I had my oral exams today. It was strangely anti-climatic. They were fine; I passed. I expected to feel a big rush of relief or elation afterwards, but I didn't. I just drove home and changed poopy diaper #2 of the day. Now I suppose it's on to the next thing, and the next...and eventually I'll be done. And then what? It all feels a little existential right now.

Once I'm truly on my own as a musician - and that time is nigh - I'll really have to "say" something musically. I should be "saying" something now, actually, but I know I often still sound like a student. The three keyboard faculty on my committee (the only ones who made it to the oral exams, in fact) are all very dear to me. Each of them has had a tremendous influence on me as a pianist, a harpsichordist, and a teacher of music. What would I do without them constantly affirming and guiding me? I suddenly feel like a little bird who's afraid to jump out of its nest and learn to fly.

Are you rolling your eyes at that metaphor? Me, too, but it's still apt (apt!) so I'm leaving it there.

My harpsichord teacher and I were chatting afterwards. He said something to the effect of "Good luck with all the parenting and music-making!" He's the father of two grown sons, and like everyone else here, has been very supportive of me. I replied that too often, the parenting thing has to come first, because you don't have a choice about that. You can't just take a semester off from your child. "True," he said, "but the second thing is incredibly important, too. I think you have a lot to say as a musician, and I hope you keep working at it."


Maybe it's because I've been a student for so long, holding onto my teachers' advice like a security blanket, but I need to convince myself of this. I was never fantasically talented. I was never a wunderkind. I've never been able to make myself practice eight hours a day or obsess over technique (and it shows!) There have been times (many, many times) that I wonder why I do it at all, when there are so many people out there who are better than I am. Understand that I'm not beating myself down here; I'm just trying to be realistic.

There's a violinist here (Pam, you know who I'm talking about) who can grasp in a moment what it takes the rest of us weeks to learn. She's amazing. She soaks up repertoire like a sponge. She plays like a freaking goddess. She's about to finish her DMA and she's only 23 or 24 years old. There's a part of me that says if I'm not like that, then what's the point? What do I have to "say"?

Still mulling over this one, I suppose.


andre said…
Ok, I can go on for days about this one. . so I'll try and be brief.

1. Your anti-climatic reaction to passing the orals makes sense. The headlines after the Allied victory in WW2 did not read "Elation!” or “Mission Accomplished." They simply read, after years of struggle, "the war is over." Indeed, my first email to a friend after all the papers had been signed and stuff defended and revisions made read simply, "the war is over." Still though, it is a cause for great joy. Congratulations and continued encouragement.

2. As to still feeling like a student, while the shift out of student life may feel sudden, the growth into non-student life takes years. Like your boy, it is developmental. I've been living this for the year-and-a-half, moving from an old grad. student to a young prof., and it's been one of the most rewarding and humbling and frightening experiences of my life.

3. I can't sight-read for shit. What business do I have being a prof. when I am lacking in so many ways? I was never the hot-shot composer, never won the awards, never wrote the sexy music that got all the attention. I was, what some call, a “late bloomer.” But is it my journey, my individual journey, my love, and imagination, and the way I address my lack, that makes my work so invaluable?

Just stay open to both your strengths and weaknesses. Listen to them. It’s the stuff of your art, and compels others to listen as well.

Sorry if all this is too preachy. But you’re not the only one dealing with these issues.
pamigelsrud said…
Someday you're going to have to meet Andre!! Anyway, so I was going to respond to your comment about EH. I feel pretty darn confident that you wouldn't trade places with her for a million bucks. It takes a lot of sacrifice to be a wunderkind. We all have something different to contribute as musicians and just generally as people. You have such a wonderfully rich life and your playing is SO expressive and musical because it expresses the wonderful person who you are and is indicative also of the wonderful life you have built for yourself based on your personality and what is important to you. You know what I mean?
annalu alulu said…
I was thinking something similar to what Pam said. The whole world needs musicians, and you are the kind of person who would take beautiful music to un-beautiful places, or at least unnoticed places. Not everybody has to stay in Carnegie Hall for their whole career. You have gifts that some wunderkinds don't have, like, human compassion. So you can use your music for beautiful purposes.
Animal said…
Hi Suze,

Kudos to what Andre wrote; I couldn't agree with him more, so I'll simply add a couple of things to his list:

4) Those wunderkind hot-shots make up such a tiny percentage of the total number of performers...and available jobs! Yes, if you wanted to work at Juliard or Eastman, you'd probably need that kind of pedigree. that where you want to be? My spouse Tess goes through this ALL the time - feeling like a failure because she ONLY got her DMA at 28! - and I always point out to her that there is a huge area between "being in the top 1%" and "sucking." There are tons of jobs, and tons of performance opportunities; you can be in the top 25% and still be incredibly good.

5) Connected to the idea of where you'd want to work: I'm finding more and more that a certain kind of mid-level success (like Andre, I'm not the hot-shit, award-winning composer) allows for a very comfortable and rich life. I work, I write, I play, I love. I wouldn't want to only be #1 and #2. I want time to enjoy new wines, and to travel, and to veg out watching movies. Let someone ELSE write the sexy music...chances are, that's the only "sexy" he'll have in life! (Ba-dum-bum.)
Suze said…
Pam, you're totally right that I wouldn't change places with EH for any amount of money. She'd probably say the same! The woman has cajones, though...she actually CALLED ELLIOTT CARTER over the weekend because she knew someone on her committee was going to ask her about his vln compositions during her oral exams. Of course, the dude is 99 and not too coherent. but still. She CALLED him and made it through his telephone screener and everything!!
Suze said…
P.S. Thanks to everyone else for saying what you've said. It's so affirming to hear that from other musicians.
Jenn Hacker said…
Let me add something else - would your virtuoso have time to sit down with students and introduce them to the joys and beauty of being able to create music, rather than just having to listen to it on a CD or the radio? Would those hot-shit sexy-music-makers be there to see a struggling elementary school piano student finally "get-it" when practicing? I bet if you were one of those wunderkinds, you wouldn't have had a chance to make your own wonder-kid Daniel, you would have been too busy making sure nothing and NO ONE interfered with your ability to practice for 20 hours a day, etc.

Big hugs, girlie!

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