Missed Opportunities

"Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss." - F. Scott Fitzgerald Most of the time, I'm an advocate for taking chances, trying new things, and taking advantage of any good opportunity that comes my way.  I'm still early in my career and for the most part, any experience is good experience.

But sometimes, you have to say "no" to good great opportunities in favor of something else.

Last year, I had the chance to visit a private prep school in the area.  They have beautiful facilities and an excellent fine arts program.  Walking through the halls of their new music building, I overheard an open chamber music jury (playing Beethoven's Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 3.  Hello.), a group lesson for string players, a theory class, and a few students rehearsing on their own in the practice rooms.  I would love the opportunity to teach here , I thought to myself.  I met one of the coordinators of the music program that day and she quickly put me in touch with the director.  He had my resume and I was hopeful that a part-time position would open up within a few months.

A year later, I received an email from the program director with these words: "We are anticipating some staffing needs for the next academic year and beyond..."  This was a GREAT opportunity - one I had been waiting for for a year now - but the timing was all wrong.  I had just committed to a PhD program at Eastman and was within two weeks of giving notice to my employers.  My heart sunk.  Why couldn't this have happened last year?  Of course, I am so, so excited about the work I will be doing at Eastman next year but I hated having to turn this down.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's said, "Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss."  Yes.  Reading these words made me rethink things.  Opportunities are turning points.  They define the path we take.  We say "yes" to some and "no" to others.  Instead of lamenting the "no's" we should feel like our "yes's" are clearer and more defined because of it.  Saying "no" to great opportunities gives us clarity for the things to which we've already said "yes."

What have you said "yes" to lately?

The Next Chapter

I am so excited to finally write this post! Sometimes, it’s difficult to know where to start and so I’ve been writing and rewriting these opening sentences for longer than I care to admit.  Done is better than perfect.  It’s time to acknowledge the hard work and celebrate the successes.  It’s time to share this exciting new venture.  This is my next chapter.

I will be beginning my PhD in Music Education at the Eastman School of Music this fall and I could not be more excited!!

When I graduated from Eastman with my master’s degree in 2010, I thought I was done with school forever.  Who needs a doctorate?  I have enough skills to get out there, teach, perform, create opportunities, build programs, and make a living for myself in music.  For the last two years, I’ve done just that.  Being the young, fiery, go-getter that I am, I had high expectations.  I thought teaching would be rewarding and I thought I’d learn a lot about myself in the process.  It is and I did.  But here’s what I didn’t expect: These experiences lit a fire in my core – a desire to learn more and a passion for not settling but actively trying to be the best I can be.

After nine months out in the “real world,” Steve and I had a heart-to-heart over a bottle of red wine and a box of chocolates.  “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about going back,” I said.  I hardly recognized the words as they came out of my mouth.  “But that’s normal, right?  Everyone thinks like that after graduating.  It’s all we know,” I quantified.  “I don’t think like that,” he said, smiling.  “But you should do it,” he said after a moment.  From then on, I knew this was the point of no return.  I knew what I had to do.

Over the next few months, I spoke with a few close friends and several of my professors to gauge their reaction.  Everyone was extremely supportive.  “I told you you’d be back,” one professor said.  Eastman was my top choice but I did my research and compared programs at a few different schools to increase my awareness of what’s out there.  Amidst wedding planning, preparing for the choir year, and lesson planning for school, I compiled a teaching portfolio, wrote personal statements, and requested letters of recommendation and transcripts.  Two weeks after returning from our honeymoon, I submitted my first application.  I visited Teachers College at Columbia University, my other top choice, just before Thanksgiving and had a great day meeting with a few of the faculty and observing a graduate class.  It felt so right.

Just after the New Year, I received an invitation to interview at Eastman at the end of the month.  It was a full 12-hour day: convocation, five one-on-one interviews with the faculty, three research presentations by current students, cocktail party, and dinner.  I gave 110% of myself through the entire process and I was exhausted afterward.  I felt like things had gone well but after meeting the other candidates, I began to doubt whether or not my best, my 110% was enough.  Do I have enough experience?  Do the faculty think I would be a good fit?  Did I make a good impression?  What if all of that is just not good enough?

February felt like the longest month of my life.

I kept my phone in sight at all times in case a call came in.  I skipped to the post office every day to check for the obligatory “thick envelope.”  I checked the school websites for updates from the Admission Offices.  Finally, on March 1, I received a call from one of my former professors at Eastman.  “Consider this your unofficial acceptance,” he said.  I couldn’t wipe the silly grin off my face.  I was over the moon!  The formal paperwork followed a few weeks later and after several weeks of negotiating, I signed my name on the dotted line and sent everything in on the very last day.  Since then, I have received many warm, congratulatory notes from Eastman teachers and friends.  I am so very thankful to be returning to such a wonderful community!

Of course, rejoining the Eastman community means leaving the community we’ve been a part of for the last two years: The community where we’ve had so many great opportunities to grow as teachers and musicians.  The community that celebrated with us when we got engaged and when we got married last year.  The community where we built the Westminster Chamber Music Workshop.  I’ve learned so much about myself since moving here.  I grew as a teacher.  I found my authentic voice in writing.  I developed a passion for community music education.  Though bittersweet for sure, I know that this new adventure is the right decision for me and for us.

What does this new future hold?  Well, the PhD is a 3-year degree program and I’ll be enrolled full time.  Because I recently completed my master’s degree at Eastman, I’ve already taken many of the required courses for the PhD program, meaning I have a lot of flexibility in really tailoring the program to my research interests.  I know I am a complete nerd but I can’t wait for my first week at school when I’ll have the chance to sit down with my advisor and plan out my course schedule for the next three years!  In addition to class work, I’ll also be working at the school as a teaching assistant (TA) for a few music education classes and as an administrative assistant in the Music Education Office and the Institute for Music Leadership.  I’m excited for these opportunities because they combine so many of my interests – so grateful to do what I love!

The journey continues.  Let the games begin!

Image Credit: personal, Eastman School of Music (here and here)

Go for it

Here I sit, surrounded by textbooks, paper rubrics, reading lists, and a 52-page teaching guide that I’ve compiled over the past several weeks. Can you tell I’m in the final week of writing a new course to teach this semester? It’s been a bit overwhelming at times. But, last week was very productive and I feel good about that. My class was assigned to a classroom in another building on campus – across the quad from the Fine Arts Building where I have been teaching (and will still be teaching this semester) and where my office is located. I’ve let myself get bogged down with worry: How do I get there? What does the classroom look like? What kind of technology will I be able to access? Will I be able to get in there with enough time to get everything set up before class? In addition, I’d love to have a piano in the classroom to use as a teaching aid and I knew that would only happen in the Fine Arts Building. Can you imagine? Talking about Copland’s “American” style and actually being able to play open fifths and octaves to demonstrate that signature sound. Then, I got an idea.

Why don’t I just ask to move to another classroom?

It couldn’t hurt to try. Go for it, I told myself. One email, one simple question. Within two days, my class had been successfully re-booked in a classroom with a piano in the building where I’ve been teaching (just one floor down from my office, in fact!). What a relief. . .and what a valuable lesson.

Why let yourself be consumed with worry or depressed by the dreams of “if only”? Go for it. Make the change. Ask the question. Run the risk. Take that leap. Make it happen.