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  • Writer's pictureIlan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone

Flat People

In a recent Instagram post, my friend Kayleigh Miller, a wonderful violist, yoga teacher, and movement guru, talked about knowing when to walk away:


“Just because a teacher, program, school, lineage, festival or job is prestigious, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. We can feel a lot of shame for leaving a position, transferring schools or teachers, or just realizing that something is not right and we need a change. I’m not suggesting you quit every time things get tough. Instead, ask yourself, is this what I need to do right now, or am I doing this because everyone told me I should?”


A few words stand out to me. Prestigious. Everyone. Shame. Removed from the rest of the post these words seem even more striking. They also seem completely in-line with my perception during the time I was learning the ropes of the business.


Let us all be realistic for a moment. Is this really just peer pressure? On the one hand we surround ourselves with like-minded people who are competitive about those same prestigious festivals, schools, and jobs we all are. But while I see the reality of this peer pressure, I also see another reality. In this other reality this pressure is also manufactured. Why? Well, it is really simple: we need to be needed, and by ‘we’ I mean us professionals who also teach.


Let me take a moment to clarify a couple of things. First, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with charging money for one’s time and knowledge. Second, I teach, publish, and play, all for money, and I try to make all those both look and sound as best I can. I do not see any issue with that either.


Here is the but.


I fear what I witness is the manufacturing of an appearance of exclusivity, where the implication is that the ability to attend in itself is supposedly enough for the student to feel special.


Let us be honest: There are plenty of schools, festivals, and teachers to go around, and they are all great for the right student. There are also plenty of students. The shiny brochure, the slick website, the famous teacher with the big job: that is all marketing, and it can, but does not always, correlate to what is actually being offered.


Students take upon themselves years of emotional and financial debt, often equating their self-worth with words we do not always choose very carefully, and a financial future with a promise far too simplistic. These people do that because they are good students, and in a way we expect that of them.


So when they do not fully live up to our expectations, let us tell them! But let us also share all those times we did not meet our own expectations too, all those times we tortured our teachers with half-assed homework, or showed up half-asleep but buzzed on coffee after an all-nighter spent studying, or bombed an audition, or missed an entrance in a concert, or double booked ourselves, or whatever. Let us not try and live up to the hubris of those flat and shiny and tired marketing materials: we do not need that pressure, neither do our students, and we will all be better for it.




Ps

Kayleigh Miller is a strong-minded and outspoken person. It is part of why she is successful, and it is also why I was not surprised to see her post the above. Please consider following her social media presence and blog at musicianshealthcollective.com.


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julesshinkle
julesshinkle
Oct 20, 2020

Sure, that sounds fun! Send me a message at julesshinkle (at) gmail.com so we can set something up!

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Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Oct 20, 2020

"What I'm getting at is...I don't think professionalism is all it's chalked up to be. It's taken a lot of unlearning and exploration to get to a place where I can say that. I think a lot of people have become disillusioned to the idea that professionalism is normal, fine, and okay. Especially student musicians, who are taught that true artistry comes from authenticity while simultaneously taking a class on "how to convince an employer that your music degree has increased your capacity to generate capital for them". I totally get why you wouldn't necessarily recommend people follow your example, as it's a lot easier to drop the faker personas once we have the privilege of security.


That being said,…


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julesshinkle
julesshinkle
Oct 19, 2020

Thanks for the reply! It's super interesting that you acknowledge the existence of public and private personas while also striving for authenticity! And I don't say that in a "gotcha" way, it's just not a common stance. Like, I think the classical pursuit behind authenticity is the reduction of "mask wearing"; if there's one authentic version of your self, then that ought to be the only persona. But obviously, very few people have one version of themselves. It's just not in a lot of peoples' best interest to bare their soul to everybody they meet. And while we agree that authenticity is a nice virtue to have, I doubt we could fault anyone for wearing different hats in different social…


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Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Oct 19, 2020

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but let me try and take a stab and a few questions here.


"When you meet students interested in pursuing higher education, how do you combat the flat image of yourself that's already been imprinted on us? I feel as though both student and teacher are forced to reduce themselves to walking and talking manifestations of their resumes."


I got a wonderful compliment the other day. My friend Justin Waller, in a private message about my TELP book, he noted “I think it’s extremely valuable to students how humble you are in your writing. You use very personal language, and there’s no ivory tower bullshit”. This was a private conversation and Justin didn…


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Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
Oct 05, 2020

@julesshinkle, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I'd like to think about this a bit before giving a definitive answer, but my gut instinct is that the issues I'm describing are such because they are financially incentivized. Which means that in a way, students have some significant agency in this equation. If I were a student I would like to think that I would use that agency for two purposes: first, demand your teachers be honest with you, even when the conversation is not comfortable, and second, record yourself, so that you can become your best teacher. With all that, I'd like to sleep on this and see if I can better organize my thoughts.

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