The Caffeinated Flutist Vol. 16 – Balancing Two Degrees

By Mary Hales

Hey there, flute-trepreneurs!

With the school year cranking up here at Mizzou as we wrap up week four (as I write this, anyway), I’m already noticing that there’s a lot more work involved in finishing two degrees in one year - of course, I already knew this would be a busy year when I decided to add a second (normally) two-year degree with only one year to go, but now that I’m actually living it, I feel the stress much more acutely.

That's not to say that things aren’t going well - in fact, I feel really good about where I am in school and in life! (Perhaps it’s the fact that Lizzo is now my ultimate hype woman and #flutegoals, but I digress.) It’s a really good feeling to be confident in what you're doing and to see discernable progress in what you’re doing. I’ve started making some big changes in my embrochure and my practice, and I can already tell that it's going to help me going forward.

However, it is absolutely possible to feel all of those positive things and still be stressed. In fact, I would say that’s normal! So, if you’re like me and either balancing two degrees or thinking of it, here’s some advice:

Make sure you can REALLY split your time between your two concentrations. I’m a little luckier than some others in that both of my areas are in the same field, but not everybody does that - I know multiple people who have pursued science degrees while being music majors, for example. Oftentimes, one degree is demanding enough; it’s even harder to add on another, even in the same area - it means using different parts of your skillset that you may have neglected during the long hours in the practice room. (*raises hand*). But that’s not a bad thing! Keep reading.

Recognize your weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to work on them. So, related to what I just said - even though I’ve always been good at music theory, my main focus on performance for the last several years has meant that some of my theory hasn’t really been used outside of my theory classes. One of my biggest weaknesses in my theory knowledge is in post-tonal music. I’ve taken multiple courses and gone to professors’ office hours more times than I can count, and I still struggle with it quite a bit. While I don’t plan on making it the focus of my theory scholarship in the professional world, there’s enough post-tonal music already in the world that I need to be more comfortable with it when I graduate.

Don’t forget to spend some time on the things you’re better at! If I had to pick one focus that I feel better at or more comfortable with, it would probably be flute performance simply because I’ve spent more of my life on it. Now, struggling with post-tonal theory and feeling shaky about my academic writing doesn’t mean I have to spend ALL of my time slaving over those things to get better at them, making myself miserable in the process. I will spend time on those things, but I’ll also take the time to practice my orchestral excerpts and repertoire that I know I can play well, and I’ll use the self-confidence it renders to keep my impostor syndrome at bay as much as possible.

Now more than ever, remember to take care of yourself. J.R.R. Tolkien, through the mouth of Bilbo Baggins, said it best in 1954 - “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I think I can speak for all of us in graduate school when I say that we’ve all felt that way at some point - and if we haven’t yet, we most certainly will by the end of our degree program. While we may not be carrying an evil Ring of Power around, it is still important to remember that grad school is draining, and we need to take care of ourselves in a newer, high-stress environment. I think the times you feel pulled in every direction are the times when it’s best to stop, put your work down for a while, think, and breathe. Self-care is never a selfish thing, in whatever form it may take.

In that same vein...get help when you need it. I am a firm believer in the idea that even when your life is going well, it’s a good idea to go to therapy and talk things out with someone who can help you continue to forge a way forward. When things aren’t going as well as you might want them to go, it’s especially important to seek out trained, professional help from someone who will know what root problems to address and fix. The counseling centers at the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Missouri have done immense good for me over some of the hardest times of my life, and who hasn’t occasionally needed a third-party perspective for any given situation, good or bad? If you’re balancing two degrees and under even more pressure, it’s even more reason to seek out help when you need it - and to NEVER be ashamed of needing help. Remember, none of us got to where we are alone.

That’s all for now, folks! See you next time!

Flutist Mary Hales is a native of Conway, Arkansas, currently studying under Alice K. Dade at the University of Missouri School of Music for her Masters in Flute Performance, and Dr. Neil Minturn for her Masters in Music Theory. Follow more of her writing at; find her on social media with the handle @maryhalesflute.

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