When I was a 5-year-old Suzuki student, I dutifully listened to my book 1 recording every night. I suppose I didn’t really have a choice. My mom would plunk me in the bathtub and press “play” on the old beat-up tape player that sat on the bathroom counter and walk out. I was held hostage in the tub until the last song was over, but I loved listening to those songs. They were a familiar comfort to me at the end of each epic day full of all of the new and unknown things kindergarten had to offer.
One day, while I was practicing, I glanced over to the next in my book. “O Come, Little Children”. I couldn’t really read the words, and I certainly hadn’t learned how to read the notes (we learned everything from memory and imitation in the first year). But I knew that I could figure it out from having heard it a hundred times. I thought I might impress my teacher by sitting down in my next lesson and playing it for her.
Let’s just say Mrs. Barston was not impressed. The kind but firm scolding that ensued came from her heart of hearts and the fact that she was such an incredible pedagogue. She made it quite clear: There were things she needed to show me how to do before I was able to play O Come Little Children correctly.
I was doing the bowings all wrong, and by trying it on my own, I had instilled mistakes that would be difficult to fix. Both my mother and I left that lesson promising to never more forward without instruction again.
And so it continues. In youth orchestra, in high school, summer festivals and at music school, Everything from what we play, who we play it with, how we play it, when our rehearsals will be, and when and where we will perform it is dictated to us from on high.
Certain students are chosen by the teachers to participate in competitions, and people are “invited” to audition for certain summer festivals. We all understand that “invited to audition” means you are being given a spot, and you will be going. If you’re the one given the opportunity, you smile, say thank you, and do it. If they didn’t ask you? just stay out of the way and don’t bring it up.
And so years later, there I was. A newly graduated, “capital P” Professional Musician. I was given gigs, called to play with certain groups, and it all felt strangely the same. Now I was allowed to say no, of course, but why would anyone say no to a gig? and the pattern continued. I sat at home and practiced, and eventually, the phone would ring or my notifications would ding and I would find out what was next for me.
It was after an embarrassingly long number of years that I suddenly wondered what would happen if I was the one to pick up the phone and create a concert. If I became, as Walter White famously said: “ The one who knocks” but, hopefully, with less disastrous consequences.
It was that day that I stopped waiting for “someone” to call me up and ask to be my manager and find concerts for me, and I just started finding my own concerts. I researched them, I created them, I made them happen. And they were (mostly) fun and my collaborations were (mostly) fulfilling. Did I make mistakes along the way? Of course. Did I learn a lot about how to do it? Of course. That’s how it works.
From musical decisions like programming, ideal length and structure, to logistical things like chairs and programs and tickets, I didn’t know what I didn’t know when I started. Luckily–because if I had known, I’m not sure I would have started.
My actions were taken by some of my colleagues as wild, daring, Super Bold. How dare I just decide to play a concert without having been asked to play a concert? And then, a message would slide into my inbox “hey Kate, could you teach me how to do that myself?”
I think Music Schools need to do a better job of preparing us for what happens after graduation. I know I’m not the first musician to say that, but it’s true. Students need to be taught how NOT to be students anymore; how to make their own decisions both musically and in terms of their career.
I’m going to go ahead and trust that Mrs. Barston wouldn’t scold me for my boldness this time. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me. As long as I’m doing the right bowings.