Post-Convention Pep Talk- Finding Your Niche

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday! 

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Today’s blog is a bit more introspective than usual Flute Friday postings. Many of you reading this have recently returned from the NFA Convention in Chicago. You no doubt had a great time connecting with other flutists, picked up a ton of new ideas at lectures and workshops, and attended some fabulous concerts featuring world-class performers. That is awesome! As it should be! That being said, there is a side of attending conventions that sometimes does not get addressed and because this is a platform where we can unpack the good, the bad, the difficult, and the fabulous, I am going to unleash the Kraken. In today’s blog, I will be discussing some of the quietly insecure thoughts and feelings that may be running through our heads after the stage lights have gone down. How we might instead reframe these into inspirational positive goals for the future?

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The truth is that when we attend music conventions and other professional conferences, we sometimes end up feeling bad about our own progress (or lack thereof) when we are surrounded by musicians who have already built successful performing careers. We look up at the mountain of practice we still need to do to become experts in our craft or behind at the opportunities that we bypassed on our way to different life experiences that may have been off the perfectly paved highway to success. Perhaps we did not follow the magic formula to become A Professional Performing Flutist. Maybe we do not perform as much as we “should” or do not teach as many students as we “should.” It is easy to ignore the “shoulds” when we are out in the World living a flute life designed on our own terms. At a convention, however, we are reminded of the “shoulds” when we start comparing ourselves and our flute playing to others around us. It is hard not to compare. Anybody that has tested out new instruments in the Exhibit Hall knows this all too well. So much of what we do is competitive, whether it is auditioning for chair placements, interviewing for teaching positions, or even just sparking interest to attend our performances over other events. Even the learning process encourages a bit of compare and contrast as we judge who we would like to study with, whose sound we would like to emulate, and which performances to use to model our own style. You may even run into old colleagues at conventions who graduated from the same studio, studied with the same teachers, and performed with all the same groups who are now performing fantastic works and living very successful music careers and think to yourself, “Where did I go wrong? How did I veer off-track? Where did they find the magic formula?” We sometimes forget under these circumstances that the only person we ever need to prove anything to is ourselves.

Yet, how do we stop this comparative game in its tracks when our confidence finds its way onto shaky ground? How do we embrace where we are in our flute playing and love it for what it is?

The answer is to find your niche and own it!!!

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There may not be workshops offered in your particular interest. You may find that you can only attend a certain amount of performances before you forget who you are and what it is about the flute that you love. Don’t be afraid to do something different, even if it does not end up in the typical schedule of events. Okay, I’m about to drop a cold, hard truth: Being a flutist isn’t all about performing. Not all of us love playing in an orchestra. Some of us do not really enjoy solo performances. Maybe flute choir just isn’t our thing. Some are drained by teaching. Others of us, like yours truly, like to write and share ideas that are way outside the normal flute-playing tradition. And guess what? That type of variety makes what we do interesting. It breathes new life into old practices. We all learn the same pieces. Practice the same techniques. Drill scales and arpeggios. Host recitals. Take auditions. End up at the bar when we get cut in the first round. It’s okay to exit the hamster wheel and try out a roller coaster. Doing something different makes comparing yourself to others impossible. It is freeing, inspirational, and helps you put your own creative stamp on the flute world.

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What we can do instead is use the lessons learned at the convention as motivation to create new goals that combine who we are with new, super creative ideas for the future. I carry a notebook to these types of conventions and always end up with a ton of great new ideas for future blog posts, inventive ways to reorganize my practice routine, new types of music I would like to try out, who I would like to connect with for interesting collaborative work in the future, and where I would like to be in my flute career by this time next year. What is in your notebook? Write it all out! What new goals can you add to your list? What are the action steps needed to attain those goals? Is there a fabulous flutist that you would like to connect with? Message them! Do you have a great idea for a creative project inspired by your time at the convention? Start brainstorming! Use your convention experience to further develop your niche and start thinking bigger, better, and way outside of the box. That is the very best way to silence your inner critic and turn your attention toward positive, awesome new possibilities for the flute and flute playing in the future.

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What is your niche and did you find any new ideas to build upon at the convention? What are your new goals for the year ahead? How can you put your own stamp on the flute world as we know it? Please comment below!

Happy fluting!!

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