I Am a Musician: A Longy Student's Journey

October 6, 2017

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MAT Faculty, Vijay Gupta, coaches Elizabeth Cai during a recent masterclass.         

I am a musician. That’s what I tell others, the stranger on the bus who asks about my instrument, my coworkers at my part-time job when they ask what I study. More accurately, I tell them I play the violin. What I don’t tell them is that after 19 years, hours of practicing and performing, a year of mornings spent student teaching, and more than 2 years of afternoons spent private teaching, sometimes I don’t feel like a musician.      

When you look at my musical resume, I do not have a long list of summer festivals I have attended. I have not entered any competitions. I have an applied psychology degree instead of conservatory experience. In fact, playing for Vijay actually marks the first master class I have ever played in. It was terrifying and gratifying and humbling, not only because I realized I have so much more to learn and so much room for growth, but more so because I even did it in the first place. I didn’t feel or think; I just did. It was rushed and I had a memory slip, but I did it and finished to thunderous applause.

True to fashion, once the adrenaline wore off and my violin was safe in my locker, the doubts and critique started flooding in. I had left my accompanist in the dust, I failed to memorize the piece, I didn’t get that octave quite right…the list went on. Feeling defeated, I headed back to the auditorium to say one last thank you to Vijay for his kind words and encouraging attitude. As I finished, stumbling over some apologies as well, he took one look at me and said, with a smile, “You know, I think you deserve a break from this piece. Take a break.” With those words, it was like I could breathe again.

Vijay’s visit and his lecture reaffirmed what I have been learning at Longy and in my personal life. It is not the whole truth if I say I am a musician or simply play an instrument. That is neither an identity nor a way to live. Rather, it is a part – significant, but just a part – of a whole person. Vijay said it simply: “We are so quick as professional musicians to not care about ourselves as a person. It is ok to take care of yourself. It is even more important to have a pursuit of your own non-musical interests.”  To focus on the don’ts means I ignore all of the other things that I do, and all the other things I am. So, to add to that first statement, I am a musician, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an owner of an adorable rabbit, a Boston Public Library patron, a twice-a-week gym goer. I could go on. I will never always feel like I am 100% a musician, and that is ok, because I know for sure that I am one. 

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Elizabeth Cai, M.M. '18, violin