Friday, January 12, 2018

6 Ways to be Kind to Your Musical Self

Have a Project for You

Amid everything else going on professionally, academically, and personally, have a passion project that is for you.  It's a project that you can pour your interest, creativity, and energy into when that uneasy feeling strikes.  You know the feeling - the one that says "you're doing a lot of things, and you're active, but we both know that it's not feeding you." When that voice appears, it's time to dig in to your passion project.

It could be performance related, maybe a new piece you want to pursue.  
It could be a composition you've been drafting.  
It could be reading about a composer you've discovered and want to know more about.  
It could be your love of photography, videography, visual art...anything.  
Chances are, you already have an idea and just haven't started.  

Start.

Have a YOU Practice

There are certain fields that take an extraordinary amount of dedication to find success, and music is certainly one of them (not like I needed to tell you that).  The flip side of our ability to focus is that we can neglect ourselves for a significant amount of time until the self says, "Hey! What about me?!" in the form of depression, panic attacks, malaise, fatigue, illness, or a host of other things.  

We can't separate our musical selves from our complete selves: it's one of the reasons we choose to communicate emotion to the public.  Enjoy some self-care in the form of nurturing your mind, spirit, body, or heart, whichever speaks to you most fervently.  It can be making time to read, meditate, exercise, or call family or a long-distance friend.  

Sometimes "No" is the Right Answer

Overcommitment is one of the most common errors musicians make.  We simply say yes to too many projects, never knowing which one will be the one that "lands" and provides a long-term avenue for fulfillment - financial and artistic.  There's a time when saying yes to everything makes sense, like when you're trying to break into a new scene in a new place, but there's also a time when you have to start saying no for self-preservation. 

A proposed opportunity or activity should meet at least one of your needs: artistic, professional, social, or financial.  If it doesn't, it could be best to say no.  If you've played months of short, non-fulfilling gigs, presenting a concert of new music with friends could be artistically and socially needed.  If you're feeling particularly down about status, then aiming for - and saying yes to - any kind of professional opportunity can meet your needs.  

A danger of overcommitment is a decrease in quality in your performance.  We have to check and balance our level of activity with our ability to perform at that level well.  If you are so busy you're screwing up, you're just showing that to more and more people, right? It could be time to say no.

Mentally Practice/Score Study

When we start something new, it's really hard to get rid of that first practice sound.  If there's not a specific direction in mind, whatever comes out of the instrument will get stuck in our ears as the default sound of the piece and be really, really hard to get rid of. 

Absorb, wonder, and answer your own questions from the comforts of home, your favorite coffee shop, or a nice nook in the library.  Analyzing and digesting a piece away from an instrument often cues how to play it, and can put a sound in your ear before that first practice session.  
 

Think Long and Short Term

There's two ways to think of this: 1 - thinking/planning ahead in 5yr, 1yr, and smaller increments, and 2 - to be kind to your future self by working hard now.

On Thinking and Planning Ahead
It can be hard to think about a goal for 5 years from now when it feels like you can barely keep your head above water in the present.  But perhaps a farther goal can help you discern when to say no to certain things.  

Some goals, like building an interesting and active website, could take a year.  Others, like wanting to become a famous soloist, will take longer, much longer than 5 years.  You need to develop technique, win competitions, make recordings, find a niche that aligns with your passions, etc. Some of those steps can be 1yr goals that can only be met by smaller assignments made on a long term basis. 

Be Kind to Your Future Self by Working Hard Now
This one's for the procrastinators out there, myself included.  Though I don't procrastinate in a commitment that involves others, if I'm booked for a solo performance I sometimes wait too long to decide what to play or start working on the piece.  It's a problem because I know that I learn music quickly, so I know that I can do it; but I'm also going to be incredibly stressed and mostly unlikable during the process. 

I've realized that it's a kindness to my future self to not procrastinate, as a means to keep a balanced stress level.  It's a kindness to our future selves to work hard now.  It's a kindness to the abilities of your future self to make sure you develop great reading skills now.  It's a kindness to your future self, who will need employment, to attend the classes and develop the skills now.  

Get Quiet

Getting quiet doesn't have to mean anything formal, but it does mean for a short period of time to block out the needs and requests of others, turn off the screens, and put aside the studious self.  You can get quiet in your office between appointments, in a practice room between classes, or even at an uncrowded bar to enjoy a drink just for yourself.  In grad school my favorite place for quietude was in the courtyard at the Boston Public Library.  It was quiet and nobody knew I was there aside from other strangers who I can only assume were in search of the same quiet I was.

The main idea is that for a short while no information comes in and no information goes out. You just get to be for a minute and enjoy it.  The cleanse provided by these quiet moments makes room for creativity and music, and makes it possible to focus on the demands of meaningful performance.

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