that space between a student & a "real" professional
Some more thoughts on being a musician out-of-school without stable employment in music.
Recently someone sent me a message to the effect of, “Wow, look at this professional flutist from our high school! Do you know her?”
Actually, I did — not only did I study with the same professor for my undergrad as she did for her Master’s, but she was my first flute teacher & my earliest inspiration to pursue music.
Delighted at her success as an orchestral flutist, I was annoyed by how his message implied I'm an amateur because I lack the trappings of a professional. Not only have I never advanced in an orchestral audition, I’ve never taken one — never committed to the technical routine & endless hours of practicing excerpts.
But is this the only way to be taken seriously in music? To lots of people, yes.
Another display of success in classical music is a recital. And it's recital season... again.
Last spring was my first time watching recitals from the sidelines. Envious, I began to question what I’d never questioned: why hadn’t I gone to grad school for flute performance? What possessed me to believe that anything I created by myself, any musical growth I realized on my own, could be taken seriously?
The self-doubt was so tumultuous, I wrote this blog post within minutes, which helped. But as recital season comes back around, I’m wary of another wave of regret & insecurity as I watch from the sidelines.
Recently, a fellow flutist told me I could do anything I wanted on flute; it was only a question of whether or not I decided it was worth my attention.
She’d read my previous post in which I shared a video of myself warming up with the excerpt “Volière” by Saint-Saëns. The post ends with “Sometimes I think, I didn’t have to leave [classical music]."
The truth is, I don't see a future for myself in classical music. Even when I was working my hardest, pouring as many hours into the practice room as I could, it felt like I was hitting a wall — inherently incapable of succeeding in a field where “success” meant fitting through the eye of a needle.
So to hear this from a fellow flutist was moving. For a second, I imagined what could happen if I gave it another chance — how it might feel to be unquestionably successful as a flutist.
But I’d do it more for appearance, less because I actually want a lifetime of practicing & perfecting this kind of music.
Instead I've made an effort to construct my own definition of success as a flutist — one patched together by small-scale, mostly independent projects.
They're small, like a series of improvisatory "sound doodles" last fall. Or like this blog, where I share clips of my practicing.
For whatever reason, this continues to be what I’m most drawn to as a musician, other than multidisciplinary collaborations — sharing the “in-between” of music that's not performance-ready, not a polished recording, but still reaching towards the best version of itself.
I've wondered if I’m being "too lazy" to produce something polished, like a recording or live performance. But it's more because the creative process for larger-scale projects evades a concrete timeline.
While I'm planning larger-scale projects — building blocks for my own definition of a "serious" musician — some collaborations refuse to happen until they're meant to. Sometimes, I'm simply not ready to take on a project.
For now, I’m creating from a liminal space where I have little to show for my degree in music; but this doesn't bar me from committing to larger-scale projects in the future.
While practicing today, I glanced out the window & noticed strangers pausing to listen. I'll admit this is enough for me — to revel in the messy, slow process of piecing together my sound & technique, to be able to slow a stranger's steps, caught off-guard & suddenly listening.
Warming up today, I rummaged my memory for this phrase by Ernst von Dohnányi.
If I were practicing this more intentionally, I'd do the same work with sound across intervals, but over a steady rhythmic pulse.
Next I did some work with singing & playing scales to open up my sound, esp. the upper register.
My current approach to sound & technical exercises is haphazard, even whimsical... a symptom of twelve years struggling through technical routines with a metronome.