“This will not last forever”

Three weeks ago it felt as though nothing in life was ever going to change. I moved to Toronto in May 2012 planning on making a full-time living in music and everyone warned me that it would take time to make in-roads in the music scene and encouraged me not to lose hope if things didn’t seem to be going so hot for the first couple of years. I don’t think I fully understood how difficult it was going to be. I completely accepted the fact that I would be working a minimum wage job with a Master’s degree, but I had no idea it was going to take me months to get such a job. I took some comfort in the fact that the economy is sufficiently messed up right now that I was no worse off as a music graduate than many more supposedly lucrative degree holders, such as commerce and marketing students. Still, it wasn’t easy to keep pushing forward artistically given the pressing concerns of balancing the personal budget.

I came to the realization eventually that my circumstances were temporary. I taped a piece of paper to the wall that said “This will not last forever” to remind myself of that fact whenever things looked bleak. Eventually, I’d either succeed or quit in music, but I figured it was too early to make that call, so I might as well keep fighting.

I kept working on the excerpt list for the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s 2nd bassoon audition. I felt a bit like Roald Dahl’s Charlie, scraping pennies together to buy chocolate bars in the desperate hope of finding a golden ticket to a lifetime supply of chocolate. I felt torn the whole way through the audition process – I wanted to put all my hope into the process, knowing that it could completely change everything, but at the same time I did not want to become too emotionally invested in the idea of winning. I’d auditioned for full-time orchestral positions four times previously and been voted out in the first round on all of those occasions. If I didn’t succeed in this audition, I didn’t want to make things worse for myself by inflating my expectations beforehand.

I went in proud of my preparation and as accepting as I could be of the outcome. I accepted the nervous tension I was feeling on the audition day. I’ve found that trying to fight fear in a performance situation doesn’t work for me. What does work is making some other emotion or thought stronger, and my thought that day was that I had a job to do. I thought a lot about the second bassoon’s role in the woodwind section – this sort of quiet strength, a solid musical foundation that may not be distinctly heard by the audience, but gives everyone else in the section the freedom and support to do their jobs. I always wanted that thought to be stronger than the fear of failure.

Each time I advanced to the next round, I felt a little buzz of excitement, but not the elation I was expecting. My thinking was always “I did my job in the last round. I can continue to do my job in the next round.” At the end of the day, when I found out I would be one of the finalists brought back for a trial week with the orchestra, I can only describe my reaction as “huh.” I was expecting to be either elated or profoundly saddened. The possibility of a third emotional option hadn’t occurred to me.

At the end of the trial week I was offered the job. The phone call informing me was the most surreal thing I have ever experienced. After so many years of defining yourself as a long shot trying to accomplish something impossible, actually accomplishing it seems impossible and the mind sort of fights against believing it’s real. I had this sort of body buzz going on but everything just seemed so calm. I didn’t know what on earth to do with myself so after sending a few messages to teachers and family to let them know, I just stayed up long into the morning playing Call of Duty and then crawled into bed.

When I woke up the next day, I looked around my apartment and saw dirty dishes and dirty laundry everywhere, and realized how in some ways everything had changed, and in another sense nothing had. I feel profoundly grateful for the opportunity to do what I love for a living, but I recognize how in many ways an audition is like a wedding – it’s a great milestone and cause for a celebration, but what happens afterwards is what’s truly important. The dishes still need to be washed when you have a job.

Practice sessions and driving times between Kitchener and Toronto have now been plotted out in the calendar for the next two months along with existing engagements in Niagara, and shifts at Starbucks fill in the cracks and the days off. I’m in the happy position of saying that my greatest concern at the moment is that I have no idea how I’m going to find the time to do laundry.

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3 thoughts on ““This will not last forever”

  1. Matt Jefferson says:

    Great read man! Please keep writing more… I loved this!

  2. Cathy Klopoushak says:

    Very articulate, Michael! I believe that thinkers make the best musicians and you obviously are both! Your honesty about not losing hope comes at a very opportune time. I wish you all the best with all of your musical and caffeinated escapades! Btw – apparently there is a connection to Timmins through one of the occasional violinists in KWS? 🙂

  3. Congratulations! I’m forwarding the link to my 12th grade student, to give her a little hope and counteract my discouraging advice that the only way to get a job is by waiting for an old bassoonist to die somewhere.

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