When I first began taking percussion lessons, I was blessed to be a part of the Percussion Scholarship Program. This group was unlike anything I had ever done or seen as a child, and I was excited to begin and to learn as much as I could. There was a price however, not with dollar signs, but with other things. I remember seeing, on the application, the question, "What are your favorite television shows?" And right after that read, "Which one are you willing to give up to practice?" I can't remember the shows that were on during that year, but I know that cartoons were a big deal to me. As I live out my life there is always a new concession, or choice, or even just a question of balance that pops up, and I know a lot of us have either gone through, or are going through that. Do I buy new jeans, or that pair of mallets I need for this one excerpt? Do I use this check for my gold head joint, or do I use my credit card? Do I save this money, or go to this audition? Do I eat lunch, or practice (always a question for me)?
Unfortunately, some of the choices we face aren't so "trivial." I remember when I was, I think 12, I couldn't really hang out with my grandfather, who I had not seen in years, when he came to visit us, because I had to practice and go to my lessons. It was a choice that I made, but I also regarded my work as that important. Important enough to sacrifice something that I really wanted or cared about, in hopes of something better for my future. In hopes of something that would make all of the work worth it, like we all hope for. These days, the choices and concessions are harder (because "adult life"), but that doesn't make our goals, or the variables we choose from any less important or demeans them. We need to accept those choices and not regret them, even if they did not have to outcomes we wanted. I know most of us have experienced the guilt of not practicing, but honestly, we have to stop practicing at some point, and do other things. It doesn't make us any less of a musician or an artist, dare I say a person, if we take the time to handle some business.
We give a lot of ourselves to this craft, and for the majority of us, giving so much with so little payback is really hard to stomach. I've found some of my peace with the enjoyment of the journey, enjoying the moments of when I break through a wall of technique, or playing a duet with a good friend. The success we want is completely valid, but if that's the only thing we wait for it in order to enjoy ourselves, it becomes harder and harder to do that.
Combine that with the stress that can come from certain choices we have to make in life, and you have yourself a bad situation. It's easier to say no to something, knowing that your work will be good and productive, than if you feel like you'll never get anywhere if you practice. I think it's a matter of continual self reassurance, reminding yourself of both the progress you have made, and the sacrifices you made to make that progress. For most of us, the cost of continuing is worth paying, but each of us have a different price to pay. We all have to find the balance for ourselves, whether it's money management, time management, or anything else that pertains to you as a person and you as a musician. And with that balance, we have to not look to the outcomes for payback, but the process itself.
Any artist has pretty much signed up for a life of rejections, disappointments, long hours practicing, self doubt, and any other of the "artistic woes." But coupled with every negative are the joys of creating, of reaching people, of teaching, of learning, of connecting with others, of the challenge of a new piece, of figuring out new techniques, of talking to people about what you love, of doing what you love. The amount of joy we produce every time we pick up the instrument is totally worth the sacrifices we make in the end, otherwise I know I wouldn't still be here.