At some point in a young music career, you might find yourself thinking... do I take time between my degrees? Do I take a job in something else, just to have something solid? Maybe this music thing isn't working out. I'm just not as good as all those other musicians, I'm nothing special. Or maybe you had a rough go of it, you had someone in your life who made you feel like you didn't belong, or wasn't the right kind of supportive. It could also be that you did have those supportive people, but you just didn't see yourself making it a career, or lost interest after countless theory and history courses, etudes and research papers.
Here's the thing: YOU have the power to make a positive change in your life. YOU have the power to cut out negative thoughts, people, and situations. YOU have the power to think you ARE good enough.
Life is short. Make it YOURS.
I say this about not only music, but about life in general. You find yourself complaining more than usual. Ask yourself... why? You tend to get angry faster. Take a step back and figure out why. You are quicker to judge others. Ask yourself what knowledge they have you might not, and learn something new!
Life is a series of choices. Some of those choices are scary and take years to figure out, some of them are easy and come naturally. The decision to change or halt a career is never an easy one. What I want you to know is that that's okay. Sometimes, these times are the ones that help you figure out who you are and where you are meant to be. Sometimes alternate careers just don't feel rewarding. Sometimes your goals aren't met. But no matter where you are and what you do, you're learning something and growing from it. Here are some tips for taking some time off from music.
1. It's okay to NOT practice every day.
The guilt factor is a hard one to deal with. If you're fresh out of school, not playing with a daily ensemble, practicing etudes, solos and excerpts 5 hours a day feels like you're letting yourself down. Don't let it feel that way. You are taking time for yourself and that's okay.
2. Get a job.
Any job. Preferrably one related to a hobby or extra skill, related to music or not. Gardening, Cooking, Computer games, administrative, non-profit, it doesn't matter. You need to support yourself, and it's perfectly okay to be working for a livable wage somewhere people might not see as the highest success with a degree at 25.
3. Play with a community group.
But not if you don't want to. Community groups may not be filled with 20- or 30- somethings looking for friends, but you get to play simple, fun music that doesn't require much outside practice, which fulfills your childhood excitement of just PLAYING! This is a perfect way to remind yourself why you started a career in music in the first place.
4. Stop explaining yourself.
Sometimes it is hard for family and friends to understand why you spent all that money on a degree or two, but aren't pursuing a career in that field. After a while of trying to explain this to people, and them nodding their heads saying "hmmm. sure... oh, okay... but you'll do it again someday, right?" you might fall into the bad habit of explaining yourself to people who never even asked you why. Don't give in. Stand tall and accept your decisions, love yourself even if you don't love what you do. Explaining your decisions makes you second-guess yourself and begins a cycle of negativity.
5. Leave regrets at the door.
The minute you regret your decisions is the minute you feel inadequate. Depression and negative thoughts are not uncommon once you start doubting yourself. Remember where you were when you made that decision, and accept that you can't do anything about that now. You might pass up an opportunity for an audition, or take one but botch it, or look at a great program and decide not to apply. Everything happens for a reason, and each decision you make matters. It wasn't meant to be and you learned something from it, so let it go.
6. Assess yourself, and let it help you grow.
You'd be surprised how much you can learn about yourself when you just ask yourself, "why?" What did you experience that influenced your decision to leave music? Sometimes we just let ourselves think of an environment negatively when really if we had just changed our mentality, we could have gotten something positive out of it. Was it competitive, or did you make it feel that way when it could have been viewed as supportive? Embrace mistakes you may have made, but remember, don't regret them. Learn from them and move forward.
7. When it's meant to be, you'll know!
A few years down the road, you're ready to get back into it. You've done what you want to do, and you're trying to figure out how it'll all work. Then, suddenly, your finances work out, you get that scholarship you needed, you find that friend who gives you the best advice, you win that audition and got more gigs, you talked to the right people at the right time to get that opportunity you weren't expecting. It will all work out when it's meant to. Trust yourself.
As musicians, all of us are so unique and multi-faceted. One thing I've found as a common denominator is our passion and our malleability. We love what we do, and we are full of emotion. What would an artist be without emotion? Embrace it. We also absorb what we learn, use our creativity freely and take or give direct orders without a second thought. These traits can hold us back in other fields sometimes, but just because we tell it how it is and care (sometimes too much) about our work doesn't mean we are show-offs or bullies. Don't let people tell you any different. I will say, though, that being around other musicians again can be a breath of fresh air. If you're not getting back into music school, you can find it in a community group. A feeling of belonging, even once a week, can be more relaxing than anything. Focus on that feeling when you aren't at your best, and cherish it when you find it.
Time off from music really puts you in perspective socially. It teaches you how to connect with others who haven't been dedicated to the arts in a closed environment for so long, and believe me, you won't get along with everyone. That's okay. Every person who comes into your life during this time may not stay there long, but each one teaches you a different lesson, good or bad. Stay away from negative people. They will drain you of self-worth and ambition and you don't deserve that. If you're ready for it, let it charge your drive to return to music in a positive way.
When you get back into music, if you ever do, it should feel right. If it doesn't, it isn't for you, and that's okay. Find what you love and go for it. Let life excite you, frustrate you, push you, love you.
And love yourself and your life right back.
Ariel Detwiler is an active freelancer and teacher in the Twin Cities. Ariel has a DMA in Bassoon Performance with an emphasis on music education, and actively works with band directors in Minnesota and Iowa to create a positive image surrounding the bassoon.