There is a lot of conversation on the internet about all the things music school doesn’t teach us. The ways that it perpetuates unhealthy cycles that have been solidified over generations.
We don’t see a lot of discussion about what in our is right or good about the time we spend in music school. I don’t want to undermine what needs to change, but as I look back and reflect I’m realizing that one of the most valuable things about the time I spent in school was something I took completely for granted at the time.
It was so obvious to me as a freshman moving into an arts dorm - the joy of being surrounded by so many people who value the arts so deeply was new and exciting, and it spawned so many friendships.
Over the four, six, or even more years we spend in school we easily grow accustomed to having access to all the perks. Music libraries, musicians playing every instrument and style of music, amazing teachers and mentors, and friends who are also fully entrenched in figuring out how to be a musician.
When we leave school, it’s a sneaky shock to be removed from this artistic bubble. In my case, I was busy figuring out how to be a regular adult, not a student. I still had some connections to my previous school, was still traveling to take lessons, and was working as a musician.
Music hadn’t evaporated from my life by any means, but as time went on there was a growing sense of loneliness and disconnect. As a recent graduate working on my own most of the time, for the first time in years I was living in a world of mostly non-musicians.
As time has gone on I’ve been lucky to maintain friendships and find new belonging, but life often becomes fuller as we get older and if we’re going to find community in our lives it requires becoming much more intentional.
Research also tells us the benefit of being in a community, including that feeling supported by those around us helps calm and regulate our nervous system and create a deep, lasting feeling of safety.
While it would be ideal for all of us to find a community of people with our exact situation (for example, musicians who are also self-employed or freelancing) that’s not always possible. It can be just as good for our well-being to find communities around our other interests (exercise, mindfulness, cooking, coding … the list is endless).
In the way that friendships sometimes can as adults, making time for this type of community in your life can feel like work. It will require you to reach out to old friends, talk to new people, and leave the house at times when you would just like to curl up with a blanket and Netflix.
But, how much better would our art (and lives) be if we prioritized community? If we created a space for ourselves and those like us to rest in work or leisure? To commiserate over the difficulties of our work or forget them entirely and go for a hike, or to brainstorm crazy ideas with people are willing to genuinely encourage our creativity?
If I look back on the times that I really felt unmoored, I can see now the lack of community. When I took my yoga teacher training I was shocked at how having a group of friends I saw regularly and related to easily changed my day to day sense of wellbeing. Since then I do my best to remember the importance and value, even when it would be easier not to prioritize it.
Having a community reminds us of the big picture, what’s truly important, and affirms to us who we are at our core.
If you’re feeling frustrated in your work or pessimistic about your creative ventures, shift your focus and engage your community. If you’re not sure whether you have have one, start small and reach out to an old friend or mentor and ask how they’ve been. Make small talk with someone at your weekly yoga class or find a run club. Find a few people, or even just one, who can see you through your shared interests and then take note of the changes in your sense of safety and comfort.
A regularly updated list of books that are excellent for musicians, yogis, mindfulness practitioners, and humans.
The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten
The Flute Book by Nancy Toff
The Listening Book by W. A. Mathieu
Uncommon Measure by Natalie Hodges
Self Development for Creatives:
The Practice by Seth Godin
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Originals by Adam Grant
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink
Drive by Daniel Pink
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick
Range by David Epstein
Mindfulness & Meditation:
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford
The Posture of Meditation by Will Johnson
Lighter by Yung Pueblo
Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer
Peak Mind by Amishi Jha
Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith
Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Breath by James Nestor
I’ve been doing a “best books of” post for several years now (here are 2021 and 2020), and it was fun to take a look back at what my favorites have been in previous years. I always read a mix of fiction and non-fiction, but my previous lists of favorites lean heavily toward non-fiction. I felt like I really indulged in fiction in 2022, so let’s see what this past year’s list of favorite turns out like!
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Most of us are familiar with John Green because of the YA novels he’s written (The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down, etc.). He has a podcast with his brother, Hank Green (also an author), that’s quite popular that I haven’t explored yet. This book is a series of short essays where Green rates the regular everyday occurrences of the Anthropocene period (our current geological age) a la Google. He shares personal anecdotes that remind us all we’re having the same human experience in an enjoyable and relatable way. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed four and a half stars.
Uncommon Measure by Natalie Hodges
I found Hodges book to be extremely thoughtful, and at times quite challenging to read because of the way it points out the inadequacies of how many of us are taught to become musicians. Natalie Hodges spent her young life working hard to be a virtuoso violinist. She chronicles her experiences through our perception of time and consciousness, and how her experiences in music might have shaped her or been shaped by her. Hodges touches eloquently on so many of the challenges of becoming and being a musician, while including neuroscience and quantum physics, by taking us along on her own journey of imagining her life outside of being a classical violinist.
Presence by Amy Cuddy
Amy Cuddy gained noteriety for her TED talk that has been viewed by millions. The overarching message of this book is that we don’t have to make grand changes to approach scary situations, nor should we continue to approach them with one eye closed in fear. I loved the stories Cuddy shares in Presence about people who took simple moment to moment approaches to intimidating situations, and her practical advice on how we can show for ourselves up over and over again.
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
This was a really enjoyable read. The characters felt rich, and Williams writing created such a vivid picture for me of this story as it unfolded. As someone who loves words, this story of lexicographers creating and editing the dictionary opened up a history I had never considered of who defined our language and how.
Range by David Epstein
Range takes a fascinating look at how we learn and grow our skills in a culture that says we must focus fast and early. Especially for those of us in fields like music where it can always feel like we started too late, I found this book refreshing. Epstein unpacks how being hyper focused can box us in, and how the paths that highly successful people take are often much more winding than we think. The information in this book is important for anyone who teaches or interacts with children and young adults to consider.
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman
This novel is a beautifully painted picture of what it’s like to grieve with someone with terminal cancer, and was my favorite novel of 2022. It was not an easy read, especially if you’ve lost someone, but I was so moved by the way this book expresses how deeply we feel in the close relationships we build and how both the most joyful and saddest moments can be painful in their extremes.
Quiet by Susan Cain
Quiet, for me, was one of those rare books that clearly lays out things you have never been able to find the words to express. Cain redefines what it means to be an introvert, and to be a highly sensitive person. She takes the cultural labels out of the equation and makes it relatable for the reader to consider what it would be like to be introverted, or what it would be like to find balance as an introvert in an extroverted culture. There is concrete, functional advice in the book for how to work with introverted adults or children, and I think this book could help all of us consider and become more receptive to how each person’s experience is unique.
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
Four Thousand Weeks sits at the top of my list for 2022 for the way it genuinely challenged my concept of time and the way we are taught to treat it as a manageable, moldable commodity. It is both factual and philosophical, and explored our growing collective sense of anxiety and urgency. I appreciated that Burkeman didn’t take a negative perspective on the way our relationship with time has developed and took a more positive and reflective approach to how we might proceed differently.
So now I want to know - what books did you love in 2022?
One of the most impactful skills mindfulness meditation can help us develop is a true exploratory mindset, but for many of us, and for a variety of reasons, it can feel challenging to cultivate an approach based in exploration.
Thinking in an exploratory way requires curiosity and an ability to detach from desired outcomes, which might feel unnatural. We grow up in a school system that doesn’t always encourage curiosity and uses testing outcomes to show value. We are performance and outcome driven in our society, and being a musician has the potential to make us even more so.
Even though being a musician at its core requires us to be exploratory in getting to know our instruments and the styles of music we play in, it’s hard not to have an end result or potential accolades in mind. If you’ve ever given a jury in college, that’s the perfect example of where exploration and outcome lock horns.
If we encounter a limit or problem in our practice or daily life, we may immediately start to be hard on ourselves and judgmental. Perhaps we know how to fix the issue in our playing but can’t execute it just yet, or we can identify a conflict but not the solution. It’s easy to become distracted by the “right” or “wrong” way we’re approaching the situation, or by how much we do or don’t know.
When we start to assign quality or judge ourselves, the problem we’ve encountered is no longer a three dimensional issue that includes perspective, experience and prior knowledge, and exploration, but a very one dimensional view of what we’re doing correctly or incorrectly. Getting stuck ruminating on how we’ll get to a successful outcome leads to a shortsighted view of the challenge we’re facing.
Our gut reaction to gauge and label what we are doing wrong can feel so natural we don’t even question it, but it is less instinctual than you think. Our approach to problem solving is directly linked to the way our mind has been shaped by our personal experiences, education, and what the culture around us values.
Our experience and culture based perspective was explained to me once as “conceptual baggage.” I think it’s the perfect way to describe how we unavoidably (and without any fault) bring all the messages we have received, perceptions we have built, and experiences we’ve had into each roadblock we face.
The example that comes to mind so easily for me is when we’re doing something in our playing that no longer creates the desired result and we need to make an important fundamental change (think air use, embouchure, hand position, etc.). It can feel impossible for a time to release our old method, our critiques, our conceptual baggage, and yet slowly through perseverance and building new perspectives we are able to adjust and adapt.
We all have conceptual baggage, and it is also possible for all of us to bring more ease to how we approach challenges.
The next time you encounter a frustrating situation in the practice room (or in life), rather than getting caught up in right or wrong or obsessing over the outcome, try encouraging yourself in an exploratory mindset by keeping the following in mind:
Ascribing meaning to something is an internal value - can you take a step back and notice what you are assigning meaning and value to? How does it make you feel to consider that the meaning and value could be different than what you assumed? What might they also mean to someone looking in from the outside?
Harsh judgements we make about ourselves are not coming from our true self - they come from our judgement of how well we are doing something based on an outside metric and expectations that are often external. Could you view the task at hand without assigning good or bad? Could you see yourself with no judgement at all?
Holding something lightly is just a suggestion - meditation practices will often invite us to hold something lightly, instead of becoming attached to a feeling or outcome. Even this is an invitation, though. You can try it, but maybe just consider what it would mean or how it would feel if you could let go of the outcomes, even just a little.
You don’t have to solve the problem.
The awareness is enough. Knowing what you’d like to change, or even knowing how but not being able to execute it yet is ok - things need time to sink in, percolate, and come to life. What would it be like to sit with your awareness?
Taking a step back and challenging your view, looking at things from a new angle, checking your intentions, and encouraging yourself not to cling are just as valuable as fixing the problem. They create lightness and space around whatever it is we are dealing with, and that’s helpful for all of us.
It’s no secret I love to read.
My monthly newsletter always includes a book recommendation, I share my “what I read list” on Instagram every month, and many of the “small joys” photos I share include a book (with a cat or coffee always close by). I could spend hours in bookstores just browsing and thinking about what to read next.
The title of this blog might seem transparent - there’s clearly lots to be learned from reading. In fact, I had to learn so much via textbook in school that for the years I was enrolled in higher education I hardly ever read for fun.
As I reflect on another year of reading though, I’m aware that my hobby of reading has become about so much more than collecting “book smarts.”
These are the things I learn from reading:
Make Room for Rest
In this day and age, rest often means mindlessly scrolling or bingeing Netflix. Don’t get me wrong, both of those activities really can help us decompress…but there’s a limit. Sitting down to read means I am setting aside the possibility of noticing a new email or notification on my phone. I am consciously tucking in with my lunch, or on the couch to end the evening. Allowing myself the option to doze off in the most gentle of ways, somewhere in the passages of a good book, is its own kind of permission to rest (and beats falling asleep to blue light any day).
Be Gentle with Yourself
None of us are strangers to the feeling that we must be accomplishing something, and at all times, to be good or useful. Reading in this way is like a mini rebellion. Maybe I’m learning, or maybe I’m not, but for the time I’m holding the book it doesn’t matter.
Enjoyment Belongs In Every Day of our Everyday Life
Do you ever catch yourself escaping into your phone or Netflix? That nagging feeling of not completing something important is there, and yet you slink off into blissful scrolling oblivion anyway? It might not be a bad thing to allow yourself those moments of respite - although not if you catch yourself picking your phone up or checking your notifications right in the middle of an important task, and I do think they’re better spent with a book…
Ideas Take Time to Come Together
I love to read for pleasure, but I also enjoy reading about subjects that fascinate me. I go through phases of both each year, but am always struck by how much space I need for information to start to knit together into new ideas. It could be days or weeks after I finish something interesting and I will find myself struck with how it relates to teaching or performing. Suddenly, and almost out of nowhere, a very clear idea will pop up tying all sorts of seemingly random but relevant information together.
Pausing is Not a Reward, Not Everything Needs a Purpose
If I’m being honest, I initially “allowed” myself my reading habit because although I loved it, it was also productive. It had purpose, and heaven forbid that I do anything simply because I love it. Even my outlets had to be well, outlets. They were a relief from something, meant to get me back on track with my responsible and acceptable goals. (I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I type). I still struggle with that mindset, but no matter what our hustle culture tells you, pausing for fun and leisure is not something we have to earn somehow.
I could learn these lessons from any hobby or pastime, it just happens that one of my favorites is reading. I have others that bring me joy, and I would guess that you do, too. Maybe like me you resurrected them during the pandemic. Did you set them aside when you went back to work, though? Maybe those pandemic projects deserve a cherished spot in your regular life, too.
I chose to use “learn” instead of “learned” in the title of this blog because reading, for me, isn’t about what new info I walk away from each book with, although that’s an obvious benefit. At its core, reading has come to represent how we intertwine work, pleasure, and the demands of every day life in a way that is fulfilling and enriching. It points out that we never know what’s ahead, and I want to end each day with a balance of effort and joy that feels good.
How often have you looked back at things you wish you would have done?
Laying awake at night thinking about what we wish we hadn’t said or done has become a bit of a standard joke, but in an achievement driven culture or field it can feel awfully relatable.
Even if it’s not keeping you up at night, I think it’s safe to say that most of us have choices we wish we would have made differently or situations we wish we would have handled differently in our past.
Regardless of how often you find yourself thinking about these past experiences, most of us probably spend much more time with the negative ones than the positive ones. To some extent, that’s likely for a positive reason. We all have a desire to grow, and using previous failures is a valid way to consider how we would like to move forward.
However, it might also be healthy to do the opposite.
When was the last time you drew some inspiration from yourself?
When was the last time you really thought about something you did that took courage, or something you prepared well for that had a positive outcome?
Even if your look back at yourself is neutral, rather than negative, there is a lot to be gained. It might be as simple as realizing that you weren’t as far behind as you thought.
As with most things, balance is key. Always seeing yourself with a super negative view would be unhelpful, but the same is true for viewing yourself in an inflated positive way all the time.
The next time you feel motivated to critique your past behaviors, consider also what you did right. Could you list both things and see them as just that…a list? Objective data on the situation that might come in handy later is a lot easier to work with in the future than a late night binge of self judgement.
The internet is so many things - a great source of information and inspiration, and also a chance to see how many people are already doing amazing versions of what you’d like to do.
That might sound cynical, but while I think we can find so much inspiration on the web, we can also feel defeated when we see our passions and ideas showing up in other people’s work.
Of course, it has been this way throughout history, and there are lots of famous examples of big discoveries happening simultaneously although only one person would end up being well known. It’s just that in 1800, the internet didn’t exist to let people know they weren’t alone in their genius.
In my case, I’m seeing the boom of mindfulness and wellness amongst musicians online at the same time that I am becoming more educated on these topics. It would be easy to feel like the ship has already sailed.
If we’re looking at it from this pessimistic point of view, then there are lots of things we could easily give up on. Playing the flute would be an obvious one - there are so many amazing flute players past and present, who needs one more?
In fact, I think that because there is so much available to us on the internet, we need people to continue to become experts and artists in places where there are also many other examples of success. It absolutely matters less what the most famous people are doing and more what you are doing to those who are close to you.
It is crucial for your students or peers to see you working hard and succeeding - it encourages them to think about what is possible.
It is impactful for you to build an interest in niche topics - it shows others the value in pursuing something meaningful even if our culture doesn’t prioritize it.
It is important for you to learn how to interpret and communicate through music - your playing will be a unique combination of your experiences and knowledge that leads to valuable performances and interpretations.
It is healthy for you to fail and succeed at something important - it both challenges you to grow and encourages you to keep going.
Beyond this, even though it can be hard to remember in the age of TikTok and Instagram, you are unique! There really isn’t anyone like you, although there will be others who are similar to you.
Your version of what you do, share, teach, and enjoy will be different than anyone else’s. And even if it somehow isn’t, it still matters.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the prevelance of “hacks” on the internet - both the type of person and the incessant shortcuts that are supposed to make things easy and effortless. The dictionary defines a hack as a “person who does dull, routine work.” Seems fitting for the endless internet articles about hacks for cutting avocados and streamlining our workflow.
Hacks play into our cultural desire for speed, efficiency and multi-tasking and our lack of attention and time for deep work. Any creative (and anyone who read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) could tell you, though, that mastery takes time above most else.
As my students begin their school year, especially those in college, I am acutely aware of how much is being asked of them. Students beginning their first year in a new building or location, like middle school, high school, or college, have an especially big job of acclimating to new social and learning environments. First year college students are learning to fully fend for themselves for the first time, and all college students are learning over and over again to motivate themselves without the help of their families.
Anyone who is in school, and all of us who teach, are managing distractions. Our devices, social gatherings, that long lunch you’d like to have, etc. All of these things can zap time in an instant and contribute to the feeling of not having enough hours in any day.
As I observed my students hit the ground running this week, I could already start to see their feelings of overwhelm when it comes to time management. How, exactly, is this all going to fit?
The answer is the opposite of a hack. An anti-hack if you will. It lies in perspective.
Pay attention to your schedule. Where are their gaps that can be used for meals? When are you in the music building with a break that could be used for practicing? The random pockets of time that occur in your schedule are key for productivity in school. Use them to carve out space for intentional deep work.
Be aware of distractions
This includes your phone, iPad, laptop, Apple Watch, friends who are distracted practicers, and all the time you spend lamenting how much you have to do. Try to remain aware of what’s distracting you. Acknowledge those distractions, then forget them. Pick one thing to work on and get started.
Keep your deadlines in view
Make a list of important projects, performances, tests, and other deadlines you have throughout the semester and put it somewhere you will see it often. This list isn’t meant to scare you. Use it as a reminder to do what you can now instead of putting everything off until the last minute.
Find an honesty buddy
Everything is better with a friend. Find a friend who has a similar workload or schedule to you, and ask them to keep you honest. Have them give you a nudge toward what needs done if they catch you faffing (doing things in a disorganized way and generally not achieving much).
Make time for reflection
When it comes to perspective, reflecting on our habits and actions is the MVP. Debrief yourself each week - where did you overwork yourself? Where did you get a little lazy? How’s your sleep schedule?
It’s important to give your mind a break. Make sure you do things you enjoy that are unrelated to your work and studies. Much like sleep, doing fun, restful things allows our brain to process all of the other information it is managing.
None of these points on their own will miraculously make school easy, and they all take time to become habits. They might be a bit obvious, but they are not over simplifications.
Learning is all about effort. You get out of it what you put into it, and gaining a little perspective goes a long way.
Every year as summer ends and a new school year is about to start, I find myself reflecting on the nature of teaching and learning.
When I decided not to pursue a music education degree in college and focus on performance, I knew deep down that I wanted to teach. What I had realized was that I wanted to hyper-focus my own time (and the time that I would hopefully spend teaching in the future) and development on the flute.
Making that decision meant there was potentially a lot less structure to my future, but also the guarantee of a lot more creativity involved in figuring out how I was going to become, quite specifically, a flute teacher.
Good teachers have so many traits. They are skilled, knowledgeable, students in their own right, patient, creative, well-spoken, dynamic, and so many other things. Some of these great traits I certainly don’t have, and I highly doubt anyone has them all.
Teaching music is a singularly unique thing. Many people and schools don’t understand its value or place in education or modern culture. Music teachers work long hours, well beyond the school day, and fight for every ounce of funding they get. Those who dedicate themselves to this kind of teaching do it out of sheer love of music and the impact it makes on people’s lives.
Teaching music outside of any structured school system (like in a private studio of your own creation), and pursuing your own abilities in music, takes another special (insane?) type of personality.
We build our own schedule, structure, and rules. We set our own standards and expectations for both our students and ourselves. We are evaluated by the parents and organizations who pay us, but without a structured system of evaluation. We create our own curriculum - it’s up to us what and how we teach. Even now as an adjunct at a state system university, there are structured expectations of what my students will be able to do, but I am the only person teaching flute and so the curriculum in my studio is still very much my responsibility and creation.
I love doing all of these things. They take time, and some are quite difficult, but I appreciate both the challenges and the freedom to do something in a way that I think is effective and worthwhile. I feel a great deal of responsibility to continue growing and adapting so that I can offer my students my absolute best.
This past weekend, I attended an event that epitomizes much of what we do as flutists - the National Flute Association Convention. This happened to be the 50th anniversary convention, and was held in Chicago. I attended my first NFA convention in 2003 in Las Vegas, and have since been all over the country for NFA conventions from San Diego to Orlando. In total, I have attended 11 of these unbelievable gatherings.
I call it an unbelievable event because to anyone who isn’t a flutist, it really is hard to fathom. Attended by thousands, you are inundated with flute from the moment you arrive. Exhibitors, performances, lectures, masterclasses, workshops, and research are all at your fingertips for five days. Growing up in an era with much less internet made me even more amazed at everything an NFA convention had to offer and the distances people traveled from around the globe to attend.
As a student my wonder had to do with the overwhelming amount of new information and the unbelievable level of artistry. As a professional, I have an intense feeling of wonder that we all choose to love this one instrument and everything it can do and represent so much.
One of the things I enjoy in life is meeting people who aren’t close to any musicians and the reactions they have to what we do, or to the fact that you can attend a flute convention with thousands of other flute enthusiasts. It speaks to the bubble we exist in because of this particular thing that we are devoted to.
This year, after three years off due to the pandemic, what I wanted most from my convention experience was to socialize. I wanted to be with my friends from all over the world who also have decided to pursue this one particular skill in such an intense way. I wanted to talk about how we teach, and how we make a living while balancing our unique work with the world around us.
I realize that by now it may seem that I’ve diverged from my original topic of teaching and learning entirely. But I think that the NFA convention is a really beautiful example of all the things that education is and should be.
At these conventions, you find everyone from absolute beginners of all ages, to accomplished hobbyists, students, orchestral flutists, university professors, and genuine virtuoso performers. They all accept and entertain each other. There is no judgement about what level of flutist you are - everyone is welcome to fully immerse themselves in the rich history and scope of the instrument and learn as much as they can absorb.
For those of us who are no longer students, the convention offers a space for us be enriched. I always leave with new music to learn, new ideas to share, and better equipped to help my students navigate their abilities and purchasing new instruments. As in education, you get out of it what you put into it - your attitude and willingness to interact make a significant impact on your personal experience and how much you benefit.
There is camaraderie for everyone. As a flutist, it’s truly one of the only places that you can find someone who shares the same job as you. Whether you are a freelancer and adjunct or a private teacher who works a “day job” you will likely find someone who is or was in your shoes. We can learn so much from our peers.
There are challenging moments as well. We often realize just how well so many people play and perform. We might question our own habits and approach, but with the right attitude can walk away inspired to do more rather than succumbing to comparison and shame over what we feel we might lack.
As a teacher in recent years, I have seen so many of my students quit the extracurricular activities they love because they feel overwhelmed by a schedule full of AP or honors courses, or because they need to diversify their college resume by participating in every type of activity. The standardized testing they endure at school leaves them feeling like there is little room or value for creativity. I can’t blame them when they spend their earliest years in an environment that praises grades on tests over creating something beautiful.
I wonder how I can continue to show my students the value of playing an instrument - self expression, community, deep learning, focus, and personal enrichment - in a world that doesn’t seem to value those things at all.
After the convention this year, it occurred to me that what I want to create for my students is exactly what I experienced. An environment where you can be inspired by others, express yourself openly, and find value in a pursuit not because someone will give you a grade or praise but because it enriches your experience of life.
The freedom of creating my own curriculum and environment for my students outweighs so many of the challenges of being a musician who teaches. My deep love of learning and being challenged is why I ended up on this path, and I want my students to understand that both of those things always have value. I want them to always feel it’s worthwhile to pursue what they enjoy and grow through even if it’s not a “useful” or “practical” job or skill.
The pursuit is what matters most - that we are trying. That we have something we care about. That we share our skills and knowledge with others. Talent and achievement are nice, but not important.
A certain level of mastery might be required for what we’d like to do, but mastery and recognition are not synonymous. All of us are teaching through our actions, whether we aim to or not, and even on a small scale we can make a big difference.
So while I’m especially glad to have seen my friends face to face that I have not seen in person in at least three years, I am inspired by the level of performance demonstrated by my peers, and I am glad to have found new music to learn and teach, this year I feel a different sense of gratitude and perspective returning home to a new school year.
Maybe what I knew deep down years ago and am just now able to articulate is that I didn’t want to teach music in the first place. What I wanted was to at least try to experience and teach the satisfaction of depth and exploration.
I am grateful to this community of people that all agree it is worthwhile to pursue something in earnest just because you love it, whether you make a living doing it or not, and whether or not the rest of the world says it has value.
I am looking forward at my school year with a renewed commitment to creating a pocket of this community for my students. An environment for deep learning and exploration of something we know has tremendous and lasting value.
Last Friday I had the chance to perform the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto. It was a transformative and rich experience, but the performance was just a small piece of the whole.
Side bar: There will be some backstory here, and it’s for slightly selfish reasons because I want to catalog this period of time so that I can revisit this experience later and fully remember the months leading up to this performance as well as the performance itself. If you’d like to skip ahead, I won’t be offended - jump to the bullet points further on in the post for the lessons I’ve learned that I think could benefit anyone preparing for something big.
The performance fell in the middle of an extremely busy summer festival, and an especially busy week and a half of performances. The run down went something like: Friday - Peter and the Wolf; Monday - Flute and Harp Recital; Wednesday - woodwind sextet performance; Friday - Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto; Saturday - Beethoven 5 and other pieces.
Now, I knew well in advance that I would be facing that timeline, as well as the repertoire I would need to have prepared. I had from roughly January to prep the concerto and late spring to prep the other pieces. It just so happened that I played Peter and the Wolf in March (on only a week’s notice!), so it helped to have that one fresh in my fingers.
What I could not have predicted was the fact that we would buy a house this spring (we were not planning on moving!), do some quick construction on our old house, and move all before the festival got here in mid-July. Add in hosting the first Flute Day at MU and a concerto with the MU Wind Ensemble, and it made for a wild ride in the first half of 2022!
Any one of these things could have completely thrown me in a tailspin not that long ago, but I had a few things working to my advantage. Like most freelance musicians, I have gotten good at learning music in a pinch. Years of filling in and jumping on board have made me confident in my abilities to make it work when I have to.
What that really equates to is squeezing in practice anywhere you can, because you have to. I took my flute on family trips or any time I was away from home for more than a day, squeezed in ten or fifteen minutes any time I could between lessons, and listened to the pieces I would be performing while I was painting walls during our moving and selling process.
So far, none of this is earth shattering information - these are the regular things we do to prepare for performances when we’re busy.
In this case though, I was preparing for an important performance of a concerto that is both famous and long (roughly 30 minutes), just a few years after a major run-in with performance anxiety/regular anxiety/stress.
I’ve spent the last two years learning about why I feel nervous, what I can do before, during and after performances to help with that, and implementing that knowledge so that I am able to give a strong, confident performance that I can enjoy.
That’s no small order, no matter how much experience we have performing, competing in a high performance activity, or putting ourselves out there as creatives.
There are many things that have helped me balance my time so that I can focus on what’s important, which include a willingness to say no to things that might be good (or less than good) but not great; getting enough sleep and eating well; hydrating; making time for things that help me unwind both physically and mentally (like yoga, reading, meditation, and family time).
But there are also some very concrete things that help me tackle feelings of worry and stress, concern about being judged, perfectionism in performance, and my ability to enjoy the moment that I know could benefit anyone who finds themselves in my shoes.
I have to give credit here to a few sources that inspired most of the items in the following list - my teachers who planted pedagogical seeds that have grown into both saplings and strong trees, yoga and mindfulness meditation which have allowed me to begin to understand what it means to be embodied and not just in my mind, George Mumford’s Mindful Athlete course, and Terry Orlick’s book In Pursuit of Excellence.
Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned about trust and preparation:
The most impactful part of this concerto performance for me was that I enjoyed the entire experience. I enjoyed being able to work through difficult practice days and remind myself that nothing is just right from the very beginning. I enjoyed visualizing myself in the moment and thinking about what my best performance could sound and look like. I enjoyed collaborating with the other musicians tremendously - what a treat after months of prepping alone. I even enjoyed feeling nervous on stage because I was able to see my thoughts and nerves for what they were - events, not facts.
What I’ve learned over the last few years is that I’m not actually looking for perfection or virtuosity - I’m looking for balance. Balanced thoughts, balanced embodiment. And this time, I think I found a little of both.
Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.