Jennie Khan

Freelance Cellist and Teacher

Jennie Khan is an Auckland based cellist and cello teacher. She has a variety of experience performing both here and in Europe and has been teaching students of all ages for many years.

The year in review

A new year has begun, and I find it's a good time to reflect on how things have been going, things that worked, things that didn't. I embarked on this journey around 3 years ago now - how time flies -  making the move from an office job, with long hours, that I no longer enjoyed, to put my efforts into this passion that I have had since I was small.

It certainly hasn't been easy. I sometimes miss the regular salary, routine and office banter, but if those were the pros, the list of cons would be much longer.

Leaving it all behind to focus on music hasn't always been sunshine and roses though. But, I have to remember that this is a journey, and journeys take time, the road can be windy and there can be many obstacles.

However, I feel that this year, things have started to turn a corner. Music is largely a business of personal networks. Jobs come through recommendations and word of mouth. These networks can take a while to build, but the more you prove yourself and become known within the right circles the more calls you get. And I have been getting more calls, with any luck this will continue growing in 2018.

My teaching practice has also been growing this year, and I have had some really fabulous students, who are just such a pleasure to teach. It reminds me that this is what its all about, seeing the little improvements in playing, development musically and as a person, and seeing the enjoyment that they get out of playing music. I have lost a few too, sadly, mainly due to external life factors, but it's all swings and roundabouts, hopefully a time comes where they can once again explore the world of music.

Artwork inspired by the song "Many Rivers to Cross" (1969) by Jimmy Cliff

Artwork inspired by the song
"Many Rivers to Cross" (1969) by Jimmy Cliff

The big thing that I realised this year and which I struggled with most is that I, myself, my brain, is a barrier, an obstacle on the journey.
Thankfully mental health is getting more talked about in recent times, it was a big issue in the recent election here in New Zealand, more efforts are being put in to healthcare and support for those suffering. But I personally, still feel that it's not something we can freely talk about, fear of stigmatism, misunderstanding, pity, none of which are useful. When these reactions are in our working environments, well, I know first hand the repercussions of revealing a mental health condition at work....really not good..... so I don't....So even this is hard.

Mental health issues are not uncommon among musicians, perhaps the defective wiring in our brain is also what makes us lean towards artistic forms of expression.
But, it's a two sided coin. Being freelance means I can manage my own timetable and make it work for me, I can take on the work I want to do, and I am doing something I am passionate about. The flip side is financial pressures, self-management and promotional pressures. I really underestimated what it takes to create those networks, developing a (good) reputation, not to mention the study required to continually improve as a teacher, and of course my own practice regime. Challenging at the best of times, let alone on the days when, plagued with doubts, your self-esteem has gone out the window, you are suffering intense social anxiety and can barely manage to get yourself out of bed.

The effort can be exhausting, but I am so happy that focusing on a good lesson or having a great rehearsal or concert is a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day. I think there are some key factors to focus on:

1. Working out what it is you want to be doing, in the short, medium and long term. - set some goals to keep you on track.

2. Set a good routine as best as you can to keep well and working towards those goals.

2a. Schedule in time for relaxation and excersize, things that are totally unrelated to work.

3. Practice activities to help keep positive and have realistic expectations on yourself.

So this is my plan for 2018: Set achievable goals, create a realistic routine to get things done, prioritise exercise (this one is critical for me), be more consistent with practice, work efficiently but don't underestimate the time to complete things, read more books.

The road may be long, there are many rivers to cross, but I really believe that if you want something you will find a way to get there, eventually, in some shape or form. Despite the inevitable competition among musicians, we are all linked through this art form and we need to support each other. Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments below.

The journey continues....

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