edit: Spring, the season of *listening to other's* flute recitals
It’s funny how you can go an entire year of never turning back, never questioning the choices that led you so far. One year of knowing why you diverged, knowing it was right for you, and continuing to build your own path.
Then, listening to your former studio-mates’ livestreamed recitals knocks you off-center so forcefully, that for a moment — a moment that stops time — all you can see is who you could have been:
Like them, delivering a robust program in a resonant concert hall, with hundreds of eyes upon them as they release the sound they’ve been honing rigorously over the past year (no occasional weeks away from practicing for them), vibrating through every square inch of the concert hall — so clearly, with such presence, you can feel it from behind a computer.
Suddenly, you forget what you spent your entire undergraduate learning: there are many paths to being a musician, and my worth didn’t lie in which path I chose — because every musician has to choose that for themselves.
Suddenly, I believed I had chosen wrong.
It didn’t matter that this particular narrative about How to be a Flutist is the same one almost everyone pursues — down to a staggering performance of Jolivet’s Chant de Linos in a sleeveless gown. Each time, it takes on new life, a unique iridescence that leaves all of us moved by their commitment to this path and brimming with admiration.
All I could feel was the admiration I had for my former studiomates, watching them bow in recital halls ringing with applause — the admiration we all had for them, and a silent voice in my head: "Their paths have brought them to a place of being 'rightly' seen and celebrated, whereas everything I've been doing on my own is tangential — not bad, but not to be taken seriously."
In defining for myself what it means to be a musician but also a writer, also a teaching artist, I willfully shed the shelter of an institution — its weight, power, and prestige — to validate anything I’m doing.
In deciding to “do it all on my own,” I’ve rejected the visibility of belonging to any kind of organization, any collective that has materialized and entered the sphere of “respectable” and “to be taken seriously.”
“I keep playing because it brings me joy & meaning and, sometimes, it can do that for others too." I wrote this only yesterday, when a friend asked how I approach practicing flute out of college.
Now the unspoken caveat was, “That’s nice, but now you’re invisible and irrelevant.”
Watching these livestreamed recitals, I started to think of my recent music projects — of which I’d been so proud — as hopelessly trite.
I couldn’t get over the unmistakable beauty and courage of what they were doing, of how they were Being a Musician — right down to their performances of Chant de Linos in a sleeveless gown.
Which shows how far from myself I’ve been shaken.
For one, Chant de Linos is a piece I’ve never had much desire to play — after listening to it performed (and practiced relentlessly) many times over the past four years, I have not felt compelled to add my name to the long list of flutists who have mastered those insanely difficult passages, who have developed convincing interpretations of those long, nuanced phrases.
For another, I can’t even wear a sleeveless gown — not without considerable backlash (the reason why will become evident in my next blog post). Then again, why does this detail bother me?
I may be the only one who chooses to see it, but parallel to this well-trodden path of How to be a Musician, there’s another path: How to be a Woman who Plays the Flute. And for a moment, I grieved who I could have been, not only for my sake but for my parents’.
I thought of how proud they would've been, how much more they'd prefer to see me exactly like my peers: without a shaved head, without tattoos (at least in visible places), a young woman in grad school, unequivocal in her embodiment of femininity. How, in the recesses of a beautiful concert hall, in an expensive gown, it would be unquestionable that I was “making it,” I “had a future” as a musician, and I was making all of us so proud.
Even more, it reminded of how fiercely I miss playing with other musicians, and the way my sound could fill a concert hall.
Well, I’ve spent enough time in this headspace. Every loss asks to be grieved.
Today I’m haunted by the ghost of who I'd be in this moment, if I had chosen differently during my senior year of college and gone directly to grad school for flute performance, as I believed I would for years.
But maybe it’s a question of trading one ghost for another.
If I were a woman who had chosen differently, if I were still sparkling from the thrill of having just performed a graduate recital that showcased exponential growth as a musician over the past year, I would not have known the thrill of being on my own.
To be haunted by the ghost of everything I’ve had to discover for myself, of all the ways I’ve been bitterly lost, then found light in places where I never could have seen it otherwise (if this sounds dramatic, it'll become clear in my next post) — this would haunt me unbearably, whereas I know this moment will pass.
And this tells me, as hard as it is to swallow, that I chose well.