn that becoming more confident in my playing in general would allow me to grow and improve even more than I thought that I could.
Confidence in your playing can come from many different factors. Various successes from good performances, doing well in competitions and auditions, and receiving positive feedback from your teachers and colleagues can be major contributors. But what if you are in a period of your career where things have not been going so well? The spring of my junior year of college was a time much like this. I was overwhelmed by responsibilities, dealing with some personal self esteem issues, and on top of everything else, I was receiving rejection upon rejection letter from various festivals and competitions I had submitted recordings to all at once. Experiencing low points in your career like this is normal for everybody who wishes to find success in the music industry, and I believe that it makes you stronger and sets you up for greater successes in the future if you do not let it bring you down. Because I was not having much success in my career at this point in time, I had to do some soul-searching and learn how to build confidence from within. For me, this involved taking a few days off of playing completely to do things that I enjoyed. I began to explore music that I wanted to start learning for fun, I began looking into new competition and summer festival opportunities, and I was working on finding out the things that may have been holding me back so much from being successful. After going through all of this, I finally realized that the one thing that was holding me back so much from being successful was myself. My confidence level had gotten so low that I was actually making myself sound worse in fear that I would not live up to the expectations of others. To help fix this, I started playing things for my own enjoyment, playing the repertoire I was working on for close friends to gain positive feedback, and performing for the satisfaction of myself above the people that were in the audience. If I didn't enjoy my own playing, why should anybody else? Once I began to overcome these obstacles, everything that was holding me back in my practicing and playing began to dissipate. At the end of the spring semester of my junior year, I began to place in competitions and was being accepted into renowned summer festivals. Since then, I have found success again in my endeavors, and I now know that rejection letters are simply a part of the journey to building a career in music.
When you build confidence from within, you realize that you do not need constant validation to indicate whether or not you will be successful in the future. Developing your own musical persona, being ambitious and hard-working to achieve your goals, seeking out opportunities, and making connections with people are all forces that you can control in your own life to determine whether or not you will be successful. Do not let failure define you, let it be a learning process of things you may need to do differently in the future. Remain humble and receptive of the advice from others, but do not let criticism defeat you. Confidence and passion for your art will open many doors in your future. Be mindful of that, and do not let yourself stand in your own way of success.
By: Francesca Leo