So, 2017 was a failure by any working musician’s count.
Sometimes it felt like I was no longer a flute player this year. Like I just claimed to be one, like those people who call themselves foodies. Or who say they’re hikers, own all the gear, but only hit the trails once in mid-June. But worse, because a better description would be that this year felt like forced exile—I was Napoleon on Elba.
I had imagined that completing 2 years’ worth of mouth work following a car accident would immediately mean the glorious return to my former gigging life: a concert every week, tours, and the satisfying conquering of new works. Take that, scary run! My metronome and I will slay you!
But the reality was a whimper, and after a handful of satisfying performances in April and May and a chamber music retreat in June, my calendar yawned, empty and ready, but unfilled. I had poured so much energy into performing those three months—the first time since 2015, and it felt so good—, but made no plan for the future beyond, so that when it became the present there was nothing for me to do.
I told myself that the quiet of summer didn’t worry me; that happens every year. But when September rolled around and nothing was in the books and no one was calling, I felt a pit in my stomach. Then my day job heated up in a big way, and in the evenings I would return home, exhausted but frustrated that there was no “5-to-9” work for me—nothing to work towards, nothing to challenge me, and, in short, nothing that made me a flute player.
I built mini performances into my classroom teaching, forcing myself to dust off Telemann, Kuhlau, Debussy, Takemitsu, and Korde. I told myself my students needed to hear this range of flute music to really understand classical music. But I just needed to play.
The fall was tumultuous in other, very real ways. I moved twice—no, three times—from September to December. I started a second university teaching job in October. I think back over the semester and remind myself about the reality I was living, how there wasn’t time to lay the plans to make music.
And yet, and yet.
That’s why I do all these other things: the day job, the teaching, the living in balls-expensive Brooklyn. It’s to give myself the opportunity to play. To make sound with people I admire, who inspire me, whose very existence encourages me to be better, in every sense of the word.
But 2017 isn’t over. I moved, for the last time, two days before Christmas, into the top floor of a small house. The first thing I unpacked—after my dog’s bed and food, of course—was my bookcase of scores and music stand. I didn’t actually get to practice that day, or the next, but it did allow me to physically put my priorities in order. And this week, I’ve revisited the technique-building exercises I couldn’t bring myself to do in the sad after-work hours of the fall. The best thing to come out of the car accident was becoming newly aware of my mouth—since it wasn’t my mouth any more but one my dentists had constructed—in a way that let me feel more confident in the sound I make. This week I’ve finally had the mental bandwidth to build upon that and listen to myself again, and I’m noticing all kinds of problems with my articulation. Yes, finally! Something to do, something to work on, something where I can improve.
And 2017 wasn’t a complete failure. My teaching game is on point, and I began curating a new chamber music series at my day job. And the time away from the stage has given me a chance to think about repertoire from a respectful distance, how I want to work in the future, and listen to those on stage even more attentively. As for 2018, I just don't have anything on my calendar yet.