Monday, August 26, 2013

The big bad world of university

Studying music in university - the reality

Hello lovelies! Today's blog may come across as an eye-opener or a common feeling, you be the judge. My intentions are to not discourage but to be honest based on my experiences being a music student. Please don't think of me as a Debbie Downer, I promise this blog will end on a positive note.

Yesterday, my wonderful friend and colleague Emilie came over and we talked about our experiences, both the negative and positive aspects. So today's blog reflects my experiences and how it is important to bring up some obstacles music students may face when entering a music school of high standard or any school of performing arts.

Many of my non-music friends frequently stated "Studying music must be so easy and fun!". If I collected a dime for every time I heard that, I would be off somewhere in Italy drinking delicious bellinis all day in the sun. Okay...I'd probably be an alcoholic with money (or no money from drinking bellinis all day?).

Let me put it this way: Studying music is not easy. In fact, it is so far from easy it might as well be in a different galaxy. On top of your regular homework, music students usually put in at least 2+ hours of practice everyday, prepare for auditions for various ensembles/orchestras, participate in masterclasses, promote themselves within the community, teach private lessons, maintain a part time job (in my case), and of course squeeze in a couple of hours of sleep here and there. If you ever walk in Perez Hall (University of Ottawa music building), don't mistake the people sleeping on the floor for the homeless, it's music students.

Coming in to university I felt on top of the world. I was one of three 1st year flute students selected and I couldn't feel any luckier. I was very impressed with my class selection and the hospitality of the staff. Many of us newbies became friends quickly, especially in the flute studio. Duh.

Here are a few things to consider:

1) The people you will meet will not only become good friends, but also competition:

This is obvious, guys. At the tender age of 18, it took me awhile to realize this since I was so caught up with socializing and Frosh week. As amazing as my friends are, I had to realize that they are my competition, that one spot needed to play in an ensemble. Not only did I have to compete for a spot against my newfound friends, I also had to compete against flautists at the Master's level, five years my senior. Not intimidating at all (insert sarcasm here).

My first audition up was for Wind Ensemble, the school's concert band. I auditioned with Telemann's Sonata in F major and nailed my sight reading. Audition number two was for Orchestra and also consisted of the same process.
A few days later, I saw the list of successful candidates. My name wasn't there.

2) Don't expect to make it in every ensemble:

When I was in high school, I had no problem getting into all the great ensembles since I was one of the top music students (don't mean to brag). In that moment when my name wasn't on that list, I felt like I drifted from top to bottom at light speed.

Lordy lord that was an eye opener.

It was incredibly discouraging and I wasn't sure how to approach my friends and family to deliver the bad news. Embarrassment was an understatement. For a couple of weeks I found it hard to feel motivated to audition for anything ever again. As a back up, I enrolled in flute ensemble. Here I was surrounded by other flautists who endured the same news as I yet they were all very positive and made the most of their playing.

3) If you find the right friends, you will have a great support system:

Who better to understand than your fellow colleagues who are going through the same hump? My fellow saxophone friends were in the same boat when it came to auditions. In fact, they didn't have the option to audition for Orchestra! I made it my mission to surround myself with positive people and be as optimistic as I can. Even Joanna (my private teacher) was very encouraging. Your private teachers are great for advice on auditions. Trust me, they've done it 859654867458 times and likely went through the same hump.

4) University can be just like high school all over again, if you let it:

You would think that being surrounded by a large group of musicians would be insanely awesome and an inseparable bond would be formed.

No. Just no. I can't...

Sure you make friends for life, form a band, find love, create memories you'll never forget but sometimes you will be dealing with an array of difficult personalities along the way. Let' be real: no one is perfect but there are some people who think they are damn close to it.

Do me a favour: avoid them at all costs. Lifejackets optional but recommended.

When you're 18, society may view you officially as a an adult but mentally you may not be there just yet. I developed a crush on a guy in second semester and made the mistake of telling the wrong people. Soon enough, I was hearing a lot of whispers around me and I became very shy. My first thought was "holy fuck this is like high school, aren't we past this?".  At that moment, I knew I had to be careful and not be such an open book to people I barely knew. The only way I could get past this was to put on my big girl pants and not let silly things like that affect my life.

5) Plan a realistic career for yourself

My dream was to become a famous flautist, tour the world with an orchestra and get my Ph.D in music. When I realized that's not what I wanted, I decided to go towards the education route. Not interested. So where does this leave me? I was in 2nd year and had to decide what field in music I should pursue and decide damn quickly. The 2nd year jury exam (performance exams in front of a panel) is also your audition into the performance field of your degree. This is where your degree really takes off if you wanted to perform. This requires more practice time, auditions, recitals and expectations to join as many ensembles as you can. Serious business, guys.

By end of second year, Joanna mentioned the field of arts administration. A light bulb lit and I was seeing stars for the first time since my unsuccessful auditions. How the hell did I not think of this before?

This was my calling. It had to be.

I now leave you with this:

See ya'll later.

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