Feeling Inferior


Maybe this isn’t a problem for all you other beginners out there, but for me it really is. I just simply feel less than other cellists. Or other musicians in general, really. Almost like I know they’re already so much better than I am and so thinking about that I make it true. Does this make sense to you guy?

I’m thinking of a couple cases right now, the first being playing in my class tonight. I was the only one who got to really play and I played a short duet with my professor, who plays professionally with SacPhil and conducts one of the Sacramento Youth Symphony orchestras. Now here’s the thing: had she been a nobody or even someone less awesome I don’t think I would have made such idiotic mistakes. I mean, I failed to notice that she was indicating we were starting. It was really ridiculous. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that the universe would implode, or at least the moon would come crashing back to earth, if I didn’t screw up in the presence of a musician so much better than I am. An invisible rule that says I have to fail because this person is good. Not because I’m not capable, but because it would destroy my own idea about myself: that I’m not capable of playing with good musicians. I’ve internalized the thought that I can’t be any good — I started when I was 26, after all — even though it’s the very thing I fight against every day.

The second thing is regarding blogging. I feel horribly uncomfortable commenting on people’s blogs who aren’t fellow beginners. It’s not a problem when these people comment on my blog first, but I often read blogs belonging to some rather awesome musicians and teachers and feel like it would be inappropriate for me to say anything. I can’t imagine any of them thinking I have anything remotely important to say, which for once I don’t think is a fear based on me being neurotic. A lot of people in the classical world don’t take adult beginners seriously and I’ve been the recipient of some really unfortunate attitude. This makes me very hesitant to involve myself in discussions happening on people’s blogs who haven’t shown me, by way of commenting on my blog, that they think adult beginners are actually fellow human beings. Even though I think people like me can provide a really important perspective on many things, music education in particular.

Part of me thinks this is just my own problem — stop feeling this way and if they’re mean, that’s their problem. Just because I’m a beginner doesn’t make me like the child they seem to think I am and I know this, so what’s the problem? But I also feel like I shouldn’t be putting this all on myself either. I just don’t know. I’m tired of feeling this way, like I’m not supposed to be taken seriously.

11 responses »

  1. Don’t worry so much about it–if you’re playing music, you’re a musician. Let that hacks worry about who has the better vibrato! 😉

    In the end, we’re all just living in the same illusory world after all. People’s self-importance just gets in the way of people being people.

  2. My first thought when I read your comment was but this illusory world IS real! I think I may have failed at being a failed Zen student there. I also still find myself responding to questions with answers such as “yes and no and not yes and not no” without realizing what I’m saying until people go all bug-eyed on me. So, what I’m saying, or perhaps not saying — I don’t really know anymore — is that despite the illusory nature of this world, I’m still stuck in this realm and experiencing all it’s myriad forms of suffering. So, I create these wonderful neuroses in the hopes of avoiding some of this suffering, which in turn cause more suffering. Hmm. I think I just proved your point. I think my self-unimportance is getting in the way of me being a person.

    Funny how just typing things out can turn stuff around like that 🙂

    And as for that vibrato, I’m actually kinda sad it no longer sounds like my cello is barfing. That at least was funny.

  3. Read the Inner Game again.

    And I always play crap in front of my teacher, she must think I’m a total muppet. Oh and the girl sharing my stand when I kept getting lost – she’s grade 3 for gods sake! Oh and my music blowing all over the hall. Oh and…and….

    I know it’s like being at school when your mum tells you to ignore the big kids who keep stealing your lunch money and flushing your bag down the toilets. Oh hang on, maybe that was just me…. But really, people can be nice or they can be . Just because they’re professionals and better at the cello, doesn’t mean they’re a better person.

    I was going to write more, but gotta run, I’m late for my lesson and playing like Kermit.

    • I remember being at recital and sharing a stand with a girl who was probably in 3rd or 4th grade. She did a double take when I flipped back three or four pages in Suzuki from where she had played Rigadoon or something fabulous to find my piece when it was my turn.
      It’s humbling to be a grown up beginner sometimes 🙂

  4. No, wasn’t just you. I remember one time in 6th grade this girl stole my lunch and I was upset and went to a teacher. I ended up being the one to get in trouble for being a tattle tale and sent to the principal’s office so I could get lectured for several hours on how horrible I was for being upset that this girl, whose mother was on welfare, stole my lunch because she was hungry. Even though she could have gotten a free lunch from school. Or the girl Kelly who punched me every day in 4th grade after recess when we were running back to class… teachers hated tattle tales, so I had to put up with that too… Maybe my memory is serving me incorrectly (I hope) but I think at one point I was told I was supposed to stand up for myself and punch her back, that that was the appropriate response…

    The good news: my MIL, who retired from teaching 2nd grade last year, has told me how different it is now. Starting in kindergarten they act out bullying scenarios with appropriate responses and it’s taken very seriously by teachers when kids claim to have been bullied. And if one kid bullies another, they have to apologize in front of the whole class. Then the whole class acts out how to appropriately deal with the situation that just happened so it doesn’t escalate next time. It’s really cool.

    But besides that, it’s sort of like the music world is dominated with people who had to just tough out being bullied, and so they bully now as adults. I didn’t even think about it until now, but it’s really quite the same. More subtle, of course, but bullying is exactly what’s happening. Not to say that everyone is bullying, or even a large portion, but it’s enough that you feel somewhat like the sobbing nine year old whose teacher is telling you that you’re the bad one because you allowed yourself to be bullied.

    I feel like my teacher and I have found a better balance now. I used to sound my absolute worst every lesson (which actually in some ways was nice because it would point out my weakest spots.) I think for a long time she was expecting me to sound bad because I’m a beginner and so I sounded bad. Then she started expecting me to sound just like her. So now, believe it or not, at least when playing simpler pieces or easier scales, I sound just like her. It seems to me she used to assume I didn’t now how yet and she had to teach me. Then one day she changed her mind and started assuming that I already knew how and, until I really proved I didn’t, she wasn’t going instruct me. Unfortunately, I tend to forget that I really am capable of sounding as good as I’ve heard myself sound.

  5. Bullying — great way to describe it, and really that’s all it is isn’t it?

    Sometimes I intentionally invoke the four-fold negation in response to what are supposedly simple “yes” and “no” questions. 😛

    I didn’t mind the bullying so much. Or rather, the normal everyday bullying paled in comparison to the racist bullying (or what passed for that when kids dont really know the difference).

    Sometimes it’s just a matter of realizing you have the tools to work with–you just need to figure out when to use them (and how). How’s that saying go, “if the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer…then everything starts to look like a nail…”

  6. In my experience, when the only tool I have is a hammer, nothing looks like a nail. At least usually. But I’m learning to work with this problem with music, interestingly. Maybe because I actually care about music.

    Interestingly, the racist bulling happened to me too, but in a reverse sort of way. The kids who were bullied for their race when they were in elementary school started lashing out at the white kids in junior high. I was the palest kid with the lightest hair, so I was the number one recipient of many insults and a fair number of threats. But by that time I was old enough to feel saddened rather than hurt or scared, especially as those kids were the ones I knew who ended up incarcerated on and off throughout the rest of our school years.

    This was also happening around the time that I was finally able to understand ethnic differences. Before that I truly didn’t get the distinction at all in any way whatsoever. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see the differences in people’s appearances, obviously, but I didn’t understand placing them into categories. One of my best friends at school was half Japanese, half white. Her dad was a white American guy, her mom from Japan, but I remember utterly not getting why adults seemed to want to categorize them into different groups from each other. The most I could manage was understanding that they were born in different countries. It wasn’t until the age of 13 when a gang set a Japanese family’s house on fire a few block from where my friend lived, killing the parents and brother of a little girl who went to my old elementary school. The little girl lived, but almost her entire body had 3rd degree burns all over it. It was only then that I understood these weird categories adults placed people into and only because I realized my friend was a potential target since she was part of this same artificial category.

    I don’t entirely know what my point was there. One of those things where I just kept typing. Maybe there should be some grand point about how children really truly don’t understand these differences unless they’re taught.

    It baffles me that you were able to deal so well with the bullying, especially since you had to deal with much worse than I ever did.

    Ack! Mom just called, gotta run over there and rescue her!

  7. There’s no need to minimize your pain and suffering, Elysia. Especially “reverse-racism” — no good excuse for that either. And that’s horrible what happened to the Japanese family–especially in light of how Japanese-Americans have been treated in this country in the past century.

    My father is white, while my mother is Thai (she’s actually still not a citizen–neither am I for that matter) so as I got older, I tended to look less “Asian.” So it’s been an interesting experience to have experienced being a part of both groups when I don’t bother to make my country of origin known.

    But so much of my childhood experiences is what fuels my drive to play for underserved audiences–hence all the activity in world musics and non_western musical styles/genres.

    Hope your mom is ok!!

  8. I lost track of time and was late picking her up to take her somewhere (she has MS and can’t drive.) She had just about the saddest voice I’ve ever heard. 😦 I think she was feeling lonely. Poor Mommy 😦 Good thing I live only a couple miles from her! And see her several days a week. And talk to her on the phone nearly every day. So, Mom was as okay as she ever is. I was just being untimely.

    I’ve always wondered what happened to that little girl being so severely injured and without any family. I moved away from the area shortly after that, so I never knew.

    When I think of people dealing with being mixed race, I think most often of this guy I dated in college. His mom is half Russian and half Polish while his father is Japanese. They met in Malaysia where he was born. He got a really peculiar combination of genetics where some features were exactly like one parent, the other features like the other. There wasn’t really any blending of genes in the way you will usually see when two parents look entirely unalike. He said it was particularly hard while living in Malaysia until he was a teenager because he only sort-of looked Asian. In particular, he had absolutely no hint of an epicanthic fold whatsoever, which seemed to confuse the heck out of people. He spent a large part of his life being asked “What the Hell are you???” Somehow he didn’t seem to bothered by all this, thankfully, but it left quite an impression on me.

    Now you’ve got me on this non-western kick, which is purely because the music sounds really effing awesome. I’m even starting to get bored by Baroque music… Granted, this is just listening to music — playing anything (hell, just open bowing!) keeps me more than occupied… Unfortunately, the bridge problem is greater than it seemed to be at first, so I’m cello-less for a couple days. It’s amazing how bad a cello sounds when the feet aren’t completely touching the body!

  9. That’s good to know you’re close to your mother–makes things so much easier (in my opinion).

    I can’t even imagine what the girl is going through still–that’s just an awful story.

    I think in some ways boys might have some better resources for dealing with issues like that. unfortunately though, sometimes those issues never get resolved–for example, nearly all school shootings by students have been committed by male students.

    Ironically, I’ve been getting more and more intrigued by Baroque music–it’s almost as foreign to classical music as anything else, and it’s still not universally accepted as a part of the traditional canon of style. Sure, it was worse back in the 70s/80s/90s when the “purist” chastised the whole “early music movement” and the ensembles that arose out of the interest–much in the way that article on Yo-Yo Ma talked about the kind of criticisms he had to take for going off the beaten path.

    But I still love the non-western music. Just brought the flute player from my Klezmer band to my Arabic band rehearsal earlier tonight (or rather, last night)–he just thought it was the coolest thing and I hadn’t realized (or had forgotten) how difficult it was for me to get acclimated to the rhythmic modes rather than just counting as we’re taught to do in the West. It was a great learning experience for me just to informally help him to understand the music in a way that would quickly allow him to jump in. It’s different than a formal workshop where you know exactly what you’re going to present (or, ideally you would).

    But I had missed playing with that group–we hadn’t gotten together for a rehearsal since last September or so–I’d forgotten why I enjoy the music so much!

    Hope the bridge repairs go well–I still need to get my cello in to get the bridge fitted properly myself–I’m really bad about the upkeep of my axe! 😛

  10. For me I lump Baroque in with everything else Western really. Granted, it’s my favorite within that broad category, and I do agree at times it can sound vastly different, but I think much of that has to do with how it’s supposed to be played. Listening to Bach played as if were a classical era piece, it sounds incredibly boring. Much of what’s attractive about Baroque music is that there’s less of a right or wrong way to do things. So, the same piece played by two different players can sound stuffy and boring or it can compel you to get up and dance.

    And yes, there is a LOT of that chastising going on, especially in educational institutions — my prof did it last night! She was demonstrating a wide variety of instruments, starting with some really basic kinds of wind instruments and showing their evolution into other more complicated forms. (As a side not, I remember now why I was so damn jealous of the girl who got to play oboe in elementary school! Yum!!) But my teacher was talking about these “primitive” instruments that she was showing us and explaining how they couldn’t play anything more *advanced* than Baroque music.

    Gah! This kills me that you are terrible about getting your girl in! She needs love! Lots! Cellos are high maintenance and should be showered with love and affection and lots and lots of care!!! Also: your bow — re-hair it! Bows need love also.

    My luthier gave me an impassioned speech the other day about people not taking care of their instruments. He told me one time he showed up at a rehearsal and a violinist had a bridge that was so bent he thought it would fall over if he so much as breathed on it. Even then he had to practically fight the guy for the instrument so he could bend it back. More than being frustrated or mad, it seems to just simply break his heart that people don’t treat these beautiful instruments with the care and consideration they deserve.

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