For most of us in the college ranks, school has started or starts soon. In 2013, Dr. Carolyn Bremer wrote an email that she sent out to the students in the Bob Cole Conservatory. Below is the email she sent out (posted with her permission). Some of it is specific to to the BCCM, but a lot of it is applicable to music students everywhere. Have a great year and please add your thoughts below.

It’s All About How You Spend Your Time
By Dr. Carolyn Bremer

One of the most difficult aspects of life as a music major is managing your time. We put a lot of demands on you in ensembles, academics, lessons, classes outside of music, concert attendance, and learning from your peers. The theme of this little tome is:

It’s All About How You Spend Your Time

Here is a list of suggestions for how to survive school, do well, and be happy.

1) How you want to spend your time?
Think about it now, before the semester ramps up. When you get your syllabi, write in homework, test and paper due dates, and block off time in your calendar to study throughout the entire semester. Write in your rehearsals and performances, and when to practice ensemble music so you’re ready when your director needs you to be prepared. Write in your class meetings and lessons. Write in your daily practice/study/composing time, be it two or even five hours per day. If you have a job, write in those hours, too. Look at your calendar. It is already insane, yes? The remarkable choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote that “being creative is a fulltime job with its own daily patterns… Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” How do you want to spend your time?

2) Make a “To Stop” list
What can you give up that, compared with what you’ve set aside time to do, stacks up as less important? In the scheme of things, 30 weeks a year for 4 or 5 years to study music… and I am going to make a pretty safe assumption here that music is incredibly important to you… in the scheme of things, that is a small portion of your life. If you live to age 75, you’ll have lived for almost 4,000 weeks. A four-year education takes 120 of those 4,000 weeks. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Anything that gets in the way of becoming the best musician you can has to be set aside during school. Enjoy it when you’re on vacation. Make a “to stop” list.

3) Listen to good music and good performances every day
You get to decide what “good” means for you. I challenge you to do this, however: broaden your vat of familiar music. Listen to classical and jazz from all eras and genres, and a lot of other music, too. If you do repeat listenings, do it with an ear to learn something new about the piece or the performance. Musicians fundamentally use their inner ear and aural memory to bring everything they learn together in order to make it instinctive. The bigger the vat of music you know, the better musician you will be. There a lot of music out there. For example, to listen to all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, it will take over 10 hours. To listen to all of Mozart’s operas will take about 70 hours. Duke Ellington made 5,618 recordings. There is a lot of music out their to get to know; make time every week to expand your repertoire. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Put listening time in your calendar. Go to concerts and hear your friends make music. Listen deliberately.

4) Make lots of friends from all around the conservatory
There are amazing people here – not just good and smart musicians, but really amazing people. You do so much to help each other: my hope is that you will always be kind (even when someone is not kind to you; you don’t know what they’re feeling or what may have just happened in their life); always be supportive of them as musicians (this can include giving them criticism and see above, always be kind); always be supportive of them as growing young adults (most all of you will go through or have been through some tough times here—ask for help when you need it and give it when you can); and always be generous (we can forget that generosity includes so much more than money. It includes a ride to the grocery store, listening to a run-through of a piece, a genuine smile, or even just giving someone your full attention). Help your friends stay on track. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Spending it with amazing, like-minded people is really important. Make time for your friends. They’ll be your friends and colleagues for life.

5) Heed the advice of others who have been through it
Your Area Director, private teacher, ensemble directors, classroom teachers, advisor, and administrative team are all here for one reason: to help you. Go to your mentors the moment you see yourself slipping from the path. Don’t wait until you’ve dug yourself into serious trouble. We understand that this journey is full of bumps. We’ve had many of those same experiences and can help to steer you back on your path. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Take advantage of the remarkable and thoughtful faculty you have here. Make time to talk with them.

6) Take care of yourself
Sleep is important. Eating well (even if on the cheap) is important. Paying attention to how you feel is important. We all encounter stress. Try to find something that helps you in times of stress. It might be a trip to the gym or a hike, it might be listening to great music through headphones, it might be a nap. Figure out what helps you when you are stressed before you get stressed so you don’t make decisions while under stress that actually hurt you. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? When you are stressed you need to take care of yourself by nourishing your mind and body. (Double check that you didn’t get stressed because you didn’t heed your “to stop” list.)

7) Put aside negative thoughts
This is helpful: “The last three notes were out of tune on the scale I just played. I will try it again more slowly and work on intonation.” This is not helpful: “I suck.” Allow yourself to make mistakes. Don’t expect perfection. Perfection is just a concept, and a rather harmful one at that. If your inner chatter is railing on you, it is taking away from your time and energy to study and practice well, be with friends, relax, and be happy. Invite it to stop for awhile. If you think about what you should be doing, you’re not paying attention to what you are doing. Be vigilant about this in the practice room. Spend your time (and your thinking) on things that will make the biggest difference in your performances, compositions, and your class work. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Think about things that can help you rather than things that will weigh you down.

Eight ways to succeed:
1. Understanding is based on knowledge and experience. Understand all that you can: the innate and the difficult, the read and the heard. If you’re not understanding, ask for help right away. That’s why faculty have office hours every week. If you’re only interested in learning what’s going to be on the test, you’re missing out on being the best musician you can be. You cannot predict how what you learn now will assist you in the years to come.

2. What you say to yourself is within your control. When you catch yourself needlessly berating yourself, ask that voice to wait. Be patient with yourself. You’re on a life-long learning course as a musician. This path doesn’t have successive stages, rather there will be a cumulative expansion of who you are and the music you make. You’ve made it into BCCM so you’re already a good musician and scholar.

3. Be kind with your words even if you need to say something that’s going to be hard for someone to hear. Do that for your friends and peers as well as with that voice in your head. Being kind does more good for you than for others to whom you are kind.

4. Do what makes you a better musician and simultaneously support your friends and colleagues in doing the same. Sometimes you need to put your feet up and relax so you can hunker down later. Sometimes you need to hunker down when you’re tired. The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.

5. Balance all of the demands on your time. Easier said than done. This requires getting ahead when you have free time so that you don’t get dangerously behind at crunch time. That is the only way to make it work. We still have to do laundry and clean the kitchen as well as sleep. Get ahead so you can stay caught up when it gets really busy. And it will get really busy.

6. Practice and study take repetition and discipline; learn to listen for and to see subtleties in sound and meaning, then zoom in on them to keep you focused. Boredom is excess attention with insufficient intention. Progress comes most often in very small increments, sometimes hard to perceive. Don’t get discouraged it you are not going at a pace you imagined you should be. That’s just a negative voice in your head. Remind that voice that it is not your boss and that you learn at whatever pace it takes.

7. Be aware of what you need to do to take care of yourself; make the ultimate effort to understand yourself. Do this through a persevering effort that is clear and precise. It takes courage, self-compassion, and sobering honesty.

8. Practice concentrating on what truly needs your attention. If you slip from it (and you will because you’re human), gently coax your mind back to what you need to focus on. The way to get from Point A to Point B is to really be at Point A.

Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time?

BCCM is a special place. We challenge you without pushing you into ugly competition. We give you a well-rounded education in music and general education so your musicianship and scholarship come from a deep understanding of the art form and of humanity. We give full attention to undergraduate education and offer opportunities to undergrads that in other schools, only graduate students receive. We integrate our graduate students with our undergraduates so they learn from and teach each other.

In addition to excelling in your chosen area, we want all of our graduates to be inspired, passionate advocates for music and the arts. To do that, you need to maintain your own passion for what you do. On a bad day, just look around at all of the music makers, the intellects, the creators, and the lovers of music here. Inspiration lives 24/7 at BCCM.

Do your best. Let that be enough. Be right there, continuously.

-Dr. Carolyn Bremer, Director
Bob Cole Conservatory of Music
August 25, 2013

Originally posted on on August 26, 2013 by Dave Gerhart

Dave Gerhart
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