Reflections on a life at Music College
“Work harder, be better, don’t cut corners, practice more, practice till it’s perfect and then practice again.”
Ring any bells from childhood piano lessons?
These common motivational nuggets were multiplied as I entered into my 1st Year BMus degree studying the Trumpet at ‘The Royal Academy of Music’.
“Tell a few white lies, exaggerate your CV a little, suck up to him/her, be the first into the practice rooms and the last to leave!”
Life was taken up a gear or three, and as I entered my first week of my new life I heard the strange concoction of sounds from practice rooms spread over six floors of the Royal Academy. Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto was heard alongside clarinet scales at breakneck speed and somebody sitting in a corridor practicing the triangle (you think I’m joking?)
I thrived on the expertise of my teachers and other students some of whom had been ready for Music College at the age of twelve it seemed. I was given great opportunities within the Academy playing to Princess Anne, Elton John, recording a CD and travelling to Beijing. I lapped it up and saw early on the tremendous temptation to be driven and obsessed by the circle of practice, performing, socializing…practice, performing, socializing.
As an excited, slightly intimidated eighteen year old I was very glad that God had put into my life Christian parents who had bought me up in the Christian faith. Arriving in London I joined a Bible believing Church and the small but wonderful Christian Union at the Academy, (sometimes two people, sometimes ten). Living the Christian life alone is very hard and foolish and having brothers and sisters in Christ to help me fight idolatry, jealousy, selfish ambition etc (Galatians 5:19-21) was vital.
From day one the lie was sold from friends, professors and teachers that true satisfaction is found in music. Well this exact phrase might have not explicitly been used but nearly all of the 500 or so students thought and acted like this. The signs were everywhere. Conversation largely revolved around who was doing what gig, what jobs were coming up, what percentage did ‘X’ get in his technical exam. A good practice time meant someone would be in a good mood, emotions would depend on how well an exam/lesson had gone. Nearly everything was driven by success. I’m very aware that Music College isn’t the only place where this is common but it seemed all the more intensified being in the tight proximity of ambitious young musicians.
It was a shock when a freelancing Cellist speaking at a Christian Union meeting said that whenever he played with one of the big London orchestras he was always struck by the grumbling and lack of contentment. “We play this piece all the time, the orchestra travel too much, I don’t like this conductor, and on and on it went”.
An unrealistic picture of future perfection was set in the minds of many students dreaming of the top seat in the top orchestra in the top concert hall on the top salary, bringing ultimate success.
I was grateful for that Christian Union session and I was able to start to understand the old saying, “don’t make it an idol, but don’t be idle”.
When I began to understand 1 Corinthians 10:31, ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’, it started to put things into focus.
I worked hard, enjoyed lessons, took opportunities and in my better moments I did this for God’s glory not for my own. Of course on a daily basis I had to face pride issues, envy at others who were more naturally gifted at certain things, but I knew I wanted to live for God’s glory, not my own! Particularly in my last year I realized the fun in making music for God’s glory, I enjoyed playing my trumpet more, it took the pressure off.
These final words helped me in my time at the Academy from getting too self-absorbed, and my prayer is that message of these verses might help many Christians in the music profession in the years to come.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”