Welcome to the new school year! Many of you may be a new freshman music major (congratulations!), or a new freshman in high school, a returning sophomore, grad student, or other class member, or even a recent graduate seeking or starting a new position. No matter where you are in your musical development you will undoubtedly face new challenges this year regarding just how to juggle the many demands - musical, academic, personal, health, financial, just to name a few - while developing and establishing a strong work ethic and practice schedule. There are so many assignments, projects to attend to, etudes to learn, skills to acquire...how do we do it all without feeling completely overwhelmed? These are important questions to consider when the demands are great.
Overwhelmed by all the newness. I remember beginning life as a college freshman and feeling physically and emotionally fatigued by attempting to process so many new things all at once. It was all so incredibly exciting, invigorating . . .and terrifying all at once! One of the most stressful aspects for me was actually trying to learn how to practice all the material I was assigned, and that practicing in an actual practice room surrounded by my colleagues was both inspiring and intimidating. What if the people walking by actually heard me? Would they consider me an imposter, etc.? I relate these thoughts to share that they are normal and typical - you are not alone if these flash through your mind as you head upstairs with your stack of lesson materials, instrument, and gear.
Short summary: advice. The years have offered me perspective (thank goodness), and my advice: when you are in the practice room, you are - first and foremost - forging a true relationship with yourself. This is the space where you "let your hair down" and bravely entrust yourself in your care. That means you get to know your strengths, your weaknesses - all in a safe place. Your practicing and creating of art here is your commitment to you, your potentials, and your connections to the person you are. Try to remember that this is YOUR time, not with everyone else you hear down the hall actually in the room with you to judge and point out mistakes. They're busy taking care of THEIR challenges, not thinking about you.
How do we practice when there are so many other things to do? Consider your practice time as a regular class meeting. If you don't schedule it in just like a class, it may be tough to get around to it later in the day. Even worse than that is going through the entire day and postponing the work until late in the evening, when you're exhausted, likely more critical in a less-than-helpful way, and more inclined to fuel self-doubts. There are a billion things to do, and even people who will try to convince you to get coffee rather than practice . . . make a plan, but be wisely flexible. Another tough lesson: observe where you waste time. Would you be better off taking a legitimate break rather than frittering away that hour and a half block of time you had reserved? As Noa Kageyama notes, there's no such thing as a Facebook emergency. Using technology in your practicing is great - but it may be helpful to power down the social media apps when you cross through that practice room doorway.
Relationships make life. When I consider the most important relationships in my life, I am filled with great joy and gratefulness. As you all know, that doesn't mean that every second is wonderful or easy. People are complicated, feelings are powerful, and pressures can be great. However, nothing is more precious or more important in life than forging truly sustaining and meaningful relationships, the kind that exact sincere investments of time, energy, and self but offer countless expressions of being a sum vs. merely a "part." Humankind thirsts and thrives through this kind of powerful connection. Even if I am tired or concerned about my own trials, I choose to devote my focused attention to my wonderful husband when he is looking into my eyes and telling me about his worries of the week's most frustrating project. Being in a relationship means being present, and that the other person knows "you've got their back." Can we be that way for ourselves in the practice room? Can we create and nurture a relationship with ourselves in that music laboratory, whether the microscope reveals a less-than-desirable crack or a streak of 24k gold?
To me, if everyone sincerely practiced in a reflective and centered way, if everyone could devote time to themselves in this powerfully personal way, affording the opportunity to vulnerably express and cultivate what is in their hearts and minds through art . . . the world would be a happier place. So rather than consider practicing a chore, turn to this as a lifetime opportunity to really explore yourself, starting now. Few other professions or callings offer such ongoing opportunities for self-discovery.
My goal for 2015-2016, for all of my students, myself, and anyone reading this: discover how to create and maintain that connection we so thirst to have - but start with building that relationship with the SELF - even in the practice room.