These last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind, and I have had a lot of trouble finding words to express my thoughts and emotions as of late. With regard to social interactions this is not such a surprise seeing as I am very much an introvert; however, this phenomenon has been amplified recently by the onslaught of new experiences and people in my life. In the midst of big changes, my initial reaction has been one of quiet observation, and while this vantage point can be a bit lonely at first, it has brought to light some interesting ideas. In an effort to process my thoughts of the last couple weeks (so I can hopefully break out of my introvert shell), here’s a couple connections I have made.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I grew up in Orlando, Florida, and while I did not spend my entire childhood at Disney World (shocker, right?) I was heavily steeped in Disney mythology like most American kids. Probably the most striking commonality of all these stories is the “Happily Ever After” ending-a sleight of hand that compresses a life story into a tumultuous series of events bookended by stability and happiness. When we are young, we are often led to believe in the myth of “Happily Ever After,” that everything will come together magically all at once and then life is pure bliss. But this fairy tale ending begs the question, What Comes Next?
In the context of performing Hamilton, this question has been particularly pertinent to me-not only because “What Comes Next” is the name of a song from the show, but also because we give eight performances each week. We all work hard, play our hearts out, go out to celebrate, and then go to sleep; however, when we wakeup, we must repeat this same cycle (sometimes twice) each day. It was brutally obvious, even from the first rehearsal, that playing for this show is not a game of speed, but a game of distance – a job that tests consistency and pacing from show to show. The dichotomy between sprinting and distance running is reflected in the contrast between the world we see in movies, shows, and plays on one hand, and the world we live in every day on the other. It is easy to live life in search of the next big thing – to live in a state of perpetual boredom and routine until a highlight comes to break the monotony; however, there is so much more enjoyment in celebrating the journey rather than focusing on the elusive destination…but how to do this?
A former teacher once described the difference between a student and a professional as this: the student practices until they get something right, whereas the professional practices until they don’t get it wrong. The realization that “Happily Ever After” is never certain mirrors the shift in objectives that occurs when students become professionals. You can practice like a student and nail the first rehearsal, but what will you do for the next rehearsals or the concert?
When I look back on my time in college and grad school, I remember struggling most in my weekly private lessons. It was very clear in my academic classes and orchestra rehearsals what the expectations were from my professors; however, lessons are a bit more freeform because the only thing limiting progress is what you individually are capable of achieving on a week-to-week basis (since you’re not at the mercy of the pace of an entire class). While it is easy for me to make observations now that I’m no longer in the middle of it, I wish I had made this connection in my college and grad school studies rather than seeing my objective as solely what my teacher asked for in a given week. Now that I am the sole person driving my practice and defining my goals and expectations, I am starting to realize the unique challenges of being your own teacher while at the same time garnering more and more appreciation for those who helped me learn and grow as a musician.
A landmark experience in my music education was attending Brevard Music Festival for two summers as a college student. Aside from the amazing music making that happened there every week, the incredible location nestled in the Appalachian Mountains provided an experiential fulfillment unlike any other. I took every opportunity to drive up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and just take it all in: from the scenic views with the accompanying silence and peace of the mountain air, to the dizzying roads and near misses with oncoming traffic. The Parkway stretches on for almost 500 miles (which at a max speed of 40mph takes quite awhile!) and has a similar number of overlooks, which were definitely the highlights of these drives. The overlooks provide an interesting parallel to real life: you never know what you will see or when they will come up, and sometimes they come up too quickly for you to stop and turn off the road or you simply drive past them without noticing if you’re not looking for them. It is easy to stop at an overlook overwhelmed by the view and feeling like you’ve arrived at the end of the road, but if you keep going chances are you’ll find something different and even more stunning. Similarly, if you’re expecting every overlook to be a postcard view, you will undoubtedly be disappointed more often than not as reality may not always live up to your expectations. Instead, let us resolve to enjoy the journey without focusing on the destination, let us resolve not to sell ourselves short with exclaiming “Happily Ever After,” and also, let us resolve not to be discouraged by the uncertainty of What Comes Next. The road continues on, and there is plenty more to see and do if you’re looking in the right places.