Welcome to a new school year! As you find yourselves embroiled in preparations for yet another year of performances (in addition to all of the other stressors in your work and personal lives), it’s easy to lose sight of what it is you’re actually trying to accomplish in the classroom.

I lost sight of my goal when I was preparing my final conducting program for my Master’s program. For many reasons, it had been a taxing process and I wasn’t handling the stress well. At the time, I was taking two sets of conducting lessons: one with my primary instructor that focused on gesture and the other with a secondary teacher that had come to focus on the mental aspects of conducting. In my last lesson with my secondary instructor, I was beyond stressed out – both about the recital approaching that week and personally.

Instead of our usual lesson format, he started asking me questions about my recital. What were the remaining obstacles I saw? Which could I overcome in the two rehearsals I had left? What did I want out of the recital? What were three words I wanted to be able to say about it when it was over? In response to my answers, he wrote things on orange slips of paper but didn’t show them to me.

When his line of questioning was over, he summarized our discourse and shared the slips of paper with me. I had enumerated a few obstacles that were decidedly accomplishable in the next two rehearsals, despite having described feeling overwhelmed by all there was left to do.  I’d said I wanted the recital to be beautiful, musical, and technically correct – but he commented that I seemed only to be driving at the latter in rehearsals and that it might behoove me to remember the other two.

The last slip of paper said something I hadn’t even considered that I’d lost sight of: “Enjoy the people with whom you are making music.” I’m not a crier, but I burst into tears when I read it. In the stress and busyness of school, I had forgotten the reason I had pursued music as a profession in the first place – I loved music and loved creating it with others.

With my renewed outlook, the next two rehearsals went undeniably well, and the recital was a decent performance (even by this self-critic’s standards). What was markedly different was a palpable connection with and mutual empathy between me and the ensemble, which served to improve the performance – at least from my perspective.

The point is: the big picture matters. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in details. Enjoy the people with whom you are making music.