Sunday, March 31, 2019

It's Just Hard Sometimes...

Writing this blog can make me feel very vulnerable sometimes.

I often delve into my own frustrations, my own fears, my own weaknesses. It's scary stuff....

....almost like being on stage can be scary stuff.

This is one of those vulnerable moments because to make some points I have to let you into my psyche.

The past few years have been very difficult for me as a player.

You see, my last year or so of undergraduate study was crazy. I had confidence on a level I'd never had before. I was a showman on stage. I was winking at the accompanist, working the crowd, and was never afraid to cut loose. I won the concerto competition, was a featured soloist in the jazz band, and received Performing Artist of the Year awards from my school.

and then grad school started and everything took a nose dive.

I didn't have a single what I thought to be good or even DECENT solo performance. One was a borderline disaster. The rest of the studio seemed to think I was a joke. Hell, most of the department seemed to think I was a joke. The thought of stepping on stage was just terrifying to me.

It was almost a blessing when I received word from my major professor last summer that he was no longer going to be teaching there. It was my out. It was a way to start over. "I'll take a year off, work, and practice my tail off.", I thought. I was in contact with several programs whose teachers, for whatever reason, still saw potential in me and I thought I could get in somewhere else.

That year turned into about three months.

I had an opportunity fall into my lap. The professor and I shared a common teacher. We got along really well and the school seemed like a good opportunity. Besides, my girlfriend was already doing grad studies there in clarinet. How perfect was that?

My initial audition was just for the professor since it was over winter break and no other professors were in town. It went fairly well. He made a video to show the others. It was enough to get me in; at least for the semester.

I had a follow up audition a few weeks ago. It also apparently was enough to get me in but I still lacked that feeling I'd had in undergrad where I walk in fully believing that I was about to blow minds and change lives with what I was going to do with my horn.

Now, I have my first public performance here in a few weeks for a composer's conference. It's a world premiere. To say I'm not yet comfortable with performing this piece is an understatement.

So where am I going with all this?

Well for starters, I cannot fully put my finger on why things went so cockeyed at my first grad program. I just know it did. What I CAN do is work on how to get out of the funk I'm in. This is what I think is relevant and just might help others.

  • I'm in a funk because I care so deeply about what I'm doing. This is my life. This is how I best tell people who I am. This isn't just important. This is ME. This is the biggest part of who I am.
  • I'm in a funk because I miss the thrill of performing as a soloist. I used to champ at the bit to get on stage. I need that back. The thrill of being on stage and truly entertaining people is something I must have in my life. 
  • I'm in a funk because I don't want to let down those in my corner.
Now, even though it's taking me a while to really internalize the following statements, this in the reality on which I need to focus.

  • Because I care so deeply about what I'm doing, I have a bad habit of setting impossible standards for myself. This is a process and what I hear as a horrible performance isn't necessarily what others hear AT ALL. 
  • Two extra years of practice means my ear has continued to develop and details I previously either didn't hear or didn't know to notice are now ever present while I play. It means I'm continuing to grow as a saxophonist and a musician.
  • Those in my corner only want the best for me and only care that I work hard, succeed, and find happiness.

I think so much of the time our growth can be difficult and painful because we make it so. Our fear, our doubts, our inability to just let go just get in our way. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It means we care. It means this is something that matters to us.

I don't have a real answer on how I'm going to get my confidence back to where it was in the spring of 2016. I just feel that my first real step was this admission and knowing I'll find my way back.

If you're having the same issues, I hope you find your way with me!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Your Reputation is YOU.

So, yeah, this is a continuation of my last post.....which not so many folks read. It's amazing what happens with a hiatus.

The more I look around each day the more I'm reminded of one of the cool things about being back in school later in life:

Man I am sooooooo glad social media wasn't around when I was 19.

Seriously, I doubt I would have made it through school or gotten a job ANYWHERE. I had a penchant for humor when it wasn't appropriate, inappropriate humor when it was even less appropriate, and just a general penchant for sticking my foot in my mouth. Impulse control issues, ADD, and social media are a bad combo.

Over the years I've gotten better but still, I'm always learning. You see, young grasshoppers, wisdom is acquired slowly....and all too often....very painfully.

So where am I going with this?

It's pretty simple, kiddos, there is SO MUCH MORE to the field of music than how much you know or how well you can play.

I had a conversation with undergrads recently. They asked me, as a saxophonist, the biggest difference between when I started years ago and now. I explained, the difference is pretty striking...

When I was an 18-20 year old, there were three or four universities where the true bad asses resided. I mean, the guys who could really PLAY. There was Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, North Texas, maybe a smattering of others. Oh, and it was either jazz or classical. You didn't see guys who could really do both.


EVERYONE can PLAY. I don't care if it's the professor at PoDunk State U in Bumblesnort. They are likely a beast and, more often than not, they can not only play classical lit at a high level but solo over ii V I's with ease.

It isn't just enough to be good anymore. EVERYONE is good. High schoolers are beasts now.

This isn't meant to discourage anyone. Keep working and you'll get there. I tell myself that daily. The point is that there's so much more to this whole thing. Here's what is important.

  • Remember that your words AND deeds follow you. Everybody knows everybody. You may not think so but yeah, the music world is much smaller than you think.
  • The above is especially true on social media. The internet is forever and screen shots are a thing. You might have deleted the ugly thing you impulsively posted but yeah, people probably saw it. Someone might have saved it.
  • You're going to screw up. You might screw up badly. OWN IT. Say 'Yes, that was me.' Apologize, mean it, and do your best to make it right. The response will be remembered as much if not more than the gaffe.
  • Work your butt off. Yes, it's ok to relax. Yes, we all need breaks. The problem comes when the breaks aren't the exception but the rule.
  • Treat your classes like job training. This is supposed to be your career. Treat it as such. 
  •  Choose your battles. There are ways to handle situations; especially with professors. If you pick a fight with a professor (of course I don't mean physical here) you are going to lose. Even if you think you win; that will follow you. There are ways to handle things. Be professional. Follow protocols as outlined in your student handbook.
  • As a followup to the above statement. If you skip class with the excuse "The professor doesn't teach to my learning style." or "The professor doesn't know what they are doing." you just lost any argument you had. How would you know what and how they're teaching IF YOU AREN'T EVEN THERE?!
  • It isn't enough to want the gig. It isn't even enough to earn the gig. You have to continue earning it every single day. The people who do that.....those are the ones who are consistently successful. This applies to Dean's list, chair placement, rank in the studio, a job, whatever. Simply put in the work.
  •     Try to be someone who's pleasant to be around. I know some folks are introverts. I get it. I am somewhat of an introvert myself; though I often come across as outgoing. You don't have to be the life of the party. You simply need to be professional, easy to work with, and pleasant to be around.

Folks, being a success comes down to two things. Attitude and effort. I know I'm not the first one to tell you this. However, everyone needs a bit of a reminder and for someone to occasionally impart wisdom gained over the years....and often the hard, painful way....

Keep your game face on.
Get to work.