In the past, I found myself in many a situation where I was criticized. It hurt when I was a child especially, on the playground with teasers and taunters galore, throwing names and jeers at me. I was not resilient, but instead took it personally. When dwelling on those petty words, I found my spirits diminished.
And then I studied the violin and viola. Always at lessons, teachers would offer constructive criticism, intended to improve my playing abilities. But again, I took it personally, and it was too much to bear. I became sad, and avoided the instrument as much as I could. I hated the viola, yet I enjoyed the opportunities and life it provided me. For college, I attended a prestigious conservatory, where I played in orchestras and ensembles with top musicians. I studied with renowned professors, and myself fell in love especially with baroque performance practice and violin pedagogy. My academic education in lecture halls was excellent also.
Since I was in conservatory, the stakes were higher with constructive criticism, and so I felt even more depressed. It was hard for me to detach music-making from my personhood. Perhaps I was studying music for the wrong reasons. When I went to lessons, I was not looking for musical guidance as much as talk therapy, if you will. I wanted someone to care about me. Some brilliant professor who would care about me and my potential from a sincere place, instead of someone just paying lip. I noticed that the more “favored” students matured into better musicians, so it seemed. As for who they selected to favor? It seemed arbitrary and unfair.
Somehow, I had to make sense of this nonsense. That’s just how I am, I guess. So I coped by reasoning to myself that these professors were akin to gods. Masters of music, paragons of spiritual enlightenment, and eternally justified in their arbitrary favoritisms. And so every word they uttered in lessons was the bread of my life. I contemplated on their “wisdoms.” I aspired to be a musical master myself, so that I could join the ranks of these deities. So that I could wield the superhuman power of musical expression and flawless physical technique.
Naturally, I was sorely disappointed in this quest. Not to mention, my spiritual musical aspirations steered me in a direction that would not lead to gainful employment. As I neared the end of my degree, this reality hit me. There was no job waiting for me. Instead, there was only the open world of networking and freelancing, and I didn’t have the energy for this. I was too depressed and lethargic. And for me, music wasn’t about the music. It was merely a way for me to develop my character.
The greatest criticism I perceived was delivered unto me in July of 2006, while I was attending a ten-day masterclass in the south of France. To explain the circumstances: My viola professor at the time was instructing violists there, and several of my college colleagues also made the trek to the place. Amidst the pastoral environment of the French countryside, we enjoyed leisurely music-making, excellent food and performances in a couple of medieval-aged churches.
But I was unable to enjoy any of this as a vacation. Instead, I attempted stern discipline within myself. My reason for attending this masterclass, was because I wanted my professor to favor me. I thought that I’d be a better musician if he favored me, in the way I had described above.
In one of my daily lessons, he delivered the bomb.
“You’re inconsistent.” A piece of constructive criticism, yet not elaborated on further.
The most frustrating aspect of the musician personality, as I have perceived, is the lack of verbal eloquence. A frustrating trait for me to deal with especially, because verbal eloquence is the greatest joy for me. Of course, my professor meant well. But his comment was like a dagger in my gut. Here I was, playing my best, and now this criticism. The reason why it perturbed me so, was that no solution was offered. How could I have “fixed” this inconsistency?
And so I absorbed it to be that I, as a person, was inconsistent. My character. My spirit. My mind. My right to be alive. I thought I was such because I lacked musical talent. And because of lack of talent, I would never reach musical enlightenment. The comment made me feel utterly doomed.
In retrospect, I can attribute my “inconsistency” to a couple of factors. I was dealing with difficult, relentless mental chattering, which completely obscured my ability to practice effectively. A year after this particular episode in France, my condition worsened, and I experienced my first psychotic break. My mental chatter and depressions turned into schizophrenia.
But my musical woes root from another cause as well. I now know that I have Hyperacusis, a hearing disorder. When I listen to music loudly, as I do when playing the viola under my jaw, I become disoriented within a half hour. I feel dizzy, I get cold sweats, with anxiety and delusional thoughts galore. Listening to music with earbuds also procures this same effect for me. I am not sure how I developed Hyperacusis, but I know this much: I have tiny ear canals, and I have had many many ear infections as a child. I even venture to say that the way I hear music and sound in general is perhaps different from the norm. The grandest frustration I still experience is when I record myself making music. Violin, viola, singing with guitar, what have you. What I hear in my ear is not what I hear on the tape recorder. No matter how much I try to revise my playing, it still fails to improve.
Sometimes, I wonder if it was music that made me crazy. I think it contributed. Whatever physical torment it was that music inflicted upon me, was small in comparison to the emotional backup I developed in reaction to my father’s sadistic tirades. Dare I say such. From him, I learned that I should remain quiet and compliant. Counter-intuitive for a musician.
As for solving my musical inconsistencies, I don’t much care now. There is no need for me to have to “prove” or “defend” myself against a criticism hurled at me ten years ago. It was my own overreaction that caused thatwound in the first place.
I look forward to better days now. I look forward to the day that I am no longer afraid of the violin. I don’t have to practice “the right way” in order to prove myself to pedagogues I used to know. They are no longer deities to me . Really… whose lives are they changing? Who is changed by their art? Sure, I can get box seats to a MET Opera performance of Mozart’s Zauberflöte, enjoy the tunes… but what else? Have I gleaned anything profound from the musicians themselves? Their little fingers pressing against strings, faces blowing into conical bores… The most I would gain is simply the mind of Mozart himself, for it is HIS composition!
I ramble now. I only wish to impart here… Inconsistency has become a proud badge I wear. I’ve had a varied life due to bipolar impulsiveness and schizophrenic delusions. Traumatic to experience, but humorous to recall. Ha! I had a British accent for a month! Ha! I maxed out a credit card to travel to Denmark for an orchestra audition, only to learn that the orchestra didn’t exist! Mental illness is silly indeed.
Maybe it is such that I needed these failures in order to get my head out of the clouds. Because now as a writer I am very consistent… so it seems.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.