To Compare or Not to Compare, That is the Question.

I am ready.

Everything is under control.

I love this piece.

I played it in a competition last year.

I played it in a master class last semester.

I played it in a recital last week.

I will nail this one.

I launched the piece and right after I played the thirteenth bar, I did not know what comes next.

I felt a bit afraid to tell my teacher that I had a memory lapse. The first thing I said to him was, “I don’t get it.” “Get what?” “I just don’t get why I had memory slip. Everyone could play without memory slip. It should not have happened. I know that piece really well! It was not my first time playing that piece.” He replied, “How many times have you performed it? Three times? Four times? I went to the ‘X’ International Piano Competition during the break. People who did really well, I could tell that they have been practicing hard and have performed their pieces hundreds, or maybe a thousand times! I am not making it up, maybe they have been playing them for years, and you are confused because you had a memory lapse when you performed that piece for the… fourth time?”

I once watched a more experienced pianist performed a piece I was practicing at that time. She played beautifully. I told her how I admire her and how I keep telling myself that I will not be able to do as well as her. She responded, “Here is the key young lady, if you spend 1/3 of your day with your instrument, how is it possible that the instrument does not love you back? Oh ...and I am twice your age."

A couple of years ago, I met a girl in a competition. We are at the same age and I could not help myself from comparing her playing to mine. She had a minor memory lapse but she recovered quickly. Her performance was outstanding while mine was not. I played safe. I only played the notes. I did not even try to make the piece musical because I was too scared. I talked to her afterward and apparently, she practiced six hours a day and performed her first concerto when she was eleven.

I realized that I was creating heartbreaks by comparing myself to other people instead of letting them inspire and motivate me to do better. It is hard to not to compare yourself to others, but ‘if your mind insists on comparing yourself to someone who is more advanced or more experienced, at least try to avoid comparing your worst moments to their best moments.’

Some people can secure a place in an orchestra while others are too nervous to play in tune.

Some people can deliver great performance while others struggle to memorize the piece.

Some people can compose beautiful melodies in five minutes while others take hours to do it.

Some people can sight-read a piece of music while others need hours to practice it.

It is not that they are different. They are just a few steps ahead. Maybe they had an early start or maybe they did the hard work. Some of us just need a bit (or quite a lot) of work to do and it is not always rainbows and butterflies!

Next time when you compare yourself to others, get totally depressed thinking that you would never be as good as him or her, please go ask yourself, “Have I practiced as much as he did? Have I performed as much as she did? Have I been doing this as long as they have been? Have I put as much effort as they did?” If you have not even done as much as they did, who are you to compare yourself to people who clearly have been working way harder than you? 

On performance anxiety

Whenever I have a performance or recital coming up, people often ask me, “Why do you have to do it?”

I used to believe that some people are born to be performers and some people are not meant to be on stage, but now I have changed my opinion. I believe that everyone has the ability to perform well but some musicians do not know that they could feel comfortable on stage. People react to performance anxiety differently and some people need longer time on stage or more performance experiences than others to make them strong performers. However, some musicians have not had the courage to perform, the opportunity to perform or the chance to play more than one short piece in a performance.

 

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Rejection or redirection?

I do not always say that I hate rejection, but I do hate it, and I think most people feel the same way.

On the other day, while I was staring at my phone screen checking my Instagram, I came across a quote. “As I look back on my life, I realize that when I thought I was being rejected from something good I was actually being re-directed to do something better.” I put my phone down and tried to retrieve my memory of rejection.

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A confession

I miss teaching my students how to play ornaments, singing with them, telling them to ‘bring out the melody’, forcing them to perform in concerts, telling them to sit on the piano stool ‘like a princess’, and sharing some funny stories with them. I also miss their lame excuses such as, “I can’t practice because I forgot to”, “I don’t know which piece you want me to practice”, I had a lot of home works and tests”. I have always been a strict teacher. Not only that I have sent some of my students home when they did not practice, but I am pretty sure all of them had been yelled at some point. My favorite lines are, “I am not a babysitter. I don’t want your mom to pay me just to sit here and watch you practice, something that you can do alone at home.”

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"That is so cool, I (used to) play the Violin."

At the beginning of the year, I decided to stop playing Violin, thinking that it might be better for me to learn a woodwind instrument since I am hopeless with Violin. Since I finished high school, I did not even bother to improve my Violin skills anymore. Two of the main reasons are: I do not have a good tone (yet!) and imagining myself holding the bow incorrectly makes me sick. 

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“Ah, so you are majoring in music? That’s easy!”

This post is originally written for Indonesia Mengglobal.

I have heard this kind of statement a million times, and so far the most condescending one was, “My son is not that smart. He can’t really study well at school so I want him to study music in college.” Back then, those statements left me speechless until I realized that people are still unfamiliar with the whole tertiary music education concept, despite the increasingly growing number of Indonesian music students.

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