How's flute going? (2021 version)
A year ago, I wrote “So how is flute going?” about being on my own as a flutist for the first time. I also took a bunch of head shots, which I did again for fun this year.
In high school, flute was pretty much the love of my life. The most dramatic part was auditioning for music schools. Looking at my journal, I can’t help smiling at how melodramatic I was.
About college auditions, 18-year-old me wrote:
“I’m given all these opportunities, so I’ve got to seize them with my whole heart, regardless of the doubts that make me wonder, 'Am I really meant for this?' Beyond any doubt, I know I love making music, & I wouldn’t give that up for the world. Sometimes, that’s enough.”
At 18, getting into the flute studio at Carnegie Mellon meant everything to me. About my CMU audition alone, I wrote half a novel:
“Just being back here makes me emotional. I wish I didn't love it here so much. It’ll hurt if I don’t make it. Like a huge hole ripped into my heart.”
“I played so sloppily [in my audition]. There’s no way I’m getting in… So much for giving the most beautiful performance I could! Instead I fell apart, piece by piece, melting with shame & horror that my fate was being decided so fast & I was ruining everything for myself, right there…. I did make the most of the Dvorak. I remember thinking, this excerpt is all about joy. That made me smile a little, even this deep into an abysmal performance, so I dove in & just poured as much spirit & life as I could into those beautiful lines.”
“It’s been a difficult journey — finding this place I love more than any other place I’ve encountered, a community I believe I could thrive in, and knowing I can’t go here because I’m just not good enough.”
“All the times I’ve struggled to believe it’s even worth practicing, the times I’ve pushed myself so hard, practicing as diligently & intelligently as I can — it didn’t show as much as I would have liked in my audition, but this whole experience is making me a stronger musician. Isn’t that what I want?”
“My musical journey does not end here. After today & well into the future, I will go so far as a musician. There’s so much I can do — and I’ll do it, even though I won’t go to Carnegie Mellon.” (written right after my audition, assuming I didn't get in)
How strange to think this was me, six years ago. If that girl could hear me play now, her eyes would widen. How strange to think that the musician I am today — having spent four years in one of the nation’s most prestigious flute studios, studying with a professor I idolized — is my 18-year-old-self’s dream come true.
It doesn’t feel like that.
When you think of a serious, professional musician, you envision someone who performs constantly.
Almost every day for the past 1.5 years, I've had nothing to practice for. Every few months, I have to re-conceptualize why I still practice. This time around, here's my "why":
Enough time has passed since I graduated from college — since I started working more hours in food service, since quarantine began, since the gigs stopped coming — for me to internalize that even when no one else is listening, I simply have to make music. The way it makes me feel like myself — more than myself — remains one of the most precious experiences I have access to in this life.
This fall, my motivation was running dry. In the past I’d take an extended break, but this time I started experimenting with multi-track recordings. I started to improvise tracks together, leading to a weekly series that I now share on Patreon (scroll down for an example!).
And it worked.
Even during weeks I wasn’t practicing as much, the total disregard for perfectionism, the focus upon joy & creativity — the alchemy of improvisation, radically inviting the present moment into my music-making — kept me riveted to this project.
Then, one night, I couldn’t sleep. One thought led to another, and before I knew it I was imagining what it would've been like to perform my senior recital, which was cancelled due to COVID.
For the first time in months, I started sobbing.
I thought I’d become desensitized to this loss, but the truth is, I miss performing ("more than anything," the melodramatic part of me wants to add).
Making music was crucial to my identity growing up, but it was the act of performing that solidified this identity in the eyes of those around me.
It was the act of performing that opened a doorway into the secret, indescribably precious refuge I built for myself in music, & invited others to step inside.
Through performing, not only did I feel more deeply connected to myself, but I could make of this connection an offering of transcendence to others.
I could go on & on about performing… but without resolution, since I don’t have any gigs in the future. So instead, here’s a video I made yesterday that features original music, followed by a few more thoughts on why I still practice:
“Do I want a music career, or do I just want to make music? In the end, I just want to make music.”
In college, I discovered with guilt that sustaining a robust, daily practice routine didn't come as naturally to me as to my peers.
Resignedly, I saw myself as a "less serious" musician who only felt motivated to practice if she had some exciting reason — a cool new piece for her lesson, a principal part in an orchestra concert, a masterclass. I saw myself as a musician who thrived, not upon discipline as a "real" flutist should, but upon passion & even spontaneity.
But among the wealth of things that graduating into a pandemic has given me, one is clarity. In having no external motivation to make music — a complete rupture from over a decade of playing flute — I’ve had to develop my own connection to the discipline of a strong technical routine.
To be honest, it reminds me of the way love was taught to me as a child — as not an emotion but a choice, an ongoing commitment regardless of how difficult or mundane the circumstances.
So in a light-hearted way, I still see flute as the love of my life (as my family used to tease me). I see it as something I have to choose, each & every day, if I want to maintain the abundance of technical skills that unlock such a profound realm of expression.
Some days (or weeks) I don’t practice as much as I’d want. But far from shaming myself, I've come to embrace this as an inevitable result of being a human first, then a musician.
Recently, I played in a recital hall for the first time since before quarantine!!! So I recorded this video of me playing entirely for fun. (Yes, this is the 3rd or 4th time I've shared this specific excerpt on my blog. It's just one of my favorite things to play.)