Tiffany Chang

conductor

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Posted by tiffanychang on May 11, 2020 at 10:20 AM

It never seems like I am good enough. All artists hold that sentiment toward themselves, but I also battle the industry’s label of my being just a “school orchestra teacher” based on the profile of my work. When I was a student, one of my majors was music ed; and the vast majority of my conducting career has been associated with college programs. I do not regret any of those decisions, but when my career is put in that context, the work I do never seems to be worthy of a conductor who is a professional and an artist. I am really frustrated by the label of “teacher” because it is limiting (“just” a teacher) and insinuates a lower bar from what I expect from myself and those I work with.


Being confined to that label also constantly made me question if I was good enough at my craft to work at the highest level. Maybe my expectations of myself were not high enough? I hoped that my growing artistic integrity would allow me to be taken seriously as a conductor, but the “teacher” label never changed. Every time I’d have an interaction where I realize the label remained unchanged, a piece of my confidence chips away and I become less convinced that I was worthy of being a conductor. I still have that experience every week—with colleagues, students, and strangers. Over many years, my confidence crumbled, and the only way I could rebuild it was to keep putting integrity in my work, so that I know that I am worthy of what I am. I’ve learned slowly that that this vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but an opportunity for growth and true understanding of how I operate as a person.


I find that breaking the label is a much more difficult glass ceiling (than for example being a woman in the profession). In fact, I didn’t even know that that was the issue I was struggling with, so I wasn’t addressing it. Bottom line is: I want to be seen as a conductor. And, I don’t want to lose my teacher identity. I want to be both, as one enforces the integrity of the other. I really believe that it is possible to co-exist in the “professional” and “school” platforms as a conductor who is an artist and teacher. I realized that I need to live and lead in this mindset so that everyone I work with can be the most fulfilled in their music-making. I need to break free of those labels myself. 

My experiences over the last six months gave me permission to do that, and I’m so grateful. It was also publically announced today that I’ve received a 2020 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award. I’m truly honored, but I’m most thrilled about the potential for it to help recalibrate my “label.” I know there are many other artists out there experiencing the same sentiments of career-identity-crisis. So, at the same time, I am heartened for them to know that sometimes people do see you for the artist that you are beyond the “resume label.” I believe that everyone can be deeply fulfilled by engaging with music at a high level of integrity. I will inspire that wherever I go with whoever I work with.

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