music baggage

I accompanied some scholarship auditions this morning at the School of Music Summer Music Clinic (high school music camp). I've been on the accompanists' list for a while, and every year I get a few calls. Not many, but enough to make the trek to campus worthwhile. I suspect I don't charge nearly enough for my services, but the economy being what it is, I kind of hate to ask for more.

Anyway, this morning I ran into several people I know, as often happens when I'm there. Now that Daniel and Anya occupy most of my time, my visits to campus are few and far between, so lately, the only people I know are the long-term folks: professors, professional pianists who reside in the area, doctoral graduate students who have been here for a few years. I spoke with some fellow pianists, some who were glad to see me, some who weren't 100% genuine but were friendly anyway (don't ask; I'm keeping this professional). I saw some professors who are really and truly lovely people I would work with any time if I could. I ran into some former students who are back to join the Music Clinic faculty. It's always nice to catch up, and to some extent I enjoy talking shop with musicians I used to work with on a regular basis.

But today I had ambiguous feelings about everything, feelings I've been having lately after similar gigs. For one thing, I meet these promising young students with their entire lives ahead of them, nervous about the competition they're facing, unsure of their own talent, and I think about what it was like for me as a teenager. I was never fabulously talented. No one called me a gifted musician; in fact, the two people voted "Most Musical" in my senior class were this guy who is now a Baptist preacher, and a gal who is doing Lord-knows-what now but at the time was voted Miss Teen Kentucky and left high school two weeks before she graduated to sing at Dollywood. That may tell you more about the people voting than the people voted for, but this much is true: I didn't stand out.

My whole adult life I've wondered if studying music was the right thing. I've had wonderfully affirming moments, to be sure. I've had performances that felt very successful and were received well by the audiences present. I've met and worked with famous people (famous in my field, anyway), not in any extraordinary or memorable way, but I've done it. But there have been more times when I have felt nothing but ordinary, especially since having kids. The past couple years, for example, every time I've had a gig, it's been a struggle to concentrate properly because I'm so constantly sleep-deprived. I'll be at the piano in front of the audience not living in the moment of the music, but shooing thoughts out of my head of how badly I just want to lie down and take a nap. I see how hard other musicians work. Especially now with the economy in the toilet, even the most talented amongst us are scrambling for gigs; one singer I ran into today had a couple of opera gigs canceled because the companies filed for Chapter 11 this year, leaving their workers high and dry.

I told Stuart this afternoon that I'm in a "slow crisis." I don't know what to do with my life or my career. I don't know if I'm dedicated enough to music to make it work or not. Are those great moment really worth it or not? I know I mentioned accounting in the past, and I'm still halfway considering it, but that would mean more school and I'm not sure if I have the energy for that right now. In any case, I could make up my mind tomorrow and it wouldn't change anything because my kids are so young right now my hands are tied for the next couple years.

Man, all this because I had to play a few violin concertos this morning. Thanks for listening.


Caffeine Girl said…
I certainly can't tell you whether you should continue to pursue music, but I can tell you that it does get easier to work as your kids get older and more independent. For one thing, you'll get more sleep!

Try to enjoy these years. It's a terrible time to make a decision (thanks to the economy). Let's hope that when you're ready to get back into work/career, you'll have more choices!
Pam said…
I think you're awesome. Do what you love. I hope more sleep is in your future.
I second what Caffeine Girl and Pam say: do what you love if you can, but don't make any permanent decisions now. 1) Sleep-deprived people should not try to make life-changing choices; 2) the economy is in such a state at this point that you should not try to make life-changing decisions; 3) The time to make decisions about whether or not to go back to school is when your children are old enough to be in school at least part time. I know this from experience. I tried to go back when Jamie was ~3 years old and it didn't work. I tried to go back when he was in Kindergarten and it didn't work. It didn't work for me to go back to school until Jamie was in third grade, and even then, it has been a struggle. Don't freak out, take a deep breath, and when you can sleep a full night through, the kids are in school at least part time, and the economy straightens out, THEN will be the time to make life-changing choices. Hang in there; I'm sending you big hugs.
Steph said…
Sleep deprivation makes everything feel worse. It certainly makes us all feel more negative about our capabilities.

I think you're the kind of person that could do whatever you put your mind to extremely well. But I hope you realize that whether or not you "stood out" in high school is irrelevant now. You are a fantastic player with a ton of musicality. I've turned your pages, so I should know.

One way or another, I'm sure you'll figure it out. But I know it's kind of hard in the meantime.
Jessi said…
I'm in a slow crisis, too. I like that phrase a lot. I don't know what I want to do with my professional life, all I know is that it's not what I am currently doing and I would have to give up too much of my personal life for what I thought I would do with this fabulous English Lit degree. I don't have a solution for you, except spend some time concentrating on what you want to spend your time doing. Period. If you don't like doing it then you won't be happy doing it all the time.

Also, despite the fact that you were not voted Most Musical, you were voted Most Likely to Succeed, so you know that means you can succeed at whatever you want. I, on the other hand was voted Most Likely to Live in a Cardboard Box while Writing her Fourth Novel.
And I was just voted "most likely to".

Ba-dom bum!
Mrs. Allroro said…
May I say, the reason you were probably not voted most musical is because you were a. so well rounded that the music didn't stand out as much and b. most of your peers probably never had opportunity to hear you perform (except as a singer in musicals, and rarely as a soloist even then). I knew you were accepted into a very prestigious music camp, but you were also accepted into an academic camp the same summer. So people just picked "to succeed" because you were the kind of gal who could choose your field. Not that you weren't a talented musician, but that you were too talented in other ways, too. Poor little thing. :-)

I wish I could somehow convince you that it's okay for you not to be having a "successful career" right now. I wish I could convince you to be happy doing what you think makes you happiest, and not to worry when you realize that it's not making you too happy. You just do what you can, right?

Don't feel guilty over stuff you shouldn't feel guilty about. Just use it to get over real weaknesses, not to make yourself feel week when you're not.
Animal said…
Geez, all these wishes and good-fortunes…I hope that helps! Know that you have mine heaped on the pile.

And, what I REALLY wish, is that you and Miss Tessmacher were friends. What I read from you, I HEAR from her, and I think the two of you could perhaps sort some things out simply by talking to someone else who TRULY understands!
Hi Susan,

Just found your blog through Jessi. I've been looking for you for a little while--trying to get back into contact with some of my high school friends. I regret letting some of my high school friends fall by the wayside while I got way too busy in college and life. I completely understand the feeling of Mommy identity crisis. I'm in a bit of one at the moment too. I spent many years training to be a Physician Assistant, and the moment that my sweet baby girl was born, I knew that all I really wanted to do was to cuddle that baby and play with her all day. Not much has changed in the past three years. I still mostly want to just play with my kids and give them the very best childhood and instruction I can give them in the short time I have them at home. But, there are moments when I look around and wonder who I am. My identity is so wrapped up in my children and husband that I think I lost myself somewhere along the way. I guess I figure I have a lot of years left to "find myself" but only a finite amount of time to be the best mommy to my preschoolers than I can possibly be. Hang in there! It's nice to know that others go through the same identity crisis(crises?).
Julie (Bridge)
Steph said…
I was thinking the same thing as Animal as I read this: I wish you knew Tess. You have SO much in common on this score.

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