What we Wish you Knew: An Open Letter from Music Students

 

Dear University and High School,

I was fortunate in high school to have had a wonderful arts department. The faculty, students, and facilities were excellent and I was well-prepared to be a college-level musician. Now, I am studying at a conservatory among talented peers under the direction of stellar professors.

But something is missing.

Support.

My high school music program and college conservatory were and are both incredibly supportive…internally. Within the arts departments, students and professors know each other well, building friendships and mentorships that will endure a lifetime. We cheer each other on in concerts, accompany each others’ solos, give each other advice. We pray for each other, share in the joy of each others’ accomplishments, and listen to each other practice the same piece for what feels like the millionth time.

But this is all internal support. “Intra-conservatory” if you will. Outside the walls of our halls, there is little understanding of who we are or what we do, causing music students to feel unknown and undervalued. This is not something that can be resolved overnight; however, it is vital to not forget what the arts contribute and, in turn, how you as a university can show your appreciation.

For instance, we as a conservatory or high school music program…

  1. …are there for youThe symphony orchestra played for a ceremony honoring the construction of a new science building. The chorale sings for all-student-body chapels. We as a department are there for you, the school as a whole. We love to see other departments benefit and want to lead the rest of the school in worship. However, this supportive relationship cannot be one-sided; we long for appreciation beyond a casual “thanks” in return.
  2. …earn scholarships too. Every time an athlete signs on with a university team or earns a scholarship, the school newspaper writes an article about it. I wonder if the school or the paper realize that music students also are recruited and offered large scholarships to attend and perform in ensembles, just like a sports team… Recognition of these awards equates to recognizing the excellence of the conservatory and the honor of being selected to participate in its ensembles.
  3. …are a tool for recruitment. The chorale tours every year, even when it is least convenient, in order to ensure that recruitment and enrollment at the school continue to increase. However, although members love to sing and to share their gifts with potential students, it is discouraging to go through all this work to serve the school and not receive any acknowledgement.
  4. …open our home to you. During large university events such as conferences, the conservatory opens its doors to all students, welcoming them into the hall that has become a second home for music majors. However, these visiting non-music students and faculty disregard this kindness by bringing in food and drink, leaving behind trash, and acting unruly. Please treat our building with respect! It is old, overcrowded, and falling apart enough already! (We don’t seem to be getting a new one any time soon.)
  5. …provide a community for anyone. Even if you are not a music major, if you are willing to be a team player, have a heart for music, or simply want a wonderful group of friends who will be there for you through thick and thin, the conservatory will welcome you with open arms. Ensembles open to everyone are offered, allowing those who might not have the desire (or insanity) necessary to be a music major to still enjoy the tight-knit and loving community that musicians offer.
  6. …are diligent and dedicated. What other major requires 4-6 hours of study every single day for only one class? And yet, we love what we do and chose to do it. Music majors are among the most dedicated and motivated students you will ever meet. They love what they do, even when it is stressful, and will push themselves to the maximum to ensure that they do it with excellence. Now, doesn’t that sound like the type of student a university would want to encourage and prioritize?
  7. …showcase the school’s strengths. Our university is full of talent, not just in the music department. However, the conservatory showcases these talents on stage for anyone to see. Community members not affiliated with the school often attend concerts and praise the program for its superior quality. Shouldn’t the school be more interested in the program that is drawing in outsiders and showing off the school’s strengths?
  8. …are more than musicians. Within the conservatory are writers, actors, dancers, artists, photographers, and athletes. There are future teachers, authors, businessmen, administrators, and missionaries. Music students are interested in a wide array of fields. However, in not investing in their lives as music students, the school is not investing in their wealth of other opportunities as well, which have the potential to benefit the school and the future of their chosen fields.
  9. …serve other departments. Composers write scores for the film department, pianists play for administrative events, and chamber ensembles perform for art shows. We even started a chapel to serve the more traditional people at the school. Whenever there is a need for music, the conservatory students are thrilled to help, in spite of their already overloaded schedules. We want to team up with other departments and thus foster greater cross-campus unity. However, it is difficult to continue doing so with the university seemingly providing only limited resources and support.
  10. …want to share our passion with you. The biggest thing to know about this issue is that we want to share with you. Any time we complain about being ignored or undervalued, we are expressing a deeper sadness that we are unable to share our gifts with our university community. We work from sunrise to midnight to create operas and concerts, eager to share the fruits of our labor with the school. But how are we to do this with an empty hall, or -worse- an audience that leaves at intermission?

We are pleading with you, our fellow students (and especially our administration), to come to our concerts, to experience for yourself the beauty of the music we love. Yes, we would love a new building with enough practice rooms and working facilities. We would love increased funding so that we can put on more lavish events or purchase the supplies we need. We would love to be included in the headlines of the school newspaper. However, the most meaningful way you as a university can show us your support is also the smallest: simply come and listen. 

Everythingism

I promise I’ll explain the cat sandwich in space picture in the end, so just bear with me for a few paragraphs, okay? Thanks.

I am what most would consider a perfectionist, which is in itself both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, it leads me to, more often than not, accomplish my goals with a high degree of excellence. However, it also leads to misery when I meet with any outcome that I see as failure, which happens far too frequently because perfectionism’s continual lie is that if the outcome is in any way short of flawless, it might as well be a failure worth mourning.

 

As rough as perfectionism makes life, I am learning to move past it. I have had to logically tell myself that I probably will not earn 100% in every class (I might have to be happy with- dare I say it?- a regular A), I won’t win every music competition despite hours and hours of practice, and- silly as it sounds- I need to give up trying to wrestle my hair into the ideal braid because, despite what Pinterest says, no formal hairstyle can really be done in five minutes. In these areas and more, I have learned and am continuing to learn to let the struggle for perfection go and instead find contentment in the pursuit of excellence.

Perfection cannot be achieved and I’m fine with that. (Well, I’m trying to be fine with it.) However, my contentment faces another enemy:

Everythingism.

I know, that’s not a real word, but I don’t care. Dinglehopper. That’s not a word either. So there. Anyway, as I spend more and more time working on my college studies, I find myself fighting harder and harder with everythingism and I’m afraid it is a losing battle.

 

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“Everythingism”is the only way I could think to describe my intrinsic compulsion to do everything. I am a piano performance major, but also am in the honors college, sing in the top choral ensemble, and have a job as an accompanist at a local church. On top of that, I try to post to this blog regularly and want to finish writing my novel. Oh, and I want to compose music. And resume taking organ lessons. And go running daily. And become a better dancer. And run a macaron bakery. And, and, and…the list goes on and on.

But I can’t. 

I cannot do everything and I especially cannot do everything perfectly. Combined, my everythingism and perfectionism are a recipe for exhaustion, frustration, and discontent. I admit that I like to be busy and can balance quite a few commitments at once, but not everything. That said, I just wanted to encourage my fellow perfectionists and everythingists to take a step back, evaluate what their priorities really are, and breathe. Just breathe for a second. Feels good, doesn’t it? 😉  Now keep reading:

The Everythingist’s Guide to Survival Thriving: 

  1. Tackle perfectionism first: You will not be the best in everything. You will not always complete your ginormous to-do list. There will always be some area that needs improvement and THAT IS OKAY. Sorry, now I look like I’m yelling and I don’t want you to be stressed any more than you already are. Let me repeat myself softer: that is okay. 
  2. Don’t give up: In abandoning perfectionism, do not abandon the drive to succeed. There is such thing as a healthy desire to do well and you should still be aspiring for excellence in your pursuits; just go a bit easier on yourself.
  3. Prioritize: Get out a paper and pen if that helps. Write down what your biggest priorities are at this time in life and focus your energy on those rather than worrying about everything you want you do ever all at once. (Even that sentence sounded overwhelming! *shudder*)
  4. Do the social: I often forget this, which is silly since it’s my own advice. As an introvert and everythingist, I too often lock myself away with the piano or my books as I pursue a goal. But humans need community and I find that fun with friends after a busy week can be a great source of restoration.
  5. Listen to your body: Everythingists don’t like the fact that they get tired or hungry because time spent sleeping or eating means time spent not working. However, no matter how hard you try, you cannot logic away the biological need to rest and restore. If you’re tired, just take a nap instead of muddling through an hour of sloppy “work.”
  6. Let some things go: Prioritizing will help you see what things to focus on and likely what things to let go. You do not necessarily have to let things go forever, but it is important to decide what you need to do in the present and focus instead on that than what you one day expect you might possibly do in the future. (See my point? The present is much more urgent.)
  7. Be decisive: In wanting to do everything, I waste time trying to decide between multiple options. Should I go dancing or run? Practice piano or compose? Stop. Just pick one. Check your list of priorities or draw paper slips from a hat. Just choose something and get to it.
  8. Take a break: Go ahead, let Netflix play one more episode. Sometimes, when you’ve been going nonstop since the break of day, you need to do nothing so that tomorrow you can keep doing everything (or at least a lot of things.)

 

So there you have it. I’m sure I’ll keep adding to this list of ways to cope with everythingism, but I’m still learning how to deal with it myself. Overall, I believe the best advice can be found in something my dad told me: Be content, but not complacent.” Find a peace in knowing that you do not have to do it all perfectly or do it all now, but do not forget to strive for excellence in what you do choose to pursue.

Oh, and one more word of wisdom:

“Don’t be an everythingist or your life will turn into the human equivalent of a cat sandwich in space: too many things without any clear rhyme or reason.” -Yours Truly

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“So you want to be a piano-ist?” and Other Responses to my Major

“What’s your major?” seems to be the question of the month and I am seriously considering giving false answers if (scratch that, when) I am asked this again because it is getting a little old. As a music major with an emphasis in piano performance, though, I have heard some terribly amusing responses to my answer to this frequent question…

Schroeder is my spirit animal. He was also a sass-master. 

The Top 8 Best (or perhaps worst) Responses to Learning my Major

1. “Oh, so you must be pretty good at piano then, huh?” 

Um…. How am I supposed to answer this? I either will sound arrogant or awkwardly lacking in confidence.

2. “Wait, a music major? They have that here?” 

Yes. Yes they do. But you won’t generally see the music majors as we tend to lurk about in caves called practice rooms.

3. “Piano performance? So have you played piano before?” 

Nope. Never. I just thought I’d give it a shot. (*voice drips with sarcasm as thirteen years of lessons flash though my mind*)

4. “Can you play ‘Fur Elise’?”  (Or worse: “Do you know ‘Heart and Soul?'”)

Yep. I smile, but inside my face looks like one of those unamused emojis. Actually I had a teacher who forbid me to play ‘Heart and Soul’ on his piano because he found it insulting. (Admittedly I kind of enjoy it…but don’t tell anyone or I’ll never escape the round of C-A-F-G octaves.)

5. “Piano? I used to play piano! But then I quite because I hated it.”

Thanks for sharing…I think? I’m never sure how to respond to this one.

6. “So do you want to be a piano-ist?” 

No, I want to be a pianist, but for the sake of conversation, sure. Actually, I would love to be a collaborative piano-ist, which is basically an “accom-piano-ist”. (*smiles politely but inwardly cringing at the incorrect terms*)

7. “Have you heard of (insert pop song featuring some keyboard riffs)? I love that song!” 

No, I probably have not heard of it, but if you hum the tune I can play the same four-chord progression over and over so that it sounds like I know it. Is that close enough for you?

8. “You’re a piano major? Well, you’ll survive- maybe not with a soul, but you’ll probably survive.”

This one was from a senior piano major actually. Much encouragement. Very daunting. Many thanks.

*disclaimer: high levels of sass went into the drafting of this post and the author would like it to be known that she does not actually mind the “amusing” responses to her major. She also would like to inform readers that no communications or business majors were harmed or seriously offended in the making of this post.