Annual Review

One of my favourite blogs on the internet is Cal Newport's Study Hacks. I'll write later about the impact of Newport's ideas on my life (and my struggles adopting a lot of them...) but one of the other blogs that I discovered through Study Hacks was Chris Guillebeau's The Art of Non-Conformity. Every year, Guillebeau does something called an Annual Review. It's kind of like doing New Year's Resolutions, except it's based on the facts of what actually happened last year and you actually think about how you're going to carry out your goals for the next year. Wheee! Guillebeau's two main review questions are simple: what went well this year, and what did not go well this year?

What went well in 2013?

1. I started doing professional auditions, and won one.

In January, I did my first audition, for the Kitchener-Waterloo symphony. It was my first audition and even though I prepared well for it, I felt a little bit like I had to be unworthy of the process; after all, I was only in the third year of my undergrad, and most of the people there had been out of school for at least a few years (some for many, many years...) and/or had way more degrees than me. However, I advanced the the second round in the audition! So that gave me a pretty good feeling about auditions in general. The next one I did was for the Winnipeg Symphony, over the summer; I wrote about that process on this blog, and it was another positive audition experience. Then, in September, I auditioned for he Niagara symphony, with whom am now playing principal bassoon.

I'm now preparing for the Toronto Symphony associate principal audition in January. Considering this time last year I had no audition experience whatsoever, I feel good about having the confidence to apply for an audition at that level.

2. I went to India!? Read about it here!

3. Completed my third and probably final summer with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. NYO was as integral a part of my musical education as university was, and now that my time at McGill is drawing to a close I feel that it's time to move on from NYO as well. I look forward to coming back to hear their concerts every summer!

4. Although technically the first post on this blog was December 30, 2012, really 2013 was the first year I had a blog. During that time I have had no Facebook, twitter, tumblr, or internet in my apartment. Recently I also reduced my phone bill by more than half by negotiating a different plan on my phone which doesn't have any data. I have definitely found that it is easier to go to bed on time and I read more books when I'm at home without the distraction of an internet connection. Cal Newport has written a lot about the connection between being deliberately un-connected and productivity; I have found this to be true for me.

5. Started going to the gym! Although a lot of people seem to hate the gym-- and who knows, maybe this is just honeymoon period between me and the McGill Fitness Centre-- for me it has actually been both fun and improved my lifestyle overall. I tend to be more productive in the morning, and I like to get to school as early as possible to start practicing. Unfortunately I also like to have long showers, and have long/thick hair that takes a long time to dry, so having a shower in the morning before school holds me up by quite a bit. So my new routine is this: I go to the gym around 7, after everything is wrapped up at school. When I get home I shower and have plenty of time to read/let my hair dry before bed. Then in the morning I can get up and go straight to school!

It seems like a trivial change, but making the most of my peak productivity hours-- and getting more exercise while I'm at it-- has made a big difference. (I could do this without the gym, of course, but it seems to fit into the schedule well. And obviously if I have a rehearsal at night I just have a shower before bed.)

What did not go well in 2013?

Honestly... the entire past month of my life didn't really go as planned. Going into the end of November/beginning of December, I knew it would be more hectic than usual: I had three programs with Niagara, an MGSO concert, three chamber performances with two different groups, a few different gigs and substitute teaching jobs, a trip to Houston for which I wanted to be at the top of my game, and finals for more academic courses than I would have liked to be taking. But I thought I had it planned out. Then, one night as I was tidying up the reed room and about to go home for the night, I got a call from my former roommate, Sara, conveying news she had just seen on Facebook (which I don't have, thus the call.) One of my most special friends from high school had just died. Monica was an amazing person and my high school years--and my life-- would have been very different without her. We had drifted apart in the years after I graduated, and reconnected just two weeks before her death. I was shocked. Sara said that her funeral was that week, in Toronto. At first I panicked. There was no way I could make it to Toronto for the funeral; my schedule said it simply wasn't possible. The next day I decided it didn't matter; none of the things I had in my schedule would matter in fifty years, but I would always regret it if I chose not to go to Monica's funeral. So I cancelled two gigs, miraculously re-scheduled an audition, got an extension on a paper, tried and failed to find a sub for an MGSO rehearsal, and tried to forget about everything else that I didn't have time to figure out. I got back to Montreal from the funeral an hour before my dress rehearsal for the Poulenc sextet, played a sextet concert that night, played another sextet concert the next day, left for a Niagara masterworks show the next day, came back just in time to play Till Eulenspiegal Einmal Anders (like... at three in the morning the day of he concert), turned in three final assignments, played two MGSO concerts, played the ensemble re-audition, had a lesson, went to Houston, came back to Montreal, spent 12 hours in Montreal before taking the bus to Toronto, spent the weekend playing Christmas music and being snowed into St. Catherine's, and got back to Montreal an hour before I was scheduled to write the theory exam that I had missed at some point during all of this. Finally, I took the bus one more time to Toronto for the holidays.

Needless to say, some things (a lot of things) fell by the wayside. I didn't feel particularly proud of any of my performances during that period; I didn't even have time to practice the most urgent music, let alone get the early start I wanted on the TSO audition excerpts. Almost all of my assignments were handed in at the exact last moment before he due date; I hardly studied for the theory exam at all and was amazed to get a B in the course after I did things like answer a question on the structure of Stockhausen's In Freundschaft with "I don't know, but the bassoon version of In Freundschaft is to be played while wearing a teddy bear costume!" Basically, it was just a long period of time where I wasn't exactly embarrassing myself, everything went sort of acceptably, but I just wasn't really putting my best foot forward.

So... what went wrong? I think probably Study Hacks would say that it was a lack of planning that made it so that one disaster could throw off the whole period of time. If I had already finished my paper, model composition, combo chart, and conducting analysis a few weeks before the deadline-- or at least had them started-- it wouldn't have been such a big crunch. If I had been studying every week's material after each theory lecture, it wouldn't have mattered that I didn't have time to study before the exam. If I kept a large enough stockpile of blanks at all times, being constantly on the road wouldn't throw off my reedmaking and thus my overall playing too much.

How to make all those things happen? (AKA, Goals for 2014)

One way I definitely want to implement is Cal Newport's Sunday Ritual. The idea of the Sunday Ritual is that you need to put aside time each week (Newport suggests Sunday morning) where you look everything you have to do square in the eye. To me this is related to the idea of full capture. It's scary to hold every single thing you have to do in every area of your life in your brain at the same time. It's way easier to just think about the most urgent things, and forget about the less urgent things until they become more urgent. Except it's not actually easier, because then your entire life can be knocked off balance by one urgent necessity. The Sunday ritual ensures that even if you have one hectic week, you can still get back on track. And if you realize that you have an extra-light week, maybe even use it to get ahead on work and give yourself some leeway later.

Another thing I want to get better at is budgeting. This year, I finally learned how to make a budget (as in, how to actually put numbers into a spreadsheet such that you can change a number and the number projected for the future changes.) I admit this is a pretty basic financial skill to be making a resolution about, but I didn't have it before. So. I leaned how to actually make the budget, but never quite got the hang of being really consistent about updating it. In 2014, I want to not only keep the budget absolutely up to date with every purchase and bit of income, decide where to put savings money in advance, and also put aside money specifically for unplanned really bad things happening. I will make this a part of my routine every night: before I go to bed (or more likely before I leave school for the day, since I don't have internet at home or data on my phone) I'll look at the budget, update it with any purchases or income, and even if I don't have anything to update just look at the numbers and make sure everything's in order and everything is planned for.

My last goal for 2014 is to really get it together with my sleep schedule. I tend to fluctuate between two different attitudes towards bedtime: getting eight hours of sleep no matter what time I go to bed, and getting up at a fixed time no matter what time I go to bed. The problem is I never stick with either for long enough to really get into the rhythm of it. I think the latter is probably a better plan-- I'm pretty good at getting to bed on time when I can, so after a while I think I would be able to get used to getting up at, say, 7 am even on weekends. I used to try to get up at 6, but somehow the difference between getting up at 6 every day and getting up at 7 every day seems larger than just an hour, and the 6 am wake-up routine never worked out for longer than a month or so. 7 is more reasonable but still early enough to make it on time for almost any regularly scheduled activity.

Three is probably a good number of goals, and although I guess this isn't a long post by the standards of blog-land I'm pretty sure it's the longest one on this blog.... so, that's all, folks! Best of luck in 2014!