It’s hard to be the regular person.  

We fear change.  From an evolutionary standpoint, we’ve inherited the notion that change opens the door to the unknown and thus is synonymous with danger.  At the starting point, we long for the moment when the new normal becomes comfortable—when we know what to expect and have faith that we can fully deliver what is expected of us.  We long to be the regular person.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.  

As time passes, the technical challenges we deal with on the daily become easier to navigate.  With more experience comes more tools at our disposal to put out the proverbial fires.  We feel thankful that we are seemingly over the hump, that we’ve been able to settle into our new routine.  For a moment, it feels as if this feeling will continue indefinitely…that nothing stands in our way.  Comfort sets in.

It’s hard to be the regular person. 

After a critical point, the collective comfort starts to destabilize for any number of reasons.  Either the physical, mental, or emotional demands of the new normal wear us out over time; or as the technical problems diminish in difficulty, our minds create their own problems to occupy our time instead; or collectively we settle so much into our routines that our jobs become peripheral.

It’s hard to be the regular person.

As soon as we feel comfortable, the everyday things lose their immediacy.  We long for vacation—either in the literal sense of us going individually or the figurative sense of just longing for something different than what we already have.  I used to always think being the sub was infinitely harder than being the regular person, but it’s really just a different race altogether: being a sub is a sprint while being the regular person is a marathon.  The biggest difference?  I would argue that a sub is a welcome, albeit temporary, change to a system—a departure from the ordinary, a vacation from the normal.  The regulars are predisposed to welcome a sub with open arms.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.

There comes a point where you just stop trying or caring about what everyone else thinks.  In the beginning, you’re focused on doing a good job and trying to compound on what is being put out by others…but with added comfort comes the ebbing of extrinsic motivation.

It’s hard to be the regular person.

Two years ago, I walked into a rehearsal in Seattle with 10 other bandmates whom I had never met.  Save for a couple audition tapes, I was an untested professional musician thrust into a leadership role—but this was definitely not the first time I had gotten an amazing opportunity that led me to question my qualifications.  Now that I reflect on my relatively short transition from student to professional, I realize that one particular experience informed my preparation and approach more than any other.

Years ago, a 17-year-old me spent a summer at a prestigious music festival and was placed in a string quintet with a bunch of name-brand conservatory students.  It was quite a stretch for me, and though I tried my best to deliver as violin 1 I was out of my league.  Needless to say, this placement didn’t last more than a week before I found myself in another, more “suitable” group.  

This quick leap and fall from grace made me wary in each subsequent scenario that felt similar, and landing Hamilton fit that bill perfectly.  So, in my months leading up to the first rehearsal, in my countless hours of preparation, in the wee hours of the morning before I fell asleep, and in the final days as I tried to find inner peace with the looming unknown in front of me, my mantra was simple: DON’T SCREW UP.  I even wrote a blog about this at the time “Be Prepared.”  And while I feel like I did very well individually in rehearsals (and subsequently in shows), I was not actively thinking like a section leader—I was satisfied with “leading by example” and being as solid as possible for our quartet while patiently waiting to see what specific things I could do as concertmaster to be most helpful.  

It’s hard to be the regular person.

I recognize now that in the beginning I was so inwardly consumed with my own part that I was hardly listening beyond.  Fortunately for me, I was working with some incredible players that all had experience playing shows and touring, we somehow gelled as a quartet from day one, and we all hit it off super well socially.  I cannot stress enough how fortunate I was to work with this particular group: if anything negative had come up in rehearsals or the first month of shows, I probably would have been ill-equipped to handle the situation adequately as a leader.  But this quartet and band bought me time to truly learn on the job…And for a moment, it was easy to be the regular person.

But it’s hard to be the regular person.

I have learned so much in my time on tour about myself, about how to succeed as a professional musician, and about how to be a good leader.  But the most important lesson that I’m still experimenting with is how to lead with calm, expertise, and confidence regardless of the circumstances: ideal or not.  It’s a careful balance of inspiring intrinsic motivation to go the extra mile in every facet; having a fully-formed concept of how things should be while remaining open to (and in some cases pushing) individual creativity; building a predictable and genuine workplace environment where feedback is regular and expected; being a positive influence on the group, even when issues arise at work or at home; and, above all else, being present with the group and getting my eyes and ears outside of my individual part.  THIS is where my inexperience reared its head in the beginning, and now, two years later, this is the part that I wish I could go back and change—who knows how those changes would have propagated after two years with the same group…

It’s hard to be the regular person.

So, just celebrating our two year anniversary of the Philip Tour and being over 800 shows in, we find ourselves in Toronto, Ontario for fourteen weeks with a quartet of local musicians.  It is a new beginning in many ways—a chance to try again from scratch while being informed by the experiences I’ve had the last two years.  From the rehearsal process to the first week of shows, I’ve made a conscious effort to focus outward and to be mindful of the group rather than being consumed by my individual part and trying to impress.  It’s not the same as “not caring” about my part, rather it is realizing (and hoping) that elevating the group does much more for the whole than focusing on elevating myself.  It’s this small, fundamental change in perspective that I believe will serve myself, the group, and the whole well for our long time here.  And from this experience I’ll be able to further refine my approach for our extended time in Washington, DC later this year with a fresh quartet of local musicians.

One thought on “The View from the Other Side

  1. Again, amazing insight and introspection! Austin, you are a terrific musician, but more important, you are a terrific human being!


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