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Week 3 (Music) | 2015 Project 52

For those of you who don’t know me outside of photography, I’m also a musician. I spent six years studying classical flute performance at the Eastman School of Music and New England Conservatory. I went to school with the hopes of someday winning a coveted spot in an American orchestra.

I started my relationship with music back when I was only six years old and my grandmother placed my fingers on the keyboard of her piano. I spent middle and high school listening to classical recordings in my free time and driving to my flute teacher’s home for lessons after school. I met my closest friends in the local youth orchestra, and spent my two most memorable summers of high school living and breathing music at the Interlochen Arts Camp.

When I started my formal music education, my relationship with music changed. My joy for playing the flute had to be funneled into a purpose. My love for music would not pay the bills or put food on the table; at the end of conservatory, I needed to either continue with further degrees or win a job (which, for flutists, meant flying across the country with the hopes of being the ONE person chosen from a pool of at least 100 talented musicians).

With that knowledge in the back of my head, I pushed myself harder than ever before. Every note of every orchestral excerpt had to be perfectly in place, perfectly in tune, perfectly articulated. The competitive environment of music school only made me want perfection more. I spent my senior year of college consumed with fear that I wouldn’t be accepted to graduate school. And then, when I did begin graduate school, I raised my personal stakes even higher. I wanted to be achieving my smaller goals within the “right timeline” (I now realize there is no such thing). I let myself fall into depression, and came out on the other end wanting nothing to do with my instrument anymore. I spent so many years trying to do what everyone asked me to do, and at the times when I was physically unable to make my instrument sound the way it should, I felt as if I had let my mentors down.

And so I stepped away from music. For the last six months, I’ve barely touched my instrument or attended concerts. I needed a clean break to reevaluate why I loved music in the first place. I didn’t make myself practice scales, etudes, or excerpts. I “let my chops go,” as my fellow musicians would say. A year ago, this would have terrified me. But it was the best thing I could have done. When I took away my self-inflicted pressure to be perfect, I found the joy in music again. It was never the fault of my mentors or my peers. It was my own fault for trying to be too many things to too many people. Now when I listen to Brahms on my headphones, I’m starting to rediscover that wonder that I felt when I heard his symphonies for the first time.

Deciding to step away from my classical music career was ultimately the decision that saved my love for music. That time away was the reason I was able to come back on my own terms. I’m now thrilled to be a part of a few chamber orchestras in Boston, collaborating with friends to create something beautiful. When I pick up my flute, it’s a choice instead of a chore. And I can’t wait to share this new joy I’ve found between the notes. 🙂

Project 52 was started by a lovely group of photographers from NAPCP, of which I am a proud member. Our goal for 2015 is to take weekly photographs that warm our hearts and challenge us at the same time, based on a theme that the group has decided. It’s an encouraging and inspiring environment for us to hone our craft and just enjoy photography for what it is: an art that we all LOVE.

flute and sheet music; by flutist kate lemmon

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