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The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: April 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Perspective: Abundance or Scarcity?

In my last post, I mentioned that I've been reading Rosamund and Ben Zander's book, The Art of Possibility. One of the first things discussed is the lens that people choose to view the world through.

Viewing life through a lens of scarcity means that nothing is ever good enough. There isn't enough work, too many musicians, your background isn't good enough, etc. This limits the viewer in an incredibly narrow way.

Open yourself up to abundance and (Zander is absolutely right on this) possibility begins to pour in.

I feel like I can be the poster child for scarcity since my life story began through what should be a lens of scarcity. I was born and raised in Southwest VA, culturally rich but not in classical music. Although I had a caring band director for the first three years as a flute student, I didn't necessarily have the opportunities that kids have living in urbanized areas...or did I?

Through this lens of scarcity, I began looking for opportunities. I began traveling 50 minutes one way every week to begin private lessons. I auditioned for the Kingsport Youth Orchestra, didn't get in, but kept trying anyway until I did. I entered local competitions. I went to music camps in the summer. I dreamed about Curtis, Julliard and Eastman. I began exploring the online message boards to learn as much as I could about playing the flute.

Regardless of my background, even though I had a whole realm of scarcity grounded in reality to contend with, I never stopped dreaming or trying.

When you view things through the lens of scarcity, your past hangs over you like a dark cloud. You never can seem to move past all the things that you blame for your lack of success. Self-doubt builds and your professional life continues to suffer.

If I chose to live my life in the realm of scarcity, I would not be doing the things I'm doing today. I wouldn't have the courage or confidence to step out. I only have a Bachelor's degree and it's not even from a major music school! What am I thinking?!

I could give you 50 more reasons why I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing if I operated this way.

The quote, "Life opens up with you do" could never be more true. Making a living in music gives you the freedom to take risks, explore life and learn things that a desk job will never teach you. We can return to our instrument every day and come away with a new awareness even if it is only just one tiny thing. That beats the daily routine where you're just counting your working hours down until you can go home.

Articulating the differences of the scarcity vs. abundance perspectives are key to letting go of those elements that hold you back. Life isn't fair, but we can make it more fair when we choose to live an abundant life full of possibility.

If there was an ever more important lesson I could teach to my 16 year old self, it would be this.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Recapturing the joy in music making

I don't have children of my own but I get to work with children closely as a private flute teacher. I've also taught larger groups of children from ages 5-12.

I love children's natural curiosity and since I'm still a big curious kid myself always asking questions, it bothers me that children nowadays have a tendency to shy away from asking questions. Society in general has shifted from valuing critical thinking to valuing conformity and accepting the filtered information that is fed to us.

My goal as a private teacher is to develop a child's interest in music and help them towards musical independence so that they can nurture and enjoy listening and playing music as a lifelong activity. I don't tell my students everything. I ask them pointed questions until they figure out the answer on their own. It may take longer this way, but I want them to think for themselves. When they arrive at the answer, it's a memorable occasion and the information will more likely stick. They can find joy in learning a new piece of information or a new way to approach and practice a piece. I feel this is my contribution to the world in general if I can encourage my students to think and ask questions.

As adults, we may have trouble retaining the joy in music. Competition, lack of motivation, life in general and other factors slowly degrade our passion from joyous to toiling. How can we prevent this?

I've been reading Rosamund and Benjamin Zander's book "The Art of Possibility: Transforming Personal and Professional Life." Every time I read a chapter, I either find myself excited and my motivation returning or I'm moved to tears by the pure emotional clarity. Adults make things complicated. This book encourages us to remove the blinders of judgment and assumption and just be.

I think the most effective thing we can do to recapture joy in our music making is to find presence in our day to day lives. That presence will transfer to our performances, and we will be happier and more fulfilled. Presence helps us rise above the detail of a piece and helps us find context or the longer line in life. I really didn't understand this concept until I began practicing yoga. Rather than trying to run away from the discomfort of a more challenging yoga pose, I chose to stay with it. Presence is a discipline that can reap many rewards.

Life in general stinks, but we have the possibility to change that today and every day forward. As a musician, I'm incredibly lucky to be able to come to my instrument daily and remind myself of all the good things about life. When you find yourself drifting today, notice what you smell or what you hear. Bring yourself back to the present moment and be grateful. This is the essence of joy.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Small audiences, small venues

Performing for a small yet supportive audience

Upside: I had a successful performance this past Saturday at Moonstone.

Downside: I had 6 people show up. My online audience that tuned in via Ustream was larger than my in person crowd.

Some might be devastated by this, and this detail consumed me for most of Sunday as I tried to take the day off. I've chosen to put things in perspective though and I'm regrouping. I'm not sure what my next performance project will be. I'm interested in self-producing because I want to maintain creative control of what I'm doing. And I still feel that smaller, more intimate venues make my music more accessible; however, I cannot afford to finance my own concerts. I want to play to generate income. 

Was my program too niche? It was still a flute and piano recital and although I undertook huge promotional efforts online and via social media, did I only just appeal to a small group of people? I have some ideas brewing. I wouldn't be moving forward and asking these questions if I hadn't undertaken this project.

There are no regrets. Just brutal honesty that in spite of our best efforts to get people to show up, we're not going to get the numbers we'd expected. If people come out for live music, they want it in an intimate, accessible setting. As a performer, I'm sharing in the experience with my audience. I don't want it any other way.

Can a show at a small venue be self-sustaining with income generating potential? It's a question I'm pondering now so that subsequent shows that I play or any future concert I help someone else produce will have favorable results.

On to the next one.

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