The other day in rehearsal, I noticed that the singer I was working with had a list of hand-written affirmations attached to the front of her music binder. There were about a dozen statements there, all pertaining to the work of a musician and music teacher, and the importance of serving the music instead of yourself, as well as maintaining your sense of self-worth through challenging days. It was good stuff. "I need to make myself one of these," I told her.

You see, the professional field I chose is fraught with issues, especially for women, and especially for women who make their living in teaching and collaborative work. These areas are often regarded as inferior, the fallback professions for those who can't hack it as soloists. Besides that, musicians are always being evaluated by ourselves and others, and while feedback from your peers is important for staying sharp and well-rounded, it can also eat at your self-esteem and make you feel like you're never good enough. Add motherhood to the mix and you've got a perfect storm for self-doubt.

It's really hard for me to say, "I have to go to work," even if that's exactly what I'm doing. I may not be wearing a business suit or a uniform and going to an office, but when I sit down at my piano to learn a piece of music I've been hired to play with someone, that's work. When I go to a voice lesson to accompany a singer on some Brahms lieder, that's work. When I spend an entire Saturday in a neighboring town playing for more than a dozen high school kids at their solo and ensemble contest, that's work. I spent many years in training and study to get really good at what I do, and it's hard sometimes for people to understand that. I am not famous and because my kids are still pretty young, I work as a freelancer on a part-time basis, so it probably looks to most people like what I do is a fun little hobby.

I'm not going to lie; this year has been really up and down for me. As much as I hate it, I'm going to have to think about self-promotion and ways to get back in the game or the loop or whatever you want to call it. It's not easy, but I'd rather be doing this than anything else.

So here are some words of affirmation for myself. Maybe I should look in the mirror and say these every morning.

1. I love being a musician. I love music.

2. I am a trained professional and deserve to be paid accordingly.

3. I put my best effort into all my work, no matter what the difficulty level, and no matter who I am collaborating with.

4. I am not perfect. However, obsessing over my mistakes is counter-productive. I must remember my strengths even as I work to overcome my weaknesses.

5. Being a well-rounded person makes me a better musician.

Finally, I want to share a video I found of the 3rd Beethoven cello sonata performed by Rostropovich and Richter (with Shostokovich turning pages!). I was recently asked to play this piece for an end-of-semester jury, and while it's a lot of work, it's worth every minute. Playing music like this is affirmation in and of itself:

Enjoy the video, all. And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to work.


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