Hello, my whimsical, hopeful, fresh-faced girl.
Since I have your attention for a moment, let me whisper in your ear 10 truths that will be your own only after you leave all those music degree programmes. Keep them near.
1) Your flute teacher –at every stage– matters. Really matters. This person will be like a midwife to help you birth your best musical self. Hunt for this person as if your art depends on it and don’t settle until you know they are THE ONE .
In your case, you will find one of these souls in your 20’s and she’ll live quietly in the Colorado mountains with wisdom so precious that you’ll drive miles out of your way into those frosty hills in order to seek her bold wisdom. You’ll know because they’ll insist that you find your own way, and challenge every musical assumption you’ve held true. And even more important? They won’t desire that you be a cookie-cutter version of themselves– or anyone else, for that matter.
2) Assemble your motley crew. Moreover, be a part of another’s. These characters will help you believe in your extremely wild ideas, and clap as you wave your freak flag (or at least marvel at it with pure admiration). Your peeps will be there handing you tissues in the times you want to melt your flute for silver jewellery and retrain to be a ______. The rest, who might be akin to a Soggy Wet Blanket, harshly skeptical and disbelieving of your abilities? Well, after you learn to identify these folk you will then learn to shed that blanket and protect your precious dreams, your creative space and your time (hasta!).
3) There’s room for every flautist in this industry. Yes, even _______, who shouts off rooftops they’re the best thing since longer shelf-life Twinkies re-launched (that’ll be 2013, in case you are wondering…). You will hear it said that ‘the world doesn’t need another musician’. Challenge that. Everyone deserves space to practice their art and it’s not your place to decide who, what, when and where.
Speaking of, there is never going to be space for catty, bad-mouthing, gossipy, jealous types of behaviour in your work. That kind of attitude assumes that there is inadequate abundance–but how could that possibly be true given the millions of ways that there are to be a musician and to make music? I see now that you’re nodding your head because you agree. Good. Let’s move on to a biggie…
4) At some stage, you will have to let go of the notion that there exists a traditional flute career and that this is the only way to be a ‘valid’, ‘proper’, ‘real’ artist. Creativity isn’t sensible (thank you, Julia Cameron—you’ll discover her in your 30’s) nor is there such thing as a ‘sensible’ flute career.
Let’s dig deeper into this notion, shall we? Many of the flute degrees you’ll earn focus on delivering performance curriculum with an assumption that you’ll desire to be an orchestral player (and maybe a solo recitalist) after you leave their programme. Despite the few paid openings available for this type of work, you will at some stage feel that because you don’t have a ‘real’ job (for example, playing in an orchestral section, or performing in an art-hall setting) are a flute failure or ‘haven’t really made it’ yet. Don’t despair, this is all a part of your flute story; it’ll take years to finally be ok with shedding that belief because it’s all about the right timing, you see. Here’s what you need to hold onto for now and it’s pretty simple: a ‘real’ flute player is anyone who plays the flute. End of.
5) Which leads me to talk about hats. Your flute career will involve wearing many of them. You will wear that standard hat you’ve been trained to display in music school; you’ll undoubtedly play in various orchestras over the years. Some of the hats you wear will be ridiculously unexpected (Bollywood sessions, cocktail parties, Scottish weddings, teaching recorder to 8-year olds). Sometimes you’ll tolerate a slightly ill-fitting hat because it’s worth the temporary discomfort in order to pay the bills (i.e., Jesu, Joy of a Man’s Desiring performed on a loop for 25 mins. at a bridal show). Your other hats will include ethnomusicology and yes, newsletter writing. But the best and most rewarding will hat you’ll wear? It will be the hat you design yourself because you are allowed to carve out your own music path despite what you might have been ‘trained’ to do.
6) And as you shape that hat of yours? Discount any notion that there exists ‘real’ and ‘serious’ music and that’s the only repertoire you should give your time to and perform. Yes, you’ll master the standard stuff because that’s how you will gain a strong foundation to core principles. When flute boredom strikes (and it will, Jessica, it will) ask yourself ‘What music would you play if you suddenly woke up and realised that every flute score in existence had vanished?’,‘What music would you experiment with if you didn’t have to perform it perfectly?’. Got them all named yet?
7) By the way, don’t discount synchronicity in your musical searching – or whatever you want to call it, grace, serendipity, luck, fate, kismet…. Sometimes it’s ok to take the path of least resistance and to go where the doors open, even if they weren’t the ones you’d imagined or even at first wanted. You know that ‘fake work’ you will in the future label as prostiflution? Don’t forget that’s part of your bigger plan, too. When you’re wavering, ask yourself ‘what has come easy lately in a musical sense?’, ‘what opportunities have presented themselves at exactly the right moment?’.
8) You’ll find money-talk is often taboo-talk in the art world. I still don’t know why that is. But as a free-lance musician you are essentially a business owner. At the end of the day never forget that you offer (sell/ trade/ produce) a commodity. It’s always your job to make sure your (life-affirming, gorgeous, incredible) work is always delivered from the best stock you have, whomever your client may be. Given this, it’s absolutely ok to say ‘no thanks’ to a job because it clashes with your core. You don’t have to charge what the musician up the road charges. You don’t even have to participate at that charity concert because you ‘should’. You don’t always have to work for free.
9) You don’t have to suffer for your art. Creativity doesn’t have to be self-effacing, painful or be derived from a traumatic birthing experience in order to produce ‘good’ music. The creative blocks that might stem from another’s artistic career don’t have to be yours. Over time you will learn how to access your soul’s music, and finally be able to tackle:
a) the inability to produce anything without fear of it being judged
b) never showing your work because ‘it’s not ready yet’
c) the constant belief that you’re still not a good enough flautist
By the way, you will often hear colleagues say things like: ‘no pain, no gain’, ‘it’s a dog-eat-dog world’, or ‘life is brutal’. Ignore that thinking because over time it won’t serve you much at the end of your day.
Really, if you only take one thing away, gorgeous?
Love, Future You xx
How about you? What advice would you give your younger self about being a musician?
Many thanks to Mystic Mama for the gorgeous photos used above.