The Truth About Why I Became a Musician
When I think back to my earliest recollection of a connection or pull to music, I don’t think of my first piano lessons or even picking up the flute for the first time. Neither was there a cathartic moment while attending a live performance that I said to myself, “I must do this for a living”. What I truly DO remember is sitting in my bedroom as an angsty, high strung teenager blasting the loudest, angriest music I could find. It was in those days that I made the connection that music could allow me to resonate with or release emotions that were unacceptable to wear on one’s sleeve – especially in Jr. High and High School! Frustration, anger, fear, hurt, longing, loneliness, sadness and even more positive feelings like extreme levels of ecstatic joy. Often as I listened to this music I felt a level of freedom – something hard to come by at that age. As I took courses in classical music for my RCM exams, I also discovered that music could allow me to feel a deep connection with spirituality, or energy or whatever you want to call it. It was like food for my soul, and helped me through some of those rough years we all experience when we are young.
After I started advancing on the flute in particular (around Grade 9 in school), I remember starting to realize that I could connect on an even deeper level to the emotional component of music. I could literally take a breath of air in, and as I let it out through the flute, I could release all sorts of pent up emotions and as a result feel better. I feel very grateful often in my life that I get to express myself in this way. Its a different experience than releasing emotions verbally etc.
So sounds like a dream right? I get to connect with emotions and people on the deepest levels of the soul and get paid to do it! Unfortunately, its not quite that cut and dry. There is a part of my story here missing, and it is a little part of the human mind called the “ego”.
**Disclaimer: This is the part of the story that is hardest to share, but most important as I feel that many people/students may resonate with my journey. My intention with sharing this is to hopefully expedite the learning curve for anyone struggling with the same issues, and to help prevent people from making the same painful mistakes that I did!**
So around the same time that I was starting to see how I could channel emotions through the flute (Grade 9ish), I was struggling with extremely low self worth (a constant challenge in my life). Fortunately and unfortunately, I was blessed with some natural ability that soon brought me a fair amount of attention with my performances and competitions at the time. Being a total type A personality, and desperately looking outside of myself for any recognition of worth, I dove into my flute playing head on and decided quickly that I had to become the best player there was. If I could just prove to the world that I was an amazing flute player, then I could feel accepted and worthy as a human being. Easy right?!
As you can imagine, this set me up for loads of heartache and disappointment. Every time I lost a competition, blew a performance or even didn’t have a “perfect” practice session or lesson I immediately came to the conclusion that I was even more worthless than I had previously believed. If I had a critical adjudication or scathing remark from a fellow student, it brought me so low I could barely recover. Sure, sometimes I did well, won competitions or played to the best of my ability at the time – but the inflation to my ego that resulted was short lived as this is an expectation that cannot be met 100% of the time. I was constantly chasing perfection, that next win, or the positive attention I was literally craving at the deepest level of my psyche.
Fast forward through University (more of the same behaviours, attitudes and damage to my self esteem) to my first forages into the professional world. I started doing professional orchestral auditions with this dysfunctional ego attachment to the flute at its full height. I didn’t advance past the first round in my first few auditions and each time I was rejected, I was literally crushed. I felt like if I didn’t win a job soon that it would PROVE that I was a big loser and a giant failure at life (something I believed and was trying to hide from the world). It culminated with me literally deciding to quit all together as my relationship with the flute was at an all time low. Music was just too hard on my self esteem. I was 23, living in my parents basement, and completely lost.
It was my first lesson in letting go. After a few months of not playing at all and not knowing what to do with my life, I decided to pick the flute back up again with a different attitude. Winning a job in an orchestra was not a life or death situation, and I decided to stop putting so much stock in the outcome of these auditions and just use them as learning tools. I practiced in a calm, more egoless way and saw some incredible improvements in my playing. I made a promise to myself that I would try the audition circuit for two years, and if it didn’t work out then I would happily find another career. Overtime I started advancing in auditions, and finally won my very own job!
So did this solve my ego problem? Did I go back to playing flute for the emotional expression and food for the soul? That would be a BIG, FAT, NO. Winning the job was one thing. Doing it was another. I was thrown all sorts of curveballs, from learning how to navigate new and often intense personalities (we musicians are an intense bunch!), to learning how to become a real section leader, to the steep learning curve of learning literally hours and hours of difficult repertoire every week – a pace I was not used to. My playing was constantly being scrutinized by conductors and colleagues as I was on probation, and the internal politics at play were often completely debilitating. Add to that a long-term emotionally abusive romantic relationship (another way I was looking for approval and self worth outside myself) and I was literally a physical and emotional mess. I only felt better when I “nailed” a solo, or received praise from co-workers, conductors or audiences. This is fleeting at best as we all know.
It was through all this turmoil that I came to my breaking point, and sought some actual professional help. I was tired of all the dysfunctional relationships in my life, and my relationship with the flute was near the very top of that list. It took a lot of hard work, self scrutiny, painful losses of relationships, difficult and emotional meetings with co-workers, and a ton of forgiveness and letting go. I started to see over time, however, that my worth had to come from the inside, and that people could only treat me as badly as I was willing to treat myself. I still continued to make some painful mistakes and was forever duking it out with my ego. I, however, was taking the first steps towards a healthy self esteem and eliminating the false beliefs my ego had tricked me into believing for all those years.
I am still in the long process of growth and recovery from this extended period of my life, but have come leaps and bounds from where I was. Now I find my mistakes while performing hilariously funny. I might be disappointed if I don’t play my best, but I don’t feel the need to quit all together or give up on life if I have a less than perfect performance. I’m striving more and more to play music with the purpose and intent of connecting to the powerful emotions and energy it possesses, and to share that with anyone who is open to it. I believe strongly that music has the power to lift us out of the mundane, live in the moment and connect with something much bigger than ourselves. THIS is the power of music and I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of it. Thank goodness I didn’t let my ego get the best of me!