Being Lazy is Easy

As most of the world is under a suggested “quarantine” right now, I thought it might be a good idea for me to revisit my blog. I won’t be teaching another university course in person until the Fall, and it looks like I won’t be in my Elementary music classroom until at least May, so I finally have time to do things. Time is such a precious commodity nowadays, and if you have small kids, you know how difficult it can be to carve out time to work on anything. I stay busy, but I’ve developed this habit of distracting myself from tasks that need to be completed. Sure, I’ve finished a couple of compositions within the past year, submitted some presentation proposals (even though the events were cancelled), and other stuff; however, I’ve been unable to make myself sit down and write, whether it be blog posts or articles. I have three or four articles that I just need to make myself finish, but I always find an excuse. I also know that I need to write more blog posts, but I continually find ways to procrastinate.

This is where the title comes in, because it has been way too easy for me to be lazy lately. When I was in undergrad and grad school, I adhered to a rigid schedule, and I would always find time for anything that needed to be done. It’s not that I sit around and do nothing nowadays, because it’s hard for me to be idle, but I’ve found that I’m constantly distracting myself from the tasks that are most important. Yes, I’m choosing to do easier things over the more time-consuming, strenuous, but also more rewarding tasks. If I still had my old drive and determination, I would have multiple articles published and probably many more compositions in my portfolio. Unfortunately, the new me starts a task, gets halfway through it, and then finds ways to procrastinate. I still have a lot of great ideas, but this new routine means that I have so many unfinished projects that need to be completed. It’s frustrating, and I need to actually spend the next few weeks doing the hard work.

This month, March 2020, was supposed to be an important month for my professional career. I was going to perform one of my compositions, Caccia for Solo Horn, at the Southeast Horn Workshop, and I was also scheduled to do a presentation about my research pertaining to etude books written for low horn. Sure, I’m happy that I have a little more time right now, but I’m also bummed that I didn’t get a chance to share my work. This was to be my first presentation at a workshop or conference and an important building block for my resume. I’m also scheduled to do a presentation about anxiety and depression at the IHS Symposium in August, but I have no idea if that conference will happen either. I was already afraid that I wouldn’t be able to attend due to monetary concerns, but now, it looks like everything will be put on hold until at least the Fall. I’m very frustrated, but I can’t let my depression or anxiety keep the next few months from being a time for increased productivity. Even if I can’t go to these conferences, I can still take this time to finish articles and compositions that could also aid me in my quest to obtain a college teaching position in music.

These are very uncertain times, especially considering that we don’t know how long schools and other organizations will need to be closed down. Will orchestras be able to present full seasons next year? When are churches going to reopen their doors? How long will teachers, especially private instructors, have to teach remotely? So many of us depend on these organizations and vocations for our livelihoods, whether it be a primary or secondary source of income. I’m lucky that my jobs have been able to seamlessly convert to remote-based, because my family and I would be in trouble if we weren’t getting paid right now.

Unfortunately, even though these are questions and issues that are valid and important, these concerns are ultimately out of our hands. I cannot control the outcome of these obstacles, so I shouldn’t let all of this stuff overwhelm me and drive me into a deep depression, because it would definitely happen. I’ve been suffering from chronic depression (Major Depression, Dysthymic Disorder, or whatever you’d like to call it) for a while now, and any sort of “bad” news or negative occurrence can set it off at any moment. Instead, I should focus on the things that I can control: spending time with my family, blogging, finishing those articles, completing my compositions, and practicing my instrument.

During the school year, I’m normally so busy that my academic pursuits, including practicing horn, are often times put on hold. Teaching elementary music, especially when you’re at a school that doesn’t give you many breaks or much planning time, is exhausting. It’s especially exhausting for me, because constantly being around people drains my energy like nothing else. It’s the curse of being an introvert, which is why I enjoyed music school so much. I was built to be stuck alone in a practice room for hours. Now, I’m lucky to even practice at all, let alone get 2-3 hours per day like I did in grad school. I miss playing horn, so I’m definitely going to continue taking advantage of the extra bit of freedom that I’ve been given for the next month. I’m also going to make sure that I do things for fun as well, because we all need time to unwind. Sure, we can’t really go out, but being an introvert, I’m perfectly happy staying at home with my video games.

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for everyone during our quarantine: do things with your family, do things for yourself (for fun and self-improvement), and do the things that you keep putting off until another time. Whether we like it or not, this is our time, and we can choose how we deal with it. I’m choosing to look at this as an opportunity to be more productive and to finally push myself to make that next step.

Reflections & Resolutions

To be honest, I have never been a fan of New Year’s Day. Sure, we all need to reflect and commit to change at times, but the resolutions made on this holiday never seem to last. Due to the “new year,” people feel the need to make resolutions and try to change the negative things in their lives, but most lack the conviction to follow through. Most individuals aren’t ready to change, but the mob mentality and group pressure associated with this holiday makes people feel the need to publicly profess a list of of resolutions.

Having said all of this, I’m going to succumb to the madness and talk about some areas that I need to address in my life. Hopefully, these reflections and resolutions won’t fall by the wayside. I tend to be a very determined person, so maybe this trait will help me to use this opportunity as a way to reset and re-establish my goals. Unfortunately, I have been horrible at finishing projects over the past six months, so there are many things that I need to fix and finish this next year.

First, I really need to get in shape. Yes, this is very cliche of me, but I feel that I have reached a breaking point. I have been overweight for the majority of my life, but when I turned 20, I got tired of being fat and lost over 100 pounds within a year. I went from 275 to 170, and I felt great. It took a lot of work and effort, but I accomplished my goal, because I was ready to change. I gained a little bit of weight when I got married, but I was able to keep my weight around 190 for seven years, until I started suffering from depression. Eating is one of my weaknesses and a coping mechanism, so when I became depressed, I ate my feelings. I also stopped exercising and maintaining my health, which culminated in me ballooning to 285 over the next four year period.

I have tried to exercise and lose some weight since gaining it all back, but I get discouraged very quickly if I don’t see immediate results. However, I hate feeling tired all of the time, and I really hate feeling winded after climbing a flight of stairs. Recently, I started taking a salad for lunch at work, and I hope to continue to make healthier eating choices now that the holidays are over. Still, I’m not young anymore, and I won’t be able to lose weight just by eating healthier. This is going to take a combination of smart eating and some sort of physical activity.

Most people will say, “Go join a gym and workout,” which is great advice; however, you forget that you’re speaking to someone with severe anxiety. I don’t like being around a lot of people in general. I also don’t really enjoy looking at myself in the mirror right now, so I definitely don’t want other people to see me while I’m working out. I know that it’s weird, but people with high anxiety are usually uncomfortable with their self-image, and it’s difficult to turn this part of my brain off, even with me being on medication.

I was able to lose weight without going to a gym last time, so I’m determined that I can do it once again. It may take a little bit longer this time, since I’m getting older, but I just really want to feel different. Not just for myself, but for my kids as well. I’m so tired when I get home that I don’t want to spend time with my kids. This has also kept me from being productive as a professional, which leads to my next resolution.

I need to set aside some time each week to work towards my professional goals. At the beginning of last summer, I was determined to write more blog posts and finally finish a couple of articles that I had started working on….this did not happen. I also wanted to write several new compositions. I had all of these wonderful ideas, and I just couldn’t wait to get it done….I finished one composition, but I have been unable to get motivated enough to finish a couple of pieces that I’ve been working on for the past several months. There have been a number of college jobs that I should have been excited about, but I just haven’t felt motivated enough to sit down and apply for them. I even need to practice more. I’ve just been so mentally and physically exhausted lately that on many occasions, I have selfishly chosen to skip anything related to music, whether it be practicing, composing, or writing a blog post. I’m working a full-time job, teaching private lessons, playing professional gigs, and trying to do all of these extra things to advance my professional goals. It’s a struggle, and I really need to be better at managing my time. Even if I need to map out a daily schedule for myself, I need to do something, because my current path isn’t working.

Aside from managing my time better, I also need to be more present as a teacher. When I say this, I’m thinking primarily about my private students, because I know that I have been very complacent over the past few months. When I started building my studio a few years ago, I was better about being innovative and pushing my students. I would always have different exercises for them to practice, and all of my students were working out of at least two different etude books, possibly more. Now, I’m not pushing them to do as many exercises and studies, and I don’t preach the importance of practice and time management as much as I once did, especially since this has become such a huge issue in my own life. They deserve better from me, and I am going to do my best to improve. Maybe I’ll try to act like I actually want to teach….it’s been so bad lately that I dread teaching at times. I hate that I feel this way, because I really do enjoy my private students, and I really get the most enjoyment and fulfillment out of teaching them. It’s nice to actually use the knowledge and skills that I went to school to develop, and I guess I need to be a little more appreciative of the fact that I have some wonderful students that I have the privilege to teach.

Lastly, but most importantly, I am determined to read more this year. I was once an avid reader, breezing through series of sci-fi and fantasy-adventure books as if they were nothing. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have read more than a handful of books to completion since graduating from WVU back in 2012. It’s sad, because this used to be such a huge part of my life. Now, I spend more time on my phone playing mindless games instead of trying to sharpen my mind and improve myself. This year, I vow to actually read a book….hopefully, more than one. I tried downloading the Kindle app and reading some books on my iPad and phone, but it just doesn’t feel the same. I need to physically hold the book to be engaged. With this goal in mind, I picked out a book last night, and I started reading it. I have so many music books to read, but in order to keep from burning out, I’m going to alternate between work and pleasure. I’m starting out with a book related to the history of the horn, and then I’ll pick out a fiction book to read once I’m done. My kids are getting to the age where they will be able to read books on their own soon, so I need to show them (and also remind myself) how much their Dad loves to read.

It’s Been a While…Thoughts After a Year of Blogging

This past summer, I thought that I would spend a lot of time writing, but I just wasn’t as motivated as I thought I would be. Sure, I accomplished some things. I wrote a few good blog posts, and I’ve been working on an article inspired by my posts on anxiety. Much of my time over the past couple of months has been dedicated to a project that had been on the backburner for a long time, about 5 years to be exact. Ever since graduating with my DMA, I’ve wanted to make a worthwhile contribution to the horn world. Right after graduation, I began working on an idea I had for an etude book. I was really excited and very motivated at the beginning. I think I wrote about 5 or 6 etudes before I became discouraged and succumbed to depression. At the time, I was very upset by the fact that I couldn’t find a job…any job. I ended up working at an awful Comfort Inn located in Morgantown, WV for about 7 months, and the only reason I even got that job is because I knew someone that worked there. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, and even though it paid the bills, it did nothing to help my psychological state.

I’ve come back to the etude book idea once or twice since then, but my heart was never into it. Until about a year ago, I was unsure if I would even continue pursuing a career in higher education, or a career in music at all. After reaffirming my commitment to music, finishing the etude book is not only something that I want to do, but it is also a way for me to try and establish myself as an academic/professional/whatever you want to call it. I’m tired of waiting for people to give me an opportunity, so I’m trying a new tactic. I’m going to make it impossible for people to ignore me, whether it be for good or bad reasons. I mean, I’m never going to make it at all if I don’t try, so I might as well make the most of it.

There are quite a few things that I’m currently working on that could aid in my endeavor to finally establish myself. I’m in the final editing stages of my etude book. I’m about to conduct the premiere of my first all original composition, a brass octet, on Sept 17. I’m also working on a new composition for horn ensemble and a short-ish composition for horn and piano (not ready to write a sonata yet). I’m planning on premiering the latter two pieces at the next Southeast Horn Workshop at Western Carolina University. I have a lot of exciting things on my plate, and even if they all fail, at least I can say that I tried. At this point, I don’t really see failing as a bad thing. I can learn from my failures. I just don’t want to continue to hold myself back by worrying too much and not even trying. I’ve done that too much in my life, so now is the time to try, no matter if I succeed or fail.

Speaking of worrying, I started this blog over a year ago, because my anxiety was through the roof. I needed a way to constructively sort through my feelings, and I really think that this blog helped me to jump over the final hurdle. I will always struggle with anxiety and depression. I’m not naive enough to think that I’m completely cured, but I do feel stronger because of this outlet. I’m also grateful that I have this new medium with which to share my ideas. I never dreamed that I would be brave enough to be so open about many of the things that I have shared, so this experiment has definitely been a step in the right direction. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue going in the right direction by being more active on social media and maybe trying my hand at some podcast stuff…we’ll see. For right now, I’m happy, and I truly believe that I made the best decision when I first began this blog. I was extremely nervous and afraid, but now, I’m finally getting to the point where I don’t care as much about what other people think. The doubts are still there in the back of my mind, but it’s become increasingly easier to tune them out lately.

Some things that I still need to work on: Obviously, I need to post more regularly. There are a lot of reasons and factors as to why I’ve had long stretches of inactivity on my blog. Sometimes, I do let my social anxiety get the best of me. I think I’ll always struggle with it from time to time, but I know that I’m trying to get better. Other times, I’ve just felt burnt out. This summer is a prime example, because I had all of these things that I wanted to do, and I was frantically trying to stretch myself too thin at the beginning to get everything done, and then, I just gave out. I was overwhelmed, and I felt that I needed to step back, so I did.

I also need to finish what I start. I still have two blog posts that I have yet to finish that are both at least several months old. I also have many ideas for posts that I just haven’t had the time to work on yet. It’s a struggle having to work basically four different jobs to make ends meet, and then also doing this extra stuff on the side. I know that it will pay off in the end, but there are definitely times when I just have to stop and rest.

If you’re reading this: I’m glad that you’ve stuck around, because I think this next year of blogging has the potential to be truly special. I really do appreciate everyone that reads my blogs, and I promise to do a better job, or to at least keep trying to do my best.

Value Yourself

Throughout my life, I have dealt with anxiety on a daily basis. Even as a small child, I remember having anxiety attacks and being afraid of social interaction. Finally in 2011, I was diagnosed with both Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder and subsequently prescribed medication. I have had my ups-and-downs over the past several years, but in general, I can say that my life is a lot more livable and enjoyable on medication (my wife can attest to this as well). It took my doctors and I a few tries to find the right medication and dosage, but the trial-and-error process was definitely worth it.

The un-medicated years were tough, but I was typically able to conquer my demons. I have always suffered from performance anxiety, and it was definitely very bad at the beginning of my musical career. As a young student in middle school, I would play so softly, because I didn’t want anyone to hear me make a mistake. I really didn’t want anyone to hear me at all. No one really believed that I would be good at music back then, but I worked at it, practiced, didn’t give up, and I gained some confidence along the way. By the time I was in 8th grade and transitioning into high school, I was a decent musician. I wasn’t great, but I had potential, and my teachers began to notice it and started to treat me in a different way. I started to feel like I belonged in band, in the music world, and during high school, I began to break out of my shell. I started playing more confidently, I didn’t shy away from exposed parts or solos, and I let my personality show through my music.

I began to love and enjoy music so much that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing it, whether that meant playing or teaching. So, I went to college, and faced a whole new array of obstacles. I’m an anxious person, and college brought a new set of people to face, a new set of rules, a new level of commitment, so I had to adjust. Through hard-work and putting myself out there, I overcame my performance and general anxiety once again. Even though it might have been helpful, I never utilized any psychological tricks during my formative years. If I had a bad performance, I picked myself up and tried again. A combination of practice, a relentless work ethic, and stubbornness helped me achieve my musical goals: getting into grad school, earning my DMA, playing in numerous professional orchestras, winning an orchestral audition, etc.

Needless to say, I have put so much effort into my musical career that it is a part of me, and a very big part of my identity. Music is not only my career, but it is my main interest/hobby. I love it so much that I can’t stop thinking about what I’m going to do next. I have gained a lot of confidence through my musical pursuits, and it really transformed me from a shy introvert, to someone that finally felt comfortable in his own skin. My achievements in music became a huge part of my self-worth, the primary part, and I was really happy, because I was succeeding.

This, unfortunately, is never a good thing and turned out to be my fatal flaw. To judge one’s self-worth through achievements is a slippery slope, because these things are so fickle and fleeting. Yes, I should be happy and celebrate my achievements, but this should never solely determine how I or anyone else values themselves as a person, which is what happened with me. Unfortunately, when my injury occurred, and I started to notice issues with my playing that wouldn’t go away, I panicked. Over the course of three years, I tried weird things, constantly changed my embouchure, changed mouthpiece placement, and eventually, I lost the ability to play for a while. When this happened, my life came crashing down. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself, because playing the horn was my world. It’s what I wanted to do with my life, and I had this goal of becoming a college horn professor, and now that I couldn’t play, I didn’t know how to adjust. I put too much value into the wrong things, and I was unable to put my life into the correct perspective when things started to take a turn for the worse.

At first, when the playing injury happened, I was in denial. For a long time, I did not want to confront the fact that I had a problem (several problems), and I kept brushing it/them off to the side. I didn’t think that this could happen to me, so I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that it was that serious. I decided to keep going about my business, and I told myself that things would get better over time. I was also under the impression that I didn’t have time to deal with this injury. There are all of these unwritten rules, and if I wanted to make it, I needed to audition more and win an orchestral job. I didn’t have time to wait and let myself heal properly, because I needed to do all of this stuff to get a job, and if I didn’t get a job in a certain amount of time or before a certain age, I would be deemed a failure, and since my personal identity and self-worth was involved, I felt like a horrible person as well.

This lack of perspective didn’t allow me to listen to my body and ignore outside (and inside) influences or pressures. My embouchure was not ready, but I pushed myself too far, and put too much emphasis on career outcome/goals, which in the end, severely altered my career trajectory. It has taken me 7 years to fully overcome these problems. Just think about that…if  I had done the smart thing, maybe just take a few months away from playing, I could have saved myself 7 years of grief, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now.

Of course, if I’m trying to blame the system or the “rules” for my problems, then I’m lying to myself. Even though things need to change, we can’t make excuses for ourselves. We are the ones that have to take action, and I was unable to be truthful to myself and others. When my injury happened, I was afraid, so I didn’t accept it. When my career wasn’t going in the right direction, I was afraid, so I became more of an introvert and stopped trying. Instead of being happy for others and trying to emulate them in order to find similar success, I was angry. Angry at them for succeeding, angry at the system for not giving me a chance, and angry at myself for a multitude of things. Like I’ve stated in other posts, I was severely depressed, and for those of you that have dealt with depression, it is a mental disorder that is very difficult to overcome, and I suffered with it (as well as my family) for approximately 4 to 5 years.

In the end, I had to make the decision to overcome my depression. It took a while, but one thing that really helped was learning how to develop a positive image of myself. I needed to understand that even though my life had not gone the way I expected, I wasn’t any less of a person because of it. At the time, my self-worth/confidence was basically non-existent, and I had pretty much spent the past five years just continually tearing myself down. I also didn’t listen to others that were trying to support me. My perception of myself was so awful that I couldn’t take any positive comment the correct way. I would twist it in my own mind until it became completely negative and only added to my torment. Of course, my mind still tries to do this on occasion, but I value myself now, so I’m able to brush these negative feelings aside and know that they are untrue.

This is the key: learning how to value yourself as a person. Don’t judge yourself based on career success and/or failure. Careers change, goals change, and life changes constantly. Learn to be comfortable with who you are as a human being and don’t base your self-worth on merits. These things don’t last long, and just like the old adage, “money can’t buy you happiness.” It can buy you a lot of things, but it can’t fill that void. It’s the reason why people with bi-polar disorder will go on shopping sprees and buy lots of things during “high” periods. Everyone gets excited with a new gadget or toy, but what happens when that “newness” fades? There’s no substance within the relationship, which is why I had to make changes in my life.

First, I needed to change my relationship with music. For so long, I had judged myself based on my musical accomplishments that I had lost the joy of making music. I needed to find that happiness again, so I decided to make enjoyment the main reason for continuing to play. I love playing horn, and there is no reason why I should stop. During my struggles, I seriously considered giving it up, because things were just so unpleasant; however, I just couldn’t imagine my life without music, so it took some time, but I figured it out. I’m still practicing a lot and playing at a high level, but I’m not doing it just to make money or to get a job anymore. If I don’t want to play a gig or teach something/someone, I’m not going to do it. Earlier in my career, I wasted too much time worrying about what other people thought, and I took every single job or gig thrown my way. Now, I’m focusing a lot more on what fits best for me and my family, which led to the other big change that I had to make.

If music wan’t going to be the most important thing in my life, then something had to take its place. Thankfully, I had something that could and should take its place. The one thing that helped me successfully overcome my depression was my family. At first, when my depression began, I felt like a failure, because I was unable to provide for my family. I had spent 10 years in college, and I had just graduated, so I was supposed to start making the big bucks. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and I was extremely hard on myself. After wallowing in my own self-pity for a while, I finally realized that these individuals, my wife and kids, didn’t care about these things that I was constantly worrying about. They loved me and valued me for who I was as a person, and they didn’t care what job I had as long as I was present. This really helped me to develop a new sense of self-worth, and I began to realize myself that my job nor my career mattered as much as I thought it did. I had a great deal to be happy about. I was able to spend a lot of time with my kids and enjoy watching them grow up, and I was still able to teach and make a difference in people’s lives.

Even though I’m still searching for break in my career, I’m not discouraged, because now I have the proper mindset. I have a job that allows me to help provide for my family, but it stills gives me the time and opportunity to pursue my real interests. I’m still teaching my college students and private students, and I’m also trying to create my own opportunities by composing and forming groups to perform my music. It’s tough and a lot of work, but I enjoy it. I’m also still able to spend time with my family, which is super important.

In the end, I think it really is just about having the right mindset and keeping the important things in perspective. Hopefully, I can continue to keep my life in the correct perspective and not let my career pursuits dictate all aspects of my life as it once did.

 

Things They Don’t Teach You in School: Student Loans Suck!

If you are a child of the 80s or 90s, then you probably have some form of student loan debt. I know that student loans have been around for a while, but I feel that my generation was fooled the most. Starting in the 90s (possibly earlier), there was a real societal push towards the college prep track. Basically, we were told that if you didn’t go to college and get a bachelor’s degree, you weren’t going to find a good job. This mindset caused a huge influx of student enrollment in U.S. colleges during the late 90s and really transformed the higher education system into more of a big business model than a place of higher learning. Granted, I loved college and graduate school, and I am still trying to find a job as a professor, but the more I learn about the system, the more I realize that it’s all about making money. Look at the astronomical rise in college tuition as proof of this point. When I attended Augusta State University in Augusta, GA as a college freshman in 2001, the cost of attendance was roughly $1200 per semester. Today, Augusta State is now Augusta University after merging with the top medical school in the state, the Medical College of Georgia, which is also located in Augusta. AU is now a research intensive institution and is even more focused on making money rather than the quality of instruction. If I were an incoming freshman at AU for the fall, I would pay over $9000 per semester….that is an increase in tuition of approximately $8000 per semester. This isn’t even a big college, with less than 10,000 students enrolled. Needless to say, college is expensive, and I could continue to discuss the supposed reasons behind the rise in tuition, but my main point is this:

STUDENT LOANS SUCK!!

No one really warned me about these loans when I was in school. My parents never went to college, so they didn’t know, and my college professors didn’t really warn me about them either. There were a couple of passing comments about loans here and there during undergrad, but most of my professors never discussed it. The common thought at the time was, “I need a college degree to make it, so let’s do whatever it takes to get it done.” Also, don’t think that you can trust the people in the Financial Aid Office, because it is their job to get you approved for the money you need to pay for college. If you enroll in school, then that is their job security. They’re not going to warn you about the pitfalls of student loans. They won’t tell you that you’re going to accrue several thousands of dollars in interest while you’re in school, and if you go to grad school and defer, then just keep on multiplying that number. They won’t tell you that your interest rate is going to be so high that it will take 5-10 years to pay off even $1,000 of that loan debt (think of a credit card bill, but with a much higher payment and interest rate). Sure, you can consolidate through another company once you get out of college and get a job, but your debt to income ratio will probably be so high that a lot of the good and reputable companies won’t touch you.

Don’t ever take out extra student loan debt as a way to cover living expenses while in undergrad or grad school. My wife and I made this mistake, and we are still paying for it. I won assistantships for grad school, but I still took out loan money for living expenses, because we had no idea what to expect. I don’t remember the exact number, but I know that I took out around $15,000; however, through several years of deferment, we now owe over $30,000 on that loan…even after paying on it for about 5 years.

At the last Southeast Horn Workshop at UGA, I was speaking to one of the employees at the Siegfried’s Call table (very well-known and reputable horn dealer/shop), and he was telling me that a lot of students are taking out more student loan debt to pay for new horns (about $10,000 to $12,000). While at WVU, I had the same idea and took out another student loan to buy a new horn. Well, that original loan amount doubled through the deferment process, and we now owe probably a little less that $20,000 on it. If you are thinking about taking out more student loan debt to pay for a new instrument….DON’T DO IT!! It’s really easy to get that money, but paying for it afterwards is not worth it. Make the smarter choice and go to your bank or a local credit union that will work with you and give you a much better interest rate.

I put all of this stuff out there not to scare, but to inform. Please, make better choices than I and countless others in the past. I know that most musicians want to go to grad school, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t, but you need to be smart about it. Sure, we all dream of going to Eastman, Juilliard, Indiana, Northwestern, etc., but is it really worth accruing $90,000 worth of debt for a job that might pay in the $50,000 range? There are plenty of assistantships out there and a lot of wonderful teachers, so there’s no reason why anyone should have to pay for a graduate degree. Plus, like I stated above, don’t make the stupid decision of taking out loans to pay for living expenses…find another way. Save money, work an extra job, ask a family member for assistance…do what you need to do to keep from making a big mistake.

Here’s a bit of advice that we all probably need to hear and/or think about more often: Learn from other people’s mistakes and make the better choice.

An Efficient Embouchure, Confidence, and Air Support/Control

These three qualities/aspects of playing may not seem to have anything in common, but in actuality, they are very similar and all equally as important. In order to be a good musician, one must master each of these concepts. When we are learning to become a musician, we always seem to tackle these issues individually and hardly ever tend to see the association between them. Since suffering my injury and going through the subsequent rehabilitation, I have noticed a striking similarity between these three ideas. From my perspective, I have come to realize that these three qualities CANNOT exist without the other.

Once I began suffering from Embouchure Overuse Syndrome, I began to notice a drastic decline in both my confidence and the ability to use my air efficiently while performing. This was primarily due to the fact that I was utilizing an inefficient embouchure. I know that there were a multitude of problems created by my inefficient embouchure, but these are two areas in my playing that I struggled with the most during my rehab. I actually began to regain my technical facility and flexibility first after fixing my embouchure, and I believe that this helped me to begin to feel more confident in my playing, which in turn, continued to elevate my playing ability in general.

My loss of air support seemed to be directly derived from both maladies, my loss of embouchure and confidence. It didn’t happen at once, but over a period of 6 months, I began to notice a drastic decline in my ability to play long phrases, and my sound went from being very colorful to just mediocre. Personally, I know that these side effects were mostly due to my lack of confidence. Normally, when an anxious person suffers from an anxiety attack, you sweat, shake, lose the ability to concentrate, and suffer from shortness of breath. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I had been scarred so badly that I began to suffer an anxiety attack every time I picked up the horn. I was so afraid of playing and messing up that I was unable to take in enough air to produce a quality sound, and sometimes, I was unable to produce a sound at all. Initially, I thought that something else was wrong. I began to wonder if I had lost my air control and support due to my weight gain and lack of exercise (Thanks, Depression!). Maybe it was due to the fact that I wasn’t practicing enough. Yes, I’m sure these things had an affect, but my anxiety was the root of the problem. Once my condition began to improve, my air support and control came back. I still need to exercise and lose weight, but my anxiety had to be conquered first.

The funny thing is that even though my embouchure was back to normal, and I was beginning to regain some confidence, I still suffered from issues with my air when performing in front of others. My anxiety was so advanced that even though I knew that I was improving, I was still scared to play for others. Nonetheless, I still put myself out there and subsequently gained more confidence through these experiences. I’ve noticed that as I become more confident, my anxiety is more controllable, and I don’t have to think so much while I’m playing. This means that I’ve also been able to utilize my air more efficiently, which solidifies the fact that my air support not only depends upon an efficient embouchure, but also relies heavily upon my confidence level.

I have always suffered from anxiety, so it comes as no surprise that I would need to face my nemesis once again to regain control of my life. This whole ordeal affected pretty much every aspect of my life in a negative way, so I’m glad that it’s over, but I can honestly say that it has made me stronger. I think it has also forced me to re-evaluate my teaching, and I do feel that I have become a better teacher throughout this process as well.

Some more thoughts about air. I wish that I could give everyone some magical tip that will fix all of your problems, but I can’t. However, I will say that most, if not all, problems can be solved through hard work and determination, which is what it took for me to overcome my issues. One thing that I have noticed is the fact that as I have become more efficient with my air, I am thinking less and less about the process and more about the result. I’m not thinking about how to create the sound. I have a clear concept of the sound that I want, and then I just do it, no extraneous thoughts involved. When I’m teaching younger students, I do give them specific instructions, “Use more air,” “Faster air,” “Energize the air,” etc., but I also explain that I’m trying to teach them how to intuitively use their air in order to become more efficient. I constantly point things out in the music, especially whenever slurred leaps are involved. I try to remind them that every time they see a leap, they should begin to “energize” or “churn” the air more quickly on the bottom note to prepare and support the shift to the upper note. If you take worrying about air out of the equation, then you can just focus on the note, which ultimately gives you a better chance to be accurate.

It all really boils down to efficiency and confidence. If you’re efficient, you’ll be more confident, and with confidence, you can achieve a great deal. Efficiency is the key factor, but for someone that suffers from sever anxiety, confidence plays a major role in how I perform and how I sound. Even if I’m playing efficiently, I will not sound good unless I am confident in my abilities. Confidence takes to time to develop, but I promise that it is worth it. I’ve felt the difference twice (lack of confidence vs highly confident), and it is really a life altering experience. Remember that everyone will progress at a different rate. For me, it took longer due to my anxiety, and I also had to surround myself with the right people. Just don’t give up, because like I mentioned earlier, if you put in the work, it will happen.

Don’t Take Your Teachers for Granted

Since last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, I felt that it would be appropriate to talk about a few of my former horn teachers. It is normally inevitable that we will one day out live our teachers, but I think that some of us, if not most of us, take their presence in our lives for granted. In a span of four years, I lost three teachers (my horn instructors) that not only meant a lot to me personally, but they were also very influential towards my development as a horn player, musician, and teacher.

I went to The University of Tennessee for my masters, because they offered me the most money. It was the last grad school where I auditioned, and it was the school that I knew the least about. I think I only applied there, because some of my professors from undergrad went there and advised it. Well, I showed up, played one of the best auditions of my life, and I was offered an assistantship not long afterwards. It was a blessing in disguise, because I really enjoyed my time at UT. I also really enjoyed working with the horn professor, Calvin Smith. He was funny, possessed a wealth of knowledge, played flawlessly, and cared a great deal about his students.

Unfortunately, he was also the first teacher that I lost. I remember the day as if it happened yesterday. It was my second year into my DMA, and I think the Fall semester had just ended. I woke up late and saw that I had missed a call from one of my friends back in Knoxville. Even before I heard the news, I had this weird feeling that something bad had happened. My friend left a voicemail, but before I could even check it, the trombone professor from UT called to give me the bad news. A heart attack, nothing anyone could do about it.

I think it’s a normal reaction to wish that you had made more of an attempt to reach out to someone after they pass away. As we get older, our lives become busier, especially if you have a family of your own, and you don’t always have time to call family members or friends. It’s easy to put things off. We think, “Oh, we’ll see that person at the next holiday, or the next time we’re in town.” I did send a couple of emails to Calvin while I was working on my DMA, but I instantly regretted not doing more. I had actually wanted to interview him about his time in L.A. and try to have it published in The Horn Call, but I wasted too much time. It also would have been nice to spend more time with Calvin, because he was such a great human being.

The next former teacher to pass away was Bob Pruzin, who I studied with for a year before going to grad school. His death was not as emotional, because he and I never really had much of a personal relationship. Still, I will be forever grateful to him, because he definitely helped me become a better horn player, and he is definitely the reason why I got into graduate school for performance. Pruzin also gave me my first professional orchestra gig. He passed away almost immediately after I moved back to Georgia, which is very sad, because I had hoped to re-establish a connection with him. His passing happened very suddenly as well, because he was afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS, and his deterioration was extremely rapid. After the diagnosis was announced, it only took maybe a couple of months for him to pass.

With Pruzin, I primarily felt guilty after his passing. As I mentioned, he was my teacher when I was preparing for grad school, and I applied and was accepted into the University of South Carolina, where he taught. I was actually verbally committed to attending SC, but I received the assistantship offer from UT right before the deadline. It was a tough decision, but I made the choice to go to UT, which I don’t regret at all. I informed Pruzin of my decision via voicemail, and I always felt guilty about not telling him in person. He wasn’t the greatest at taking bad news (Pruzin was infamous for having a bad temper in his younger days), so I was a little afraid to tell him in the first place. I would have liked to apologize for that decision, but I never got the chance. I tried to reach out to him when I moved back, but he wasn’t performing anymore at the time, and I think he was in the early stages of his diagnosis, so he wasn’t teaching as much, only his students at SC. Other people wouldn’t be bothered by this, but it bugs me. It’s a decision that I regret, and I can’t makeup for it, so I guess it will always bother me.

The final teacher that I lost during this span of time was the most difficult. Dr. Virginia Thompson was the reason why I went to WVU. Granted, WVU has a great music program, but I don’t think I would have considered it if not for her. Two of my previous teachers talked about her a lot and held her in high regard, so I had always heard wonderful things about her. I also had a friend that went to WVU and would talk about how great she was. When I finally met Dr. T, I knew that I didn’t want to study with anyone else. I auditioned and then we spent a couple of hours talking about a myriad of things. She even tried to convince me to go somewhere else, because she felt that WVU wouldn’t be able to offer me the experience that I wanted…it didn’t work. She and I clicked. Sometimes, I would just go into her office intending to ask a simple question, and three hours later, we’d finally be finished with our conversation.

As with the other two, her passing was sudden and unexpected as well. She found out that she had cancer that had metastasized at an alarming rate, and only few weeks after receiving the news, she passed. It was very difficult, and for a while, I didn’t believe that it happened. This might be a little weird, but I have had dreams, even recently, where she’s still alive. These dreams are way too real and cause me to feel a lot different emotions upon waking. I even had a dream recently, where she had somehow miraculously survived the cancer, and her and the current horn teacher at WVU were both teaching there…very odd.

Anyway, enough about my weird mind. I don’t really regret many things pertaining to Dr. T. We had an amazing relationship while I was a student and that relationship continued after I graduated. We talked a lot, and I would often send her an email to pick her brain about random things. There are, however, a few small things that I regret. One, I never took a picture with her, not even after any of my recitals. I don’t really enjoy taking pictures, but I wish that I had put this aversion aside for at least one moment. I also regret not attending my graduation ceremony. I didn’t go because of a gig with the symphony that I was playing with at the time. My rationale was that I didn’t want to give up a performance opportunity or the extra money, but in hindsight that concert didn’t mean that much. I should have skipped it and walked across the stage. I think that Dr. T was even disappointed that I wasn’t going to attend graduation, but she would have never admitted it.

All of this to say that you never know when you are going to lose someone, so take advantage of the time you have. As music students, we form a special bond with our teachers, spending two to four years, sometimes longer, working one-on-one with a single person. Now that I’m on the other side, I realize how much work and effort goes into teaching. These students become our kids, and we experience and feel with them, both triumphs and failures. Even when they leave us, we still care about them and want them to succeed. It also makes you feel better when a former student comes to see you. This simple act let’s a teacher know that all of the work they did and the time they sacrificed made a difference.

I know that all of my former music teachers made a difference in my life, so students, don’t take your teachers for granted. Let them know how much they mean/meant to you while you still have the chance.

 

Am I a Composer?

Last Summer, I spent a lot of time fixing and preparing several arrangements that I had completed for horn ensemble. This project was a very rewarding experience, especially considering that all of these arrangements were published by Cimarron Music last September.

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Even if I never have another work published, this is an achievement that was on my “career” bucket list. I’ve always wanted to write music and have it published, so I was really excited when this happened. I was especially excited, because my arrangement of Danny Boy contained a bunch of original material. Even though I did study arranging and composition with a professor at West Virginia University, you could say that this piece, Irish Tune for horn sextet, was my first serious attempt at composing music. I composed an introduction section, wrote all of the counter melodies and harmonic material, and a really cool bit of transitional material near the end. I had a lot of fun with it, and I enjoyed the process so much that I wanted to try writing more music.

I’ve written the first couple of sections of a piece for horn and piano, I’m working on another piece for horn ensemble, as well as a long list of other projects that I have planned. Oddly enough, the first completely original piece that I finished back in January was a work for brass octet. It doesn’t really have a great name yet, Fanfares for Brass, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’ve found that I focus a great deal on rhythmic interplay in my writing, and the brass piece is no exception. Each section kind of features its own rhythmic ostinato. Being that I’m a horn player, the horn parts are well-written, but I also try to spread the wealth. I attempt to make a conscious effort to give each instrument group the melody, or at least some exciting stuff to play. I intended to have the brass choir at Augusta University perform it, but that didn’t work out. However, there will be an opportunity to have it performed at a concert in September of this year, so I’m really going to push for that.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep writing. I’m not great at it yet, but I have a lot of ideas, and I don’t think my music is that horrible. Besides, I really feel like I’ve found another passion, because I really enjoy writing music, and I get really excited even just thinking about it.

As a side note, I had the opportunity to take my horn choir to the Southeast Horn Workshop at UGA this past February, and we were able to perform my piece, Irish Tune. We performed on the balcony of the big hall next to the music building, so the recording isn’t great, but it’s something. The video is below in case anyone is interested in listening. Sorry that it’s lopsided…this was my first time editing something in iMovies.