What Happens When You Lose Your Passion?

This is a difficult blog to write, because for the longest time, I couldn’t picture my life without music. It’s been part of my identity for so long that I don’t even know what I would do if I ultimately had to choose another vocation. Still, the past year or so has been very difficult for me, because I genuinely don’t enjoy my “money-making” job, and I am legitimately beginning to question and explore my current career options.

I always wanted to be a college professor, but with only a couple of interviews, and working adjunct positions that weren’t paying the bills, I had to do something. I needed to support my family, so I took a job teaching music for four days a week at an elementary school. Unfortunately, when I was in school as an undergrad learning to become a music educator, this was the job option that I was least interested in. I was trained to be a band director, and all of my graduate work trained me to work in higher education. Don’t get me wrong, I can do it, but I don’t have the personality for it, nor the energy level. Yet, this is what I’ve been stuck doing for the past three and a half years. I should also mention that my school is pretty awful for many reasons that I won’t divulge publicly, but this just adds to my frustrations.

I’m an introvert, and I’m at my most comfortable in calm and controlled circumstances, which everyone knows is not how one would describe the elementary music classroom. It saps all of my energy, so I’m extremely tired when I get home. The fact that I’m suffering from depression doesn’t help, and there are just days where I feel like I’m too tired to deal with my own kids. I’m so mentally exhausted and frustrated that I don’t even want to continue my academic pursuits, like scholarly writing, composing music, and even practicing my instrument. I used to love practicing, but now, I just don’t have any desire to pick it up. As mentioned above, I’ve always wanted to be a college professor, but this elementary job has literally taken all of the fun out of music. At this point, I don’t even know if I want to do music anymore.

Of course, here’s the logical thought, and it’s my thought process from when I originally took my current position: “Hey, I’ll work this job for a year or two, move into a band position, stay there for a while, and then work on getting a college band director job.” I can honestly say that I’ve tried this approach, and I really don’t know if it’s going to work. After applying and interviewing for numerous band jobs, I am constantly overlooked for less qualified individuals that are typically right out of undergrad. I could understand it if I just wasn’t a good teacher, but I’ve had too many very successful students to see this as being the reason. I also know that I don’t interview extremely well, but after doing so many interviews, I got pretty good at it, and I felt very positively about several of them.

The whole thing is frustrating for so many reasons. I’m at a point where I don’t know if I will ever attain a full-time position at a college or university, because I have only had two interviews over the past seven years and neither occurred recently. I definitely don’t want to spend twenty more years as an elementary music teacher, so I’m at a loss. Yes, I still have two adjunct positions, but I can’t teach many courses due to my public school job. I will keep fighting, but the doubts are becoming very real, and I have been contemplating other options. I have been applying for different “office” jobs, and even though I don’t want to, I have even thought about going back to grad school.

I have very seriously considered moving, because Augusta, GA sucks, but where would I go, and how would I afford the move? I have a family, a house, a lot of debt, and it just isn’t feasible to move right now without a very good job offer. I feel like I’m stuck with no way out, which is not great when you’re trying to cope with depression.

I have always considered my greatest attribute to be the fact that I don’t give up. People, including family members, never thought I should go into music, and I proved them wrong. Most of my undergraduate professors never really thought that I would make it as a horn player, but I did. So now, with everything trying to weigh me down, my gut reaction is to fight back. I chose this profession, I’m good at it, and I’m not going to let some disease take it away from me. I have written before about how it’s my choice to either stay depressed or work my way out of it. Depression isn’t something that is going to disappear, it will always strike you at your most vulnerable point, and it will ultimately win if you let it. You can either let it consume you, or snap out of it and take back what is rightfully yours. I want to find my passion again, not only for music, but for life as well. Who knows how long it will take, but I’m going to work hard and make it difficult for anyone to overlook me for a job again.

I Need to Write More Often

I haven’t been writing a lot lately, and recent circumstances have shown that I need to start writing again. Life has been busy, but I’ve also been lazy. I’ve started several posts over the past couple of years, and I just haven’t been able to finish anything. One of the main reasons is the fact that I’ve been suffering from chronic depression for the past 7-8 years. I’ll have a great idea, run with it for a little while, and then I’ll typically hit some sort of road block, and all of my momentum will just completely fade away. Most of the blame is on me, because I’m letting my depression dictate me and my life, and this is something that has been happening for a while now. I had a couple of good years, where I was making some progress, which just so happened to coincide with my most active blogging periods. I was also pushing myself during those years, and like I mentioned previously, I just haven’t been pulling my weight lately.

So, what do I need to do? First, I need to write and be more open about my struggles with depression. I’ve been using it as an excuse lately, and this behavior needs to stop. I’m never going to find and/or create a better situation for myself if I continue to let my depression run my life. Also, I need to make a list of things that I want to accomplish or that need to happen, and then use my blog to chronicle my progress and hopefully keep myself from quitting and giving up yet again. I need to keep myself accountable, and this is the perfect tool for that purpose.

For the past couple of years, I have been dabbling as a composer. I have enjoyed some limited success, but I really want to push myself to see if I can do more. I may not be a great composer, and it takes me a little more time to complete things, but this is something that I’m really passionate about. Plus, it makes me happy, and I have always had random melodies and compositional ideas floating around in my head, so why not put it all to good use. I have a couple of pieces that are going to be published, which I will write about later, but there are also a number of projects that I have started and just can’t seem to finish. The goal will be to pick one project at a time, chronicle the progress and/or struggles that I’m experiencing, and then maybe I can hold myself accountable and finish some compositions.

I also want to perform more often on horn. In September, I performed a Mozart Concerto with a local orchestra, which was nice, but I’m still struggling with anxiety and lingering doubts concerning my abilities as a performer. The only way to confront these issues is to meet them head on, so I definitely need to push myself to perform more as a soloist. I’m going to work towards performing one of my original compositions at the upcoming Southeast Horn Workshop, and I also need to put together another recital. I did one a couple of years ago, and I definitely programmed pieces that were not very difficult. The goal will be to schedule a recital for the Spring semester (I already have most of the music picked out), and I will chronicle my progress towards this goal. I’ll also try to include some videos or at least audio.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is a project that I have been mulling over for quite a while. I have always enjoyed playing chamber music, and I was fortunate to perform a lot of great repertoire at West Virginia University in both a wind quintet and chamber winds group. I really want to start a chamber winds group, because there is a lot of great rep out there, and the city of Augusta, GA doesn’t have a group that currently meets this need. I also want to obtain more experience as a conductor, and this just seems like the logical choice right now. Previously, I’ve been worried about people not being interested, in terms of audience and high-quality musicians, but I’m done with excuses. I’m going to use my blog to flesh out my ideas and share the group’s progress. First up, is finding musicians…

I hope that this isn’t just another singular post with a bunch of great ideas and no follow through. I really want to do something with my life, and I know that sitting around feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to help, so here’s to making stuff happen!

Playing Gigs Again

A year or two ago, I would have been hesitant to say that I would be playing paid gigs again. I was once one of the first people contacted in my area when someone needed a horn player, but after all of my troubles, I stopped getting calls. I think I have played maybe three paid gigs over the past two years. I was asked to do more, but I had to turn them down. At the time, I wasn’t playing well at all, and I was tired of the humiliation, or rather, feeling humiliated.

This past Sunday, I played in an orchestra at one of the big churches in Augusta, GA. It’s a church that I played for quite regularly before, and I was actually surprised when they asked me to play again. The music was typical of church music for brass, high and loud, but it was a lot of fun to play. I felt confident, and I also received quite a few compliments from the other musicians. After struggling for so long, it felt really good to receive sincere affirmation. Not the typical, “Well, you sound like you’re getting better, but…(you still suck),” type compliments.

No matter how humble, I think at some point we all need that recognition of our hard work. I don’t enjoy being in the spotlight, but it does feel good when someone gives me a compliment. I’ve been very dedicated, and I’m not planning on giving up if I have a disastrous performance or anything, but I needed those compliments this past weekend. It not only gave me a push to keep working, but it also gave me a little more confidence in myself, which is something that I haven’t felt in a long time. After hearing some of the compliments, I noticed that my anxiety levels lessened, and I even started to play better and more confidently. It was just a very good feeling.

I’m not trying to get ahead of myself, because I know that I haven’t been miraculously cured, but I can feel that I’m making strides in the correct direction. Things are getting easier, and I’m also enjoying myself a lot more, which is the ultimate goal. Music has to become fun again. I don’t want to just get paid, I want to enjoy myself and be able to appreciate this gift. If playing gigs becomes too much again, then maybe I’ll have to back off some, but for now, I feel comfortable taking gigs.

None of this would be possible if not for my unwavering work ethic. I have put in a lot of hours and spent a lot of time practicing “boring” fundamentals, but it has paid off so far. It seems that deliberate and efficient practice is the best (maybe only) way to overcome anxiety or a playing issue, whether it be injury related or not. I feel more confident and a big reason for this change is the fact that I’m putting in the right kind of work during my practice sessions. I may not be practicing as much as I should, but I’m being more consistent about practicing every day. I’m also trying to incorporate the most beneficial exercises and etudes to match my current needs. Here is a short list of exercises that I will play through on a daily basis: Breath Attacks/Long Tones at soft dynamics, Lip Trill exercises for about 10 minutes, Lip Slurs both full-range and isolated ranges, SCALES in all different patterns (I’m even practicing stuff from the Arban and Pares Scales books), Low Horn with Melodious Etudes for Trombone by Rochut, plus many other etude books that I rotate through. If anyone wants or needs specifics, feel free to contact.

There is hope, but you definitely have to be willing to put forth the effort.

Update

Unfortunately, I’ve been extremely busy with life lately, and I just haven’t had much time to blog. Things have actually been going very well, so I also haven’t felt a need to write like I did just a few months ago. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to quit, but I do need to multi-task a little better and find time to devote to researching anxiety. I just have so many things that I want to do right now and not enough time to do it all.

Now, an update on how things have progressed concerning my performance anxiety. I can honestly say that it’s been a few years since I’ve had this much fun playing horn. I’m also playing almost as well as I was back then too. I knew it would take a while to regain my playing abilities, but I’m progressing, and I’m also enjoying myself for the first time in a long while. I actually want to practice, which is a drastic contrast to the past few years.

About a month ago, I re-joined a group that I had stopped performing with when things got really bad. The group is a semi-professional wind ensemble that performs 4-5 concerts throughout the year. It’s a pretty good group, and we’re actually performing a full concert at the Georgia Music Educator’s Conference in January of 2018. When I quit, I just wasn’t enjoying myself. I was working really hard to play stuff that should have been easy, and I was also extremely anxious about how I sounded. I didn’t want anyone to hear me play poorly. I needed some time away to re-assess things and try to fix some of my issues. Now that a lot of my issues have been solved, I’ve actually enjoyed the last two rehearsals. I even had to sight-read the first part today, playing several solos, and it actually went better than I expected. I’m even starting to regain some of my confidence. I know that I still have a lot of work to do, but today and especially the last few weeks have been very encouraging.

There are a few people playing in this group that do a lot of freelancing, and they sort of have control over many of the gigs around town. When I first moved back to Augusta, I got called for a lot of gigs, and it was great. When things started deteriorating, I stopped getting calls. It’s the way the system works. Over the past few years, I have been so self-conscious, especially when I play around people that “matter.” I know that I’m still holding back when I play around other people, because I’m afraid to mess up. Today was a huge eye opener, because I knew that I could play certain things, but I still felt nervous due to certain people being present. I played fine, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. I normally play with a lot of expression and feeling, it just comes naturally, but I could tell that I was still holding back today.

If you’ve never experienced anxiety, then consider yourself lucky. Most people experience some form of anxiety if you have to do something in front of a group of people, but if you are a person that struggles with anxious feelings on a daily basis, then the fear of performing in front of others is greater than anything you’ve ever felt before. Those of us that suffer with anxiety are afraid to put ourselves out there, and we are also afraid of what others will think. Of course, most people are in your corner and want you to succeed, but anxious people don’t see things the same way. We see each person as the enemy, because we know without a doubt that they are thinking negative thoughts about us. We hear those negative thoughts playing in our heads. Even if someone comes up to you and gives a positive comment, we know what they are really thinking. They think less of us because we failed.

Failure to us doesn’t have any positive meaning or connotation. If an anxious or depressed person fails at something, then the world is over. We want to give up. We want to go and hide from the world. It’s easy to give up, and it also takes the spotlight away. Give up too many times, and people tend to forget about you, which is the goal at first…until you try to resurrect your career.

These are the demons that I have dealt with for far too long. It’s a lot easier to deal with them when you’re happy, which leads to the point of this rant. Playing horn makes me happy. I also enjoy performing with other people….so, why do I let my fears control my happiness? Why should I care what other people think? The answer, plain and simple is that I shouldn’t and neither should anyone else. Music is very personal, but I don’t really enjoy sharing personal things with others. I’m always afraid of what someone will think or say, but does that make what I have to share any less important? Should I hide my “voice” because someone may not like it?

No!

Don’t let anything control your life, whether it be a person, fear, money, whatever. It’s not that important. Do what you love and love what you do. It’s simple, but this is something that I haven’t been able to do because of fear. I was afraid, so I made myself suffer. I gave in to my anxiety and depression, let it rule my life, and I almost lost who I was as a person. Don’t give in to fear, because it’s not worth it. Failure doesn’t make you less of a person. Doing what you love without fear of what anyone thinks is what makes you a better person.