In her lesson recently, Jane said with an apologetic voice, “I’m so sorry, Jessica. I didn’t really get to practice much. My work has been manic lately. I think I only got 4 sessions in since I last saw you. Lately I am choosing to spend my free time in the evenings with my teenage kids, it’s really only at weekends that I’m getting to play”.
A little later it was Arlo’s turn. As a flute teacher himself, he confided in me that he is absolutely bonkers over Lizzo’s music, but he feels it’s best to keep that quiet in front of his colleagues. After all, she plays flutey tremolo harmonics while twerking in a leotard, and raps like a bada$$— what would his musical reputation be if people knew he likes THAT?
Another student, Joseph, admitted that he is obsessed. obsessed. obsessed. with both learning the Brazilian choro style… and Le Merle Noir by Messiaen. He then followed that up with “is it ok to work on these 2 things for a while in our lessons?, “Would you be disappointed by this?”
And, that, folks, is a small sampling of the things that my dear clients (not their real names) have told me this week.
No matter how long I have been working with a musician—and even if they know that I’ll be their go-to, cheerleader, change-bringer sort of person to support their (self-perceived) bizzaro ideas— there seems to be a bit of shame, guilt or even embarrassment when telling me what they really did with their practice time.
I think it’s because some of my clients have drunk the red Kool-Aid of culturally conditioned thinking (haven’t we all at some point?). This artificial concoction I am referring to is tinged with ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and invisible notions of what is deemed ‘acceptable’, or ‘worthy’ as a musician. And believe me, as a child Kool-Aid drinker of the 80’s myself, getting those chemical nasties and empty sugar promises out of your system might take a while.
But. Just for the record:
It’s ok to play Moon River every time you practice. Or the same dang F major scale. Or Michael Bolton power ballads.
It’s ok to be self-taught if your budget doesn’t stretch to lessons (now, or ever).
It’s ok if your playing was only for 4 minutes this morning while the kettle boils.
It’s ok to also want to play the bansuri, a Native American flute, a shakuhachi, or penny whistles.
It’s ok be absolutely raving nervous to teach your first flute lesson— or your 1000th lesson.
To video yourself playing because you want some Instagram love when you post it.
To eBay a score you don’t like— even if it’s a Big Important Classic of the repertoire.
To play along with Emmanuel Pahud’s Prokofiev Sonata with headphones and the door shut in your bedroom as if you are him.
To prefer playing in the bathroom because the acoustics are amazing.
To have the same flute you had 33 years ago.
To play ‘The Nutcracker’ theme in March because you can’t get enough of that opening run.
To choose spending time with family over your playing.
To try and beatbox Telemann’s Fantasias to ‘spice it up’.
To admit you practice waaaay more when you have a competition, exam, audition or performance upcoming.
To not take music exams. Ever.
To become addicted to only playing the scores you can find that have free Youtube piano accompaniments.
To really dislike the sound of singing and playing flute at the same time.
To get so nervous to play for your book club that you had a cheeky glass of wine before you went on stage, even if you were a bit sorry of what it did to your embouchure afterwards.
To not have social media accounts that broadcast every bit of music that you play, own, buy and practice.
To leave your flute out of it’s case for ‘easy access’— even if your repair person might freak the next time you see her.
To be fanatical about googling all of the latest flute microphones. Gadgets. Head joints. Thumb pads. And then ordering some.
If Jethro Tull tracks are the secret reason you decided to learn flute. Or Lizzo.
To really, really move while you play.
To find flute conventions dreadfully boring.
To leave your flute at home when you are on holiday.
To need a clean break from your music for a while — for days, months, or years.
All of it: No guilt required. No shameful confessions. No need to feel embarrassed.
Before I close, I once heard a beautiful summary of how to decide what to do with your short time here on this earth (I think it was from Martha Beck).
It went something like this:
Life is about doing what you love
in the places that you love
with the people you love.
Hold on to that thought.
P.S. Next time that you find yourself feeling guilty or embarrassed about what you choose to do (or not) with your music making, ask yourself:
Whose playing is this anyway? Whose free time is it?
(CORRECT ANSWER: It’s yours. And yours alone.)
P.S.S. Still wavering? Here’s more:
Who decides what you love? Who chooses what you will ultimately practice? Who dictates what you aim to achieve in your musicianship?
(CORRECT ANSWER: You do. You do. You do.)