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.
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.