The Myth of the Magic Formula

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!

Hope everyone attending the NFA Virtual Convention is having a great time participating in all of the performances, masterclasses, panels, and meet-ups. The virtual format of this convention has been great! Love that we can all connect in the online world.

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I attended a wonderful panel discussion today on Tips for Entrepreneurial Musicians that really hit home and inspired me to share with you today some of the experiences and lessons I have also faced in the ongoing struggle to find a flute “career.” Many of the stories were eerily similar to my own and echoed some of the same questions I have asked myself for years. What today’s session helped to finally understand (and accept) is that I am not alone. I was never alone. If I could turn back the clock and tell my college-aged self this, I would. 

Like many aspiring students, I did what my teachers asked growing up (or at least as much as a girl from the sticks with a notoriously stubborn Irish heritage is capable of). I learned my scales, Mozart concerti, Bach sonatas, and French Flute School works, deciding early on that I wanted to pursue the flute in college. Although I never really understood what exactly each new step entailed, I knew there was a formula to get there. I followed the formula (win state solo competitions, attend fancy/schmancy summer camps, memorize repertoire, participate in youth symphony) and it worked! College was paved with more and more formulas – perform the recitals, learn the excerpts, perform in the orchestra, learn the standard repertoire, and practice.literally.all.of.the.time. It was never easy, but it was fairly predictable. I asked myself often, “Where is this leading?” I knew that the formula many of my flute heroes took suggested that landing a chair in an orchestra and teaching at a college was what awaited me after graduation. Sadly, I was wrong.

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As soon as I had my DMA in hand, I began applying to teaching jobs at smaller colleges and universities. I was engaged to be married at that point and not crazy about the idea of asking my fiancé to live in separate places in the short term while he was completing his Ph.D. (in the event that I was offered a job). We also did not have enough money for me to travel around the country auditioning for orchestras, so I started with good, old fashion job applications. And what I soon received was rejection letter after rejection letter. No preliminary interviews. No college visits. Not a sniff of interest. Just a whole lot of “no”s. My ability to call myself a Musician (with a capital M) was fading and my confidence in well, everything, was shattered. The career I had envisioned for myself did not exist. The work I had spent decades putting into my flute career looked more and more like wasted time (and money).

Needing a “real” job to pay the bills, I went to work at a local university in an 8:00 am- 5:00 pm staff position, like an adult. A sad, normal, run-of-the-mill, adult. But an adult that was getting paid a decent salary. I vowed to keep my flute life thriving on the nights and weekends. I did what I could, teaching on weeknights and Saturdays while performing in local orchestras and flute choirs, but as the months turned into years, I slowly began to realize that the formula I believed in so whole-heartedly for years was a myth. I had a choice – I could accept my adult fate and give up on my dream of a flute life, or I could make a name for myself doing something outside of the formula. I chose to keep one foot on both of these paths. Could I do both? Is it possible to be everything to everyone and still be my authentic flute-playing self?

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I continued to work in my staff job while setting up a flute blog that discussed a bit of everything and anything. I was done sticking to the part of the “formula” that flute players should only discuss certain subjects with other flute players. I wanted to start putting ideas out into the world no matter how big, small, or off-the-wall. My blog caught the attention of other flutists and my readership began to take off (only going “viral” once when Jasmine Choi shared one of my posts on her Facebook page). What I learned during this time is that I.Love.To.Write. If you have followed my blog over the years, you have seen my posts grow into articles, presentations, and even a book project. This was not part of the formula. Writing about flute is not where I thought I would build any kind of reputation. I still do not know if I have a Reputation (with a capital R), but I do know that my blogs and articles have connected me to numerous flutists and musicians around the World. That is worth everything.

One of my blog posts eventually led to a series in an online flute journal. I began taking deep dives into all things astrology shortly after receiving rejection letters from job applications. I did not understand what was happening and was searching for answers in the stars. The more I learned about astrology, the more confident I became in connecting astrology to music, particularly on my blog. The folks at The Flute View read a few such blog posts and asked me if I wanted to write horoscopes for their online journal. I continue to publish my column, Dr. G.’s Flute Horoscopes, in The Flute View every month. I carve out time in my adult 8:00-5:00 life to write these and I love it! This is definitely part of my walk away from the formula.

My love of writing helped me write a book proposal for Oxford University Press (based on my DMA paper). I put my ideas out there thinking there was nothing to lose since it was highly unlikely they would accept my proposal. I was wrong (a common theme in my life is that I am wrong a lot). Oxford emailed me within a month or so of submitting my proposal, informing me that it was going to the next level for peer review and acceptance. Still convinced something would go awry in the approval process, I continued to put my best work out there without fear of the outcome. I eventually was offered a contract and my book will be finalized in the next few months.

What did I learn through all of this? I learned that there is no magic formula for building a flute career. Not all of us will have the same path or share the same strengths or interests. Every flutist is different and being different not a liability – it is an asset. I also learned that daring to be different is far more fulfilling than trying to fit into the mold of someone else’s idea of the perfect flutist. There is no “right” way to be a flutist. Great things come when you release your fears of being wrong. Being wrong is what make you extraordinary. Building a flute career on what makes you extraordinary is how you can succeed on your own terms. Dare to be weird. Dare to be edgy. And dare to do something new.

I am about to shift my focus solely onto my flute life, so today’s presentation could not have come at a better time for me. Others have done it, following what they love doing to a more fulfilling life, and have come out on the other side stronger and happier. I am not alone. I am different type of musician. I am a writer, a scholar, an astrologer, a flutist, and a mystic. I am proud of the unique flutist I have become and the one that I will be in the future.

What is your story? Have you taken a road less traveled in your flute career? What makes you unique as a flutist? Share your tales below!

Happy fluting!

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