—Nikki LaBonte, Associate Operations Director, KBHC

Happy New Year! I know I’m just about a month late, but this specific time of the year is one of the most interesting in my opinion. By now, the New Year’s Resolution momentum has faded, and our calendars have begun to fill up with an onslaught of auditions, concerts, recitals, and rehearsals for those concerts and recitals. We’ve transitioned from a mindset of “trying new things and establishing new habits” into playing defense as we fend off each gig and new program on our stand. We at KBHC are adding a bit of fuel to that fire with our upcoming scholarship deadline on February 1st, and in light of that, we wanted to talk about balancing a workload from a mental health standpoint.

Enter Rusty Ryan Holmes. Rusty is a current doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin and was a KBHC scholarship recipient in 2017 and 2018. In addition to being a former scholarship winner himself, Rusty is particularly qualified to talk about this because he’s recently launched a project called ‘Let’s Talk About It’ which shares mental health tools and resources with a community of classical musicians. Because this was so relevant to our February 1 deadline, I sat down to talk with Rusty about this project and his thoughts on preparing a tape!

Rusty embarked on his mental health journey in his freshman year of undergraduate study at Oklahoma State University. In our conversation, he said “I was just uncomfortable with who I was, and kind of finding myself in life. And I had zero skill set to deal with that. Finally, I decided I was going to be okay with who I was. And not just be okay, I was going to thrive.” Rusty began by diving into the self-help community and investigating books, videos, and resources to help him improve his day-to-day life. He noted that the change was “really gradual. As you read one book you take an idea. And then you listen to a podcast and you get another idea. Bad habits, slowly but surely, started trickling out, and good habits started trickling in.”

As an alum of camp, Rusty also talked about KBHC’s role in his journey. “Everything about camp is really conducive to great mental health.” At camp, he kept up with his daily mental health routine (more on that later!) and loved taking advantage of the outdoor setting at Camp Ogontz. But what he especially noted was that the “faculty to student ratio is crazy. You get one-on-one with the faculty all the time and it was the most incredible thing.” He loved the opportunity to interact with the faculty on such a constant personal basis. “I remember having dishes duty with Frank Lloyd and thinking that was unbelievable. There are no walls between the faculty and students.” And the conversations between Rusty and the faculty were also inspiring. “You get so much bang for your buck. You’re surrounded by professional horn players all day long, and you’re not learning from them because they’re teaching you. You’re learning because of immersion. Whereas at other music festivals, you might have a masterclass with a teacher and then not see them again until you have a lesson in a few days.” But at KBHC, you’re immersed and surrounded by the faculty while spending time around the campus. “All of these teachers are there because they love teaching horn and they want to share everything that they know with you.”

If you’re already sold on camp and working on your tape right now (good for you!), Rusty has some advice. He acknowledges that it can be very hard to be yourself in front of a camera. But, there’s no need to record a hundred takes looking for the perfect one because “it’ll just be a fluke. Every audition I’ve won, there have been mistakes. I think you should always strive to be authentic and represent yourself well.”

Today, Rusty has a daily routine of exercises to help him prepare for the demands of the day ahead, and thinks of this as a mental “fitness” routine rather than practicing mental “health”. He begins the day by setting clear intentions written on a piece of paper wrapped around his phone (so it’s the first thing he sees in the morning!) He continues with a regimen of coffee and apple cider vinegar, self-affirmation, journaling, and watching other motivational speakers talk about their ideas and daily practices. As someone who is completely immersed in the self-help culture, Rusty wanted to share his expertise with the classical music community because “watching these types of videos is what inspired me to be better. I wanted to share these videos where I take some of these really great self-help tools and applying them to self-talk in the practice room, failure in auditions, and all of the different aspects and hardships of a musician’s life.”

So, how do we know when it’s time for us to make a change for the better? What are the signs? “Matthew Kelly in his book The Rhythm of Life talks about how whenever we are hungry for food, our stomach starts growling. We can ignore the feeling and leave it in the background but you know you’re hungry. Somehow the soul makes that same hunger noise. Whenever you’re feeling stressed out, you can function in life just fine. But your mind will start growling at you because it’s hungry for some soul food. You don’t have to hit rock bottom to better yourself.” So maybe it’s time for us to rethink our resolutions. In our busy season of calendar scheduling and rushing from one rehearsal to the next, take some time to focus on your mental health. “If you don’t feel good as a person, you can’t feel good as a horn player. Any point where you are on your journey is exactly where you’re supposed to be. You are always good enough.”

Submit your scholarship application before February 1 here.

Check out Rusty’s ‘Let’s Talk About it Project’ here or here.