It’s been two months since I returned to Saskatchewan after graduating with my Master’s degree from the University of Florida. This is the first time since I was five years old that I will not be returning to school in September after summer holidays.
When people ask me how my studies went in Florida, I usually tell them that it was a surreal experience. It felt short, but that’s been the case every year in university – each year feels shorter than the last. This was the first time I’ve lived on my own in a different country, and Saskatchewan couldn’t be any more diverse from Florida. Part of the surrealism I felt came from the vast differences in climate, landscape, people, architecture, food, and culture. Change is often difficult at first, but I enjoyed diving in and soaking up the experience.
One of the best things about music school is meeting people who share the same intense and focused passion for music that you do. At the Master’s level, everyone’s focus becomes highly specialized, and you begin to find out who’s out there doing the same kind of work that you’re interested in. I met a lot of great people out there who are now my good friends. You find out really fast where you fit in the world of academia. I found that musicians (especially saxophonists!) are willing to collaborate with anyone and everyone. All kinds of new music is being commissioned for saxophone duo, trio, quartet, saxophone & oboe, saxophone & electronic media, even saxophone & accordion!
I don’t need to tell you that my Master’s degree was a challenging experience. Ironically, the most challenging obstacle I encountered during my Masters was myself. When I began my degree at UF immediately after my undergrad, I consequently raised my standards. “I should be able to play like this, I should be able to write like this…” In other words, I began to believe that making mistakes was not an option and I believed that everyone at UF held me to the same standard. I quickly found out how small of a fish I was in a large competitive pond. I was afraid of falling short of my colleagues’ expectations.
This fear prevented me from feeling natural while performing. It came in waves: sometimes I was too busy to think about it, and other times I couldn’t push it out of my mind. It wasn’t until my Master’s recital that I felt I was able to overcome this fear and get out of my own way. When I look back and see everything that I have accomplished during my Master’s, I feel a clarifying sense of comfort in my abilities.
I’ve always pushed myself in school and everything I do in life, largely out of curiosity to see what might happen. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have amazing and supportive teachers who recognized my work ethic and encouraged me to push myself further than my best. Now, after a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music, I am suddenly the teacher, and no one is standing behind me and evaluating my progress. It’s both a liberating and a frightening transformation. How do I maintain my work ethic to stay motivated and make progress in my career? More importantly, what does progress exactly mean for me, and what am I progressing towards? These are questions I will begin to answer now that I am taking a step away from student life.