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?
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.