Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Musician's new epiphany

According to legend, I started my musical life in first grade. The director of the “young strings” program came to class one day and described her orchestra program for students in elementary school. Well, I was pretty excited. Both of my older sisters played violin, and I always wanted to play like them. I went home that day and asked my parents if I could join the program. My parents finally decided I was too young to begin such an expensive undertaking, especially if I would just get sick of it and give it up in a few days.
However, I have never been one to listen whole-heartedly to my parents, and in this case the benefit was immeasurable. I singed myself up for the class at age six. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Farlow, handing me a small, hideous sounding school instrument every other day, and she always asked, “Emily why don’t you have an instrument of your own yet?” I usually made up some lie because I didn’t want her to know that my parents were unaware of my activities.
Eventually, she called home. I remember my parents’ shock at my determination to play the violin. They agreed if I wanted to play that badly, they would buy me an instrument. I was ecstatic. I have continued playing violin ever since, and I still do. I even brought it to college with me.
My foray into orchestra led me to want to be involved in music forever. In fifth grade I entered the ISSMA contest for singers. I had never sung solo before and I was terrified, but despite my doubts I learned the piece, “Getting to Know You” and won a first place ribbon. It was then that I discovered how much I truly loved to perform. I loved to portray a character through song, and I placed first in the contest the following year as well.
Once again, I took matters into my own hands. I decided that along with violin lessons, I wanted to have private voice lessons. I had to sign myself up for lessons again. This time, my parents trusted my judgment. I began lessons with Barbara Horine, at my school, in seventh grade. I tried really hard. However, I never felt like I was enjoying my singing. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. My improvement was inconsistent and I knew I had not found my niche. Then, I tried out for the junior high school musical, Oliver!. I received the part of Nancy, and it was a huge scandal. A seventh grader getting the lead in the musical! The student body was really mad.
When I performed that role I realized what I had missed in my singing. When I was onstage, the music came to life. The music and I became one in the same. I loved the expressiveness of the theatre. I loved entertaining the whole auditorium. The musical was a huge success, and I managed to make a name for myself before entering high school. Since then, I have performed in many musicals at school and in the Indianapolis community.
The theatre made me relate and embrace the passion found in music. Suddenly, I wanted to do everything. I started to play the guitar, and later the piano. I couldn’t, and still can’t, get enough music in my life. Whether it is just sitting in my room listening to rock, or attending an opera, I love the concept of performance. I love being part of a room full of people who are all swept away by the beauty of music. To me, music is truly a way for souls to connect.
It was very hard for me to find the “right” school for myself. I had a great difficulty with many college's programs because the university or conservatory predetermined the kind of performing done. During my senior year, I auditioned at ten different schools, which meant I missed a lot of school. In retrospect, it is very funny that I auditioned at DePauw first and ended up doing a complete three-sixty and coming here in the end.
I was convinced at age seventeen that I belonged in a conservatory. I wanted the best vocal training, in the classical technique, and I wanted to really zone in on my music and perfect it in everyway possible. I was admitted to all of the conservatories where I auditioned. But, I came to find out that conservatories only give you, at best, an incredible teacher with amazing connections. In general, productions were for graduate students, their facilities were pretty run down, and they had this strange claustrophobia hanging over everyone.
I then decided to look into the universities with conservatories and see if they could offer more. I ended up narrowing my decision to SUNY at Purchase, NYU, and DePauw. Honestly, for a while I didn’t even consider DePauw an option because it was so close to home, but I kept it at bay for my parents. It was not until I visited all three schools again that I realized why I was going into college in the first place. I was eighteen, and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I thought that since I knew I wanted to perform that I had a leg up on everyone else. I might have had a toe. When it came down to it, I was going to school to figure out how to channel my passions. I could not go to the SUNY College because it was strictly opera, and what if I decided after four years that I wanted to do musical theatre? I would be out of luck. I could not go to NYU because their classical voice program was lodged between theatre and opera so really neither was experienced. DePauw, however, was not a conservatory or a university with a renowned theatre program and an obscure music program. Instead, it was just a place with opportunities. It did not promise connections or immediate results, but it did promise that I would be sure of my place in the music world.
Admittedly, I received a lot of grief from my high school about picking DePauw. They thought I had wasted an entire year. However, I came to realize that my place as a musician was blurry. I was not mature enough to dedicate my life to one for of the musical arts. All I knew then, and what I know now, is I am improving, immersed, and eventually my place will come.

Some of the best experiences I have had as a musician are playing live in small venues. When I was about eleven, I used to visit my sister in California and her husband played every week in an open-mic night. I thought it was so cool to see a vast array of such unique performers in one coffee house. Eventually, my brother-in-law, Ryan, convinced me to sing a few songs with him. When I was that young, I couldn’t accompany myself and sing at the same time, so he played guitar and I sang. We performed “On My Own” from Les Miserables and “Scarborough Fair.” It was so exhilarating to share music with complete strangers, and to have them appreciate it.
When my sister and her husband moved to Boston, I was sad because I thought the music was over. However, Ryan soon found a different open-mic night in Boston, and began to record his own music. When I visited them most recently, we recorded a few songs, and we both m=played guitar and sang. It was really fun. Later, I joined him at the open-mic bar and I sang “Jolene,” which is a Dolly Parton song, and I performed “Zombie” by the Cranberries. This venue was bigger and more daunting, but the fear left me after the first song and I realized that the love of live performing, not matter how good the person is, is appreciated by all artists.
It is really important for me to find small ways of performing, like open-mic nights, because it personalizes performing, and takes it down to a smaller scale. Sometimes, I feel like performing is an impossible lifestyle. However, every time I think of those nights, with all of the strangers, I realize performing isn’t a lifestyle, but a life choice. One can choose how thy want to perform, and sometimes it is important to accept and appreciate the intimate, non-paying, gigs that are all about the music, and not about the career.

I recently had an epiphany about my life as a musician. It isn’t very positive, but it cannot be described as negative, so here goes.
I have always been of the opinion that one’s confidence and ambition makes up for half of a musician’s success. Lately, I have had problems with just plain confidence in my singing. I find that I have improved greatly over the last couple of months, my voice is changing for the better, and I am learning songs very fast. However, when it comes to believing that I can indeed do everything I work on in lessons and on my own, I have no confidence.
When I was younger, I never had any doubt in my own talent. However, I have noticed that over the last year or so I have a lot of problems just learning, loving, and performing a piece. It is like I am swamped in critiques from teachers and myself, and it is to the point that I cannot cast quibbles aside and do it. Every time I get to a high note that is not even close to the edge of my range, I tense up or I just say in my mind, “here’s that note I always mess up,” and I hate that feeling.
Anyway, I feel like as a musician this is a huge obstacle I must overcome. When I decided on colleges I thought I would have technical difficulties and difficulties within music. However, now I find that my doubt is the biggest obstacle in front of me. This might be shocking to some of you because I do not think I show my lack of confidence when performing. If it does show, it comes out as a “technical problem” not as a “mental preparation problem.” The most frustrating thing about this is that I know I can do it deep down. I know I have the capability of kicking-butt on pieces, but I chose to not trust myself instead.
This is a problem I must fix soon, and I know that. I just think it is really interesting that, as a musician, I must find what it truly means to BE a musician again. I think I must find my passion and confidence in my singing again to become the musician I want to be.


At 10/30/2006 12:20 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

I like that your post are becoming more involved every week.

At 10/30/2006 8:08 AM, Blogger Nat said...

I really liked your new ending. I think we all struggle, to an extent, with confidence.


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