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Ten Things I Learned During My First Year at Rice

by Leah Gastler

1. Get distracted sometimes. There is so much going on in this school/city/country/world beyond classical music. If you let yourself out of the bubble, you’ll find that it refreshes your imagination more than spending the extra time in the practice room.

2. Chamber groups are like relationships. They’re fundamentally about mutual trust, respect, consideration, and care. Importantly, they’re about looking at yourself objectively. You can only truly improve upon your own self; you can’t expect to change another person. Always work on yourself before looking at the other.

3. On the other hand, in classical music, you do and don’t have to tolerate egos that are through the roof. When you can say “no” to playing chamber music with such people, go for it.

4. We all have to define our own “success.” In other words: what makes you happy in life. Really think about it. There is no point in pursuing something that does not fully satisfy you. Life should be fun— seriously. There’s no sense in climbing someone else’s ladder, higher, faster.

5. You’ll perform so much better if you stop trying to prove yourself. Remember how well you nailed that run in the practice room, alone? Well, you’ve proved you can do it, period. Let yourself go and do it.

6. Go to your lessons with questions. We all have questions. We should be able to identify our questions and curiosities in an effort to grow and explore our personal curiosities in the direction that interests us.

7. Don’t try to rush time. Enjoy where you are. Every prior moment of your life has led you here. Look around and appreciate now to its fullest; you won’t get to relive it later. (I’m referring to, “I can’t wait for orchestra to be over,” or “this is the longest rehearsal of my life! When will this end for crying out loud?!”)

8. Don’t forget to eat enough food and hydrate yourself well. If you don’t fuel your body and mind, you’re cheating yourself of your own ability to put in your best effort. Even if it means scheduling in 30 minutes for a lunch break!

9. Most people work from 9 to 5 or for some other allotted time period, and then they experience this mystical thing called “free time.” We don’t really have that, because we decide that all of our “free time” is the same thing as “rehearsal time” or otherwise it is certainly “practice time.” Why? This kind of goes with lesson number 1, but free time is important. You can give yourself permission to do something else, to think of something other than music, to have new and unrelated experiences. As long as you keep up with your obligations, which you will.

10. Keep in touch with your friends, family, colleagues, and teachers. Past and present, these people are your community. Don’t take their presence for granted. Go to their recitals, wish them happy birthday, say “hi,” say “congrats,” say “let’s get together,” say “I miss you,” talk on the phone, send a post card, send an e-mail, whatever. Don’t be silent and don’t choose to make yourself distant from the people who share your world.


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