Loosening the Reins: Letting go is not giving up

This morning, at 1:50am, after laying awake for hours and alone with my thoughts, I made the decision to let something go.

I am but one of thousands of aspiring-to-be-great horn players in this country; one of even more in the world, and things are starting to feel desperate. The struggling balance between finding enough work to survive, being able to afford to take auditions, and having sufficient practice time seems to never teeter in favor of the particular situation at hand. If I am working enough to survive, and I can afford to take an audition, practice time seems to be in scarce abundance. If I have ample time to practice, chances are I am not working enough to survive, and therefore cannot afford to take an audition anyway. All of this surmounted by the crushing pressure of being the single winning candidate, out of that pool of literal thousands of aspiring-to-be-great horn players; it takes its toll.

Frankly? I’m over it.

I am tired of feeling like I have to sacrifice my entire waking life to my slave-driving masters, Metronome and Tuner, in order to maybe (but statistically improbably) win the next audition. I am tired of being at the mercy of my imperfections. Yes, we all know that we are all only human, but am I imperfect in the appropriate way? What degree of imperfection is acceptable, and will it wind up costing me the audition (and effectively hundreds of hard-earned dollars)?

In the wee hours of this morning (when I guess I technically should have been practicing?), I came across a quote that I shared on social media exactly one year ago, and honestly, it reminded me of something very important: the purpose of music making.

“Never practice more than three or four hours a day. No one can concentrate longer than that, and you must spend the rest of your time learning about life and love and art and all of the wonderful things in this world. If a young person sits in the practice room all day, what can [they] possibly have to express in [their] music?”  Arthur Rubstein 

Now, before I go any further – a little disclaimer: I am going through something right now. I have spent a good portion of the past few month20663872_10154967955242705_1183452232168153899_n.jpgs wondering how on earth I am going to get through this while simultaneously focusing on preparing to win my next audition. The long-short of it: It Ain’t. Going. To happen.

And that’s totally fine.

Why is it fine?

Because, life is bigger than any job. What better representation could there be than witnessing first-hand the awe-inspiring solar eclipse of August 21, 2017?

(much wow. very sun.)

Eight years ago, when I decided I was going to be a horn player, I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I was certain I would walk straight from graduation with my diploma in one hand, horn in the other, and right onto the stage at Carnegie Hall…more or less.


Don’t get me wrong, I am a hard worker. But, I am also fiercely passionate about life; perhaps detrimentally so, in the grand scheme of a flourishing orchestral career. And, it just so happens that my idea of a passionate life does not largely revolve around drilling excerpts, scales, and etudes.

I love the movies. I love being in nature. I love studying the wonders of metaphysics, practicing reiki, and meditating (napping). I love to draw and paint: things I do much too infrequently. I love to cook…and eat… I love building friendships. I love listening. I love helping. I love doing all of these things, without my horn, and there are so many more things to do.

Recently, I have been feeling like I am creeping up on some proverbial expiration date; that, as I near the big 3-0, the statistic improbability of ever “making it big” grows exponentially with each passing day. Soul. Crushing.

But this is just a feeling, not a reality.

When I feel overwhelmed by all of the work I have yet to accomplish, I have to remind myself that there is so. much. more. to life. Life is not about right notes. It isn’t about perfect rhythm. Life has no historically appropriate interpretation that also conveniently differs in opinion among each of the jurors. Life is not a Mahler obligato or a Mozart concerto. Life, in all of its glory and fallible complexity, is what inspired all of those things.

My point in all of this is: having high standards for yourself is essential for success on any path of life, but it’s okay to stop and smell the roses, to read that book, to enjoy another cup of coffee. And it is even okay to linger for a while, for however long you like.

No pursuit is worth compromising quality of life. There is a difference between sacrifice and self-destruction. We are all just human. We grow and thrive at different rates, and as long as we allow ourselves to bask in the sunlight, we will all bloom.

So, I am letting go of the destructive thoughts that consume me and hinder my ability to enjoy the music I am making. My voice through the horn is a reflection of all of the beauty I have allowed myself to experience in life.

I may never be Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony, but damn it I am going to enjoy trying. 

4 thoughts on “Loosening the Reins: Letting go is not giving up

  1. Robert Henderson

    Hey Lou! This is quite a reflection and I’m happy with where you’re at, if you’re happy and it sounds like you are. You know we are the same age and in many ways very similar. Three months ago I was pretty close to putting the horn away completely. It’s not something you can do in an undisciplined way, and the discipline and time commitment is daily; no escaping it. And there are so many things to do in this wonderful world and playing horn gets in the way of a lot of them. I took a break for about three months and picked it up again to get ready for orchestra later this month. I have found another community orchestra doing Holst, Mahler 6 and Strauss DJ. It may dominate one’s life but the music makes it totally worthwhile, and it’s not forever. Nothing is. So make the music as good as you can and don’t sweat the small stuff, because ultimately it’s all small stuff. Better to enjoy life. Best wishes!

  2. Tom Greer

    Becoming a musician was an outgrowth of who I WAS. I was a musician before I learned to play. But in college I made a decision: that if, despite concentrated practice and performing, I did not succeed professionally by age 23, I would keep my music on a personal level and develop other skills in order to make a living. I was “lucky” to become a professional. The time in lessons and in the practice rooms wasn’t in vain. I DID my part and tried to avoid self-delusion.

  3. Pingback: Perspective – Performance Anxiety

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