You can’t escape yourself


moonI made myself laugh while doing Moon Salutations (yoga exercises similar to the Sun Salutations) last night. The thought came to me: if I were to suddenly become an enlightened being, I would frighten myself. The thought really amused me and I got to thinking about the idea of self, escape, and whether there is a separate self from which we can escape. These questions are not within the scope of my flute blog.

But wait, if there is no escape, can’t we at least as artists live in ways which allow growth and re-definition?

Yes, to a degree. I have “escaped” the person I could have been, had I not become a musician. However, there are basic formats I can’t escape, reminders of which never cease. In a post from 2009, I recounted the sexist attitudes of an old-world, now-deceased teacher who, by his own admission, gave more professional attention his male students. Later that same year, I met a teacher of my own generation who, in front of his class of female students, said he would take any male student no matter how he played just to escape drowning in a sea of estrogen. OK, the drowning-in-estrogen part I made up, but he may as well have said it.

This is not going to be a feminist rant, I promise, but allow me one more example, hopefully more universal. A student of mine played brilliantly for a final exam. During the critique and pep-talk, one professor, who I have long known to be a decent person, said to her: you are a great player, but you need to project yourself, your musical presence (not meaning the sound, it was huge) more strongly on stage if you want to get anywhere because you are a small Asian woman. I thought of what might happen if this were an American institution, the hue and cry of sexism and racism it would incite. However, I know this person, he was sincerely trying to be helpful. He was just very direct and personal, which Germans tend to be (although the Russians certainly give them a run for their money).

Two deductions I can make of all this: 1) Flutistic reality can be seen as liberating. When I was younger, I thought ability and accomplishment were the answers to everything, and I was a prisoner to the idea that I was my flute playing. When it comes to being in the profession, though, any flutist in the running is awesome, so it is you, your musicianship, your attitudes, your person, who ends up with the job. Or not. However, if you were in the running, you are still awesome and still you, if you have ever taken time to cultivate a you. Perhaps not everyone’s idea of liberty, but for me works.

2) There is no escape from who you are, neither should there be a need for escape. In a perfect world. The world does need changing, but I am not a fan of revolution, it usually brings back the same mess in a different guise. I believe more in the permanent, although maddeningly slow, changes that evolution brings. What can one do except work towards being a kick-ass flutist and kick-ass person? Many things, I suppose, but those are the things I have chosen.
Photo credit: Maxim Senin

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Sexism; what, me, bitter?!



Here I am about 5 months pregnant!

About 20 years ago I ran into a male flute friend of mine who had just finished studying with a majorly famous European teacher (no longer among the living). I don’t know what possessed my friend to make the following confidence, but the shadow it cast has been long and tenuous.
He told me that this teacher openly favored his male students, told him that he tries to help them along more than the women in his studio. Needless to say I was pretty shocked.

I am trying to speculate in a kind way as to why this teacher had these attitudes. (And I’m sure this old-school, Old World guy was not alone in his practices.) Maybe he saw the practicality of his investment in male students: they would be bread-winners, the women would get married, live off their husbands and spend their time and energies having babies.

As a student, I had my share of old-school teachers. And looking back, I think I was definitely a victim of this sort of treatment. Honestly, I don’t think it was all intentional either. I would like to think that nobody treats anybody this way in order to be mean: it’s just programmed behavior of a certain generation and culture. And what 19-year-old female student has the presence of mind to say:”hey, pay attention to me, make your investment in me! In 20 years I will be the bread-winner of my family, supporting my spouse and child on my fluting skills!”
Would they have believed me? Would I have believed me? That’s the trouble, I think. I didn’t believe in myself then. I think young boys/men are more used to believing in themselves.

But here I am, the man of the house (for now at least), relying heavily on my basic skills, since I have little time to actually practice. Thank goodness for the training I do have, and for those who believed in, or at least did their duty by me.

But I have to ask myself, am I completely gender-blind when it comes to my own students:? a gaggle of beautiful, poised, talented young women, and at the most one or two young men. There, you see, even the language I use: gaggle. It’s a collective word, not geared to viewing the individual.

We all need a kick in the butt sometimes.

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