As always, any semblance of organization is merely illusory. You’ve been warned. :P
Music has been a nominal part of my life since age 5, when I started taking piano lessons (with violin lessons following shortly after at ages 6-7). I went to lessons, was told what to practice, what to do, and went home and practiced as I was told, setting the counter for precisely 30 minutes, 3 times a day, and trudging through painful scales, usually satisfied with running through my pieces top to bottom 3-5 times and calling it “done”. Looking back at that, what a disrespectful musician I was, haha. The pieces of the great composers of the past, simply replicated with no heart nor soul, (very) often at the urging of my mother. I “knew” music, but did I really know music?
When I began middle school in 6th grade, I, like most others, didn’t really have a strong feeling about future - where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. Life just flowed by at that time, day by day, year by year, as it does when you’re a kid.
I don’t recall the exact reason that I joined it, other than the fact that Leander ISD didn’t have an orchestra, so I had to join band. I don’t even recall an exact reason for choosing that instrument, other than the fact that my oldest sister already had one, so we didn’t have to purchase more instruments.
“It” and “that”, of course, refer to “band” and “flute”. Under the direction of my wonderful middle school director, our group excelled far beyond any other groups in the area, becoming one of the most renown in not only the state but nationally. We were invited to perform at multiple state and national level conferences, and were (and still are!) the talk of the state. Working together in a group was easy under our brilliant director.
But that only covers the “band” part. What about “flute”? I mostly gave it the same maltreatment as my other two instruments, practicing it barely, if at all. (Don’t tell my director, but I faked some of those practice records! :P). Somehow, I still managed to get 1’s at solo and ensemble and not get my butt kicked by my director. Being told you’re “talented” tends to have the negative effect of making people like me complacent and lazy. When I didn’t make region, or didn’t get a solo for a band piece, I would stupidly state “I did my best; I have no regrets”, even though I put in nearly zero effort outside the day of the test. Why is that? Have I really not developed as a musician since I started piano five years ago? The answer was, it seemed, apparently not.
Looking back again, this is such a laughable problem - every middle school band student, at some point in their lives, hears horror stories about how marching band is evil - the hawkish directors standing on the tower yelling orders, the sun literally beating you into the earth, the sheer idea of having to “march” around and play at the same time, the horror stories of “academic pressure”. I, like anyone else, was influenced. Would I continue? Or would I “quit”? I made a little, in retrospect silly (again), deal with my mother, where I would be allowed to continue only if I made the Wind Ensemble (the top group at Vista Ridge).
Those familiar with me know that the story doesn’t end there, not even close. The year after, I was happily a part of the Vista Ridge Band.
I will refrain from talking too much about my experiences in a group, as part of the Vista Ridge Band and its flute section and leadership team. It was among the best experiences in my life, see my leadership story, but this post will be about myself.
The change didn’t come on a single day, it slowly crept up over the course of the year. I had begun to actually put effort into practicing my flute, at first 30 minutes every day, then gradually increasing. I might attribute that to finally discovering how beautiful a flute sounds when played well, or having good role models in the upperclassmen, but in reality, I still don’t know what sparked my increase in effort, other than the fact that I just..began working harder.
Flute awoke me to music itself. What exists beyond the boundary of the ink on the paper? Beyond simply playing “louder” when you see an ‘f’ or ‘<’ or “softer” when you see a ‘p’ or ‘>’? I felt more challenged by my peers and teachers and more challenged myself to seek this meaning. What do you want your audience to envision and feel when they hear your sound? These questions I asked and attempted to answer every day, and every week in a practice with my teacher, and often a certain Kate in the corner :P
My last year, I played a piece called Poem by Charles Griffes. Never had I put more heart, soul, life into music. My performance of that piece was a composition of all my time and memory with flute and the wonderful friends and memories it has brought me. Without the 6 years preceding that performance, it would have never turned out the way it did.
I graduated a little less than a year ago. Over the summer I played around on a scattered assortment of fun tunes and my friend’s solos, and in the fall I played a duet with a friend from college, as well as in a hobbyist orchestra.
The former was quite fulfilling and fun, but otherwise, it felt and feels like what was once awake and thriving was now going back to sleep. What I poured hundreds of hours into over the past six years is fading into a dream. Where is the passion for flute and music? Where is my sound? Where is my spirit?
Lots of things come into my mind every time I pick up my flute since June 6th, 2015.
- Am I going to sound good today?
- Why am I still playing?
- What will I play?
- Is this good enough?
- I don’t want to suck.
And a whole host of similar questions. As I progressed through high school, I was increasingly taught to appreciate musicality and soul as much as (and in some cases even more than) I do tone and purity of sound. I tried promising myself after graduating that I would always keep playing with soul, spirit, musicality. But again and again I realize I can’t, because the fear of “sucking” creeps up right behind me. I don’t want to sound like crap. I don’t want to sound like how I sounded before I put in the hundreds of hours in high school to build up this skill, because that just invalidates all of that work, doesn’t it?
The choices I have currently boil down to:
- Quit. Say goodbye to flute forever and just stop the confusion in my head.
- Find music somewhere else. Compose, take up piano again, etc.
- Make a conscious, consistent effort to practice. Carefully, mindfully, willfully. Put the work in to maintain my skill. Find places where I can perform instead of playing long tones and simple tunes every day. I seriously considered the first for a while, but I just can’t. Too much has gone into me from my former teachers, peers, and my past self for me to do that to myself.
I’m considering this a public statement of my decision on the third. I’ll do it, I will. I’ll post occasional updates on how it’s going.
Ahh…flute players. Walking whirlwinds of emotion. We never change, do we? :P