Saturday, April 28, 2012

Crooked and Wide

The day I switched my major at James Madison University from music education to music performance, I started defining success as being principal horn in a major orchestra by the time I was 25.  My attitude about this was all-or-nothing; I either made it to the top, or I didn't make it at all. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that I actually thought this was a realistic goal and would be relatively simple to accomplish. 'After all,' I thought, 'I'm a really hard worker and everyone keeps telling me that I'm good at the horn, so I'm sure something will work out.'

Well, here's how my life's path has gone since then:

Complete BM
Work at Retail Clothing Store
Start MM; Have a Breakdown
Abandon MM; Consider Career Switch
Work at Coffee Shop; Wallow in Self-Loathing
Restart MM; Still Consider Career Switch
Complete MM; Start DMA; Teach a Little; Freelance a Little; Discover el Sistema
Continue DMA; Build a Horn Studio; Freelance in 3 States; Volunteer at Sistema Programs
Move to Boston for Sistema Fellowship

My 20-year-old self (or even my 25-year-old self, for that matter) would look at this path and think that my almost-28-year-old self is a complete failure.  I'm not a principal hornist in ANY orchestra, much less a major one.  I'm still in school, for crying out loud!  I haven't achieved perfection on my instrument.  I have to work several different jobs to sustain myself.  What have I done with my life?  Did I just give up?  When did I become a quitter?

This type of thinking beat me down for a long time.  I wanted a straight and narrow path, one that would lead me directly into that highly-paid orchestra seat.  Every time I was thrown a curve ball, I didn't even attempt to swing at it; instead, I berated myself for not being able to magically will the powers-that-be on the mound to toss me an easy pitch.  I felt lost, confused, and completely unsure of myself.

It wasn't until about six months ago that I finally hit a breaking point with this type of thinking.  I was drowning and had to find a way to come up for air.  This wasn't an easy process, and it still isn't.  However, I've learned that when things don't work out the way we planned, our perception of our own lives can become so distorted that it is completely unreliable.  Instead of trusting my thoughts, I'm learning to trust only the facts.  That being said, here are the current facts of my life:

-I am a performer, teacher and scholar.
-Though I am FAR from rich, I am able to sustain myself solely through teaching and playing music.
-In a year's time, people will have to call me Dr. Hockenberry (or more likely, Dr. Rachie).
-My music has taken me all over the US, to several countries in Europe, and soon to South America.
-I actively strive to create social change through music education and performance.
-I have found other passions besides music, and have given myself the permission to enjoy them.

When I look at the facts, is it actually realistic to think that I have failed?  I don't even WANT to be a principal horn player any more- if life ever leads me into a full-time orchestra gig, I want the 2nd or 4th seat.  More importantly, when my life was solely focused on being the best horn player ever, I was profoundly unhappy.  I am significantly happier maintaining the eclectic musical lifestyle I lead today.  I'm not saying that those who take the direct route to the orchestra are in the wrong whatsoever; I'm just saying that, to my surprise, it ended up being the wrong path for me.  It was scary to admit that, but the mere act of admitting it turned out to be the hardest part.  Once I became honest with myself, things fell into place faster than I ever could have expected.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is redefine what 'success' really means.  It is so easy to think that we have failed when things don't work out the way we planned.  What we must realize is that the path is rarely straight and narrow; more often than not, it's crooked and wide.  What's important is that we give ourselves the permission to follow our path wherever it may take us, and embrace the journey.  I'm not saying this is easy- in fact, I still struggle with it almost daily, especially any time I add another roundabout in the middle of my path.  When this happens though, all we need to do is ask ourselves one question: Am I happy in the direction I'm headed?  If the answer is yes, then look before you merge and keep on driving.  If the answer is no, then don't be afraid to alter the course.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Music Can Take You Anywhere

Sometimes, life takes you by surprise.

I went into this academic year having no idea where my life was headed. I knew that this would (thankfully) be my last year as a student, and I was gaining professional experience in a variety of capacities, but I didn't know what would come next. While I tend to be extremely optimistic about everyone else's life opportunities, I am incredibly pessimistic about my own. I'm working on improving my outlook, but it's a long road and a difficult change to make. I honestly believed that upon the completion of my coursework this June I would end up working full time at a coffee shop...again. First, let me stress that there is NOTHING wrong with this at all. However, being a professional barista isn't exactly the desired outcome of 9 years of MUSIC school.

As the year progressed, I ended up being presented with three great opportunities for the next phase of my life. Shockingly, one of those opportunities was to stay in Cincinnati as a musician, as I have finally successfully broken into the freelance performing and teaching scene (side note: being patient about the time it takes to "make it" is going to be the topic of my next post). Up until about a month ago, I had no idea which of the three options I was going to choose. I went back and forth about every other day: "Option A is the best. No wait, option B is totally the right choice. Just kidding, I'm going to do option C." I'm used to having to choose between the lesser of evils, and having to choose the BEST among great opportunities is new territory for me.

After a significant amount of deliberation and soul searching (cheesy, I know...but true all the same), I am happy to announce that I will be a member of the 2013 Sistema Fellows program at NEC (formerly known as the Abreu Fellows program). I feel so incredibly lucky to have been selected for this program. I truly believe that this fellowship is the last necessary step in giving myself the chance to make my career as fulfilling as I want it to be.

I will be spending September 2012 - June 2013 residing in Boston, with stints in other US cities and Venezuela along the way. Though participating in this program, I hope make a clear decision about the role sistema will play in my life, and in what capacity I will be the most beneficial to the success of the movement in the US. I also plan to use this time to complete my DMA document/dissertation/project/whatever-CCM-is-calling-it-now, which concerns the effectiveness of brass pedagogy in a group setting. I am honored to join the ranks of sistema fellows, all of whom have immensely enriched the lives of youth all across America.

The decision to accept the fellowship was not an easy one. I have worked so hard to become a decent horn player, and I was concerned that accepting the fellowship would mean I was giving up on my chances as a performer. After having several conversations with some wonderful people who have also chosen this path, I have realized that is not the case. My horn playing will always be an integral part of who I am. My musical goals haven't changed at all- the destination just looks different now. I also couldn't ignore the fact that the last time I experienced the excitement and conviction that I feel about sistema philosophy was when I became vegan seven years ago (see last blog post for that explanation). I realized that I would actually be doing myself a disservice if I didn't accept this fellowship and see where it takes me. I will not be closing any doors, but instead opening many new ones.

If I've learned anything over the past year, it's that I have no idea where my life will take me a year from today. As musicians, we possess such a wonderful gift of our careers being able to take us wherever our heart truly desires as long as we are willing to put in the work to get us there. I now look at my life as a musician as a giant, wonderful adventure; I'm excited to discover the results of this next great journey.