Over the course of the last year I have been away conducting interviews, recording observations, and writing fieldwork reports. As a result of that, the several weeks will be a series of explorations on perspectives of competition and measurement as a conservatoire student and performing artist. The series is a celebration of the dedicated musicians and actors who I had the honour of speaking with, all of whom face incredible stresses and concerns even when they aren’t in front of a tutor, holding an instrument, or studying. And they face these hurdles head on. For now, I am calling this the Spheres Series, each post highlighting a different ‘sphere’ that students pick up and place themselves within, in one way or another, during their time at the conservatoire.
Starting with the most intimate, the first is a look at being an individual in a world of constant competition. Growing outward, I have observed student musicians drawing boundaries across instruments which involves a lot of reading between faculty lines. Expanding the scope even further, the next perspective is aimed at the perceived differences in a conservatoire education versus a university (or, perhaps, no formal higher education training at all). And lastly, the pervasive separation that seems to exist between performing artists and the rest of the world, namely in off-handed comments such as “my friends who have real jobs” and “I don’t have a ‘normal’ job”.
Stay tuned for more!
I went to read some academic literature (as a Ph.D. student, there is never an end to the literature) at Starbucks – a caffeine-beverage-driven study locale. Between sips and notes I realised a couple of folks had sat down nearby and started up a conversation that had clearly begun before this moment. After listening in for a minute (I know, I know… but hear me out) I realised they were discussing the US election and the current cultural zeitgeist. The woman seemed pretty reasonable and level-headed. The man she was with nodded along as she described the current political climate. At no point did she seem wrong in her commentary but I something felt odd and instead of note taking I just sipped my coffee and contemplated what was bothering me.
Eventually, I decided that I was troubled with the “absolute”-ness of her explanations. Like I said, I didn’t disagree with her, but I can’t help but think that she wouldn’t have chosen so many “this is why this works and this is how that is” statements if she knew an American was sat behind her listening. Perhaps it’ll be a future research project (does anyone want to give me grant money?) but it made me wonder, how do Americans abroad explain America?
We are a big chunk of citizens who have a big responsibility. We are the guerrilla public relations team for our country, for better or worse. We do a disservice to citizens back home if we say things like “Hilary should have won, the electoral college is an outdated system that has no place in society today” or “50% of America has traditional home values, and the liberals need to learn to deal with that” without at least reflecting on what pieces of the puzzle you’re leaving out. I hope that had I been part of the Starbucks conversation there would have been more “I don’t know about your experience, but this was mine…” It may seem like a small, unimportant detail but it affects the way others view us and I think, now more than ever, we need to put our best foot forward.
I suppose the nugget of “wisdom” I’m trying to convey in all of that is simply: speak as though another American with different experiences is sat listening to you… because they might be.
We have a long, tough road ahead and as a self-proclaimed logic and reason abiding American in a post-truth, post-Brexit UK I’ve started my Battle Songs playlist. It's time to get to work!