Other people can see in us what we can’t always see in ourselves.
In 2014 I finished university and graduated with a music degree. While I appreciate what I learned now, at the time it felt like I was sucked into a black hole of self-doubt.
Songwriting, scat singing, performances on multiple instruments, tests on theory and history and arranging music – studying what you love is a paradox of delight and torture when you’re being marked out of 100.
A standardised test is a necessary evil that ignores prior knowledge, the technique you’ve had to relearn and the time it takes to assimilate new information. It ignores your performance anxiety. It ignores whether or not you’re interested in imitating a singing style from 50 years ago. And it ignores how much your identity is wrapped up in what you do (whoops).
After three years of practice and lectures and performances, the final recital was the final obstacle to jump and as the auditorium filled with friends and family, all I could think was that I just wanted to get it done and get out of there.
The hour flew past in a whirl of notes and instrument changes, and then with a final flourish and a bow, it was over.
Six years later as I clean out my paper files, I find one of the mark sheets from my final performance.
It’s the only one I kept, written by my improvisation tutor, a man who pushed me hard on my instrument and didn’t budge when I complained about how hard his tests were.
He knew I could do what he was asking me to do. And on the mark sheet, he didn’t just make comments about how each song was performed:
He painted the bigger picture for me at a time when my ability to see past the numbers on a scoresheet was at an all time low.
He saw the growth in me as a musician and a composer over the three years I studied with him, and he could see my musical identity beginning to emerge from the assignments and the exercises we played everyday.
His comments were honest but they were also kind, and unlike the numbers on the sheet, he knew where I had come from and where I was going musically.
As the new year and new decade kicks in, I know that I’m prone to losing sight of the bigger picture. But I want to continue to grow, to see what other people see in me, and to help others see themselves as I see them too.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
– Fred Rogers