Breathe. Just Breathe.

Frequent Citizen-Penguin contributor Joseph Peterson writes an open letter to anyone who has been labeled “weak” or “lazy.” CONTENT WARNING: This student-submitted editorial contains serious subject matter regarding mental health, as well as profanity.

Photo by Fiona Robberson.

CONTENT WARNING: The following student-submitted editorial contains serious subject matter regarding mental health, as well as profanity. We at The Citizen-Penguin are not mental health professionals, and the advice herein is that of the author, not of The Citizen-Penguin or The Juilliard School. If you’re in need of help, please contact the Student Health Center, text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, or if in immediate danger, call 911.


An open letter to those who have been labeled weak and lazy:

It’s easy to pretend that you are ok.

That you don’t hurt. That you aren’t overwhelmed. That you don’t ache in all of the places that you imagine it’s possible to ache.

That you don’t sign out a practice room just to be alone and cry. That you don’t put in 16 hour days just so that you don’t have to be alone with your thoughts your thoughts your thoughts. That you don’t self-medicate, because going to a doctor only makes it real.

Because your problems are safe in your head. Because dreams are scary when they come true, so you keep them inside.

It’s easy to pretend that you’re ok because that’s what is expected of you.  

We learn early on that we’re worthless without the right kind of work. Well, worse than worthless: We’re actively harmful. The lazy are destructive, abolishing meaning for the productive. The lazy are an STD, a virus, a plague…

Something doesn’t feel right? Just work it off, it’ll go away.

We’re a burden on society when we don’t work, whether this is due to the limitations of our bodies or because of a conscious refusal of undoubtable self-harm. It doesn’t matter the work, and it doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. Work exists to keep us busy and give us value, rather than for our own personal betterment.

It’s all just in your head anyway. A complicit frame of mind. A choice. You are choosing to feel bad. You have no reason to feel bad.

We work to exist. To earn our air, not just our bread.

Stop feeling bad. You’re fine. Everything is fine.

And so, since our humanity being tied with our productivity gives us existential dread, or at very least mild nausea, we convince ourselves that we work better under pressure. You see, diamonds are made under pressure, and diamonds have value. Pressure gives us value. Illness is a fantastic form of pressure, it turns us into diamonds…

Or something.

We value mental illness as a sign of artistic truth, fetishizing the struggle instead of fighting it. Comfort is an artistic inconvenience and the gravedigger of truth. This is a thought we internalize. The struggle itself is the value, so the more we struggle, the more we succeed.


We are alone because our success only exists at the expense of our peers. Our work is in a constant state of comparison. So-and-so just got this job, they’re sooo good. They’re doing better than you…

They are better than you.

It’s a moral thing. If someone does better than us, no matter how close we are with them, then we’re less good. If we win, then we are the good-est. If we don’t do anything at all, then we are the worst. We’re in last place, then.  

Labor is a competition. It is undoubtedly.

Maybe my resume wasn’t laid out quite right, or maybe they just didn’t like the sound of my instrument, or maybe they didn’t like my body, how I look, who I am.

Darwin wrote that, naturally, the weak have extinction coming to them. Natural selection, or something. Only the strong are useful. The weak just take up space. Useful space occupied by useless bodies. Maybe we are just a burden, we who refuse to be weighed down by labor.

Famous last words: More weight.

We struggle alone. Against each other. The best work always comes after one loses their mind, never before. Struggle gives us value. Our empathy is commodified. Even death gives us value. The greats die young and alone.

Always Alone.

Nobody but you knows what goes on between your ears, so it’s convenient to lie and say you’re fine.

My weekend was fine. Home was fine. I’m fine. I promise I’m fine. I don’t need your goddamn concern, ok?

I’m fucking fine.

Though, you know that this isn’t true. Only you know that your thoughts feel like death. That you feel like shit and you don’t know why. That you feel hopelessly numb, tired, and, worst of all, lazy.

You’re not fine.

You do hurt. Your body does ache. You are overwhelmed. That’s the true true.

We feel isolated and alienated. Ironically, these are the most universal feelings we have. We are alone, this isolation is truth. Everyone feels this way.

But that doesn’t affect our real value. We are not our labor alone. We are not productive machines. We are human beings. We bruise and we get sick. We have ups and downs. We are our surroundings personified.

We are more than our labor. We are, We are, We are!

We are not heroes for pretending we are ok. Lying only kills us faster. It is an act of violence to value our labor above us, so those who do are not our friends, in fact they are our mortal enemies.

It is a radical act to own our unwellness.

Sometimes we need help.

Sometimes just talking to a friend will do, but other times it’s more serious. A lot of us need medication and most of us need therapy. This is our humanity.

We are not machines.

Sometimes we just need to vent. Other times we need to go to the hospital so that we don’t become another isolated, tragic casualty.

We are human beings. And, just so you know…

We need You.

We need you for your humor and your empathy. We need you for your bad jokes and your awkward laughs, your uncomfortable silences and the mistakes that keep you up at night. We need your weaknesses more than your strengths.

And we really need your anger. It is real, earned, and there’s a lot that can be done collectively about it.

We need you because you are an essential part of our world, no matter what personal lows and social values tell you.

And most importantly, we need you so that we can make this world, not the bullshit idealizations we manufacture in our minds, a better place.

You are still you when you don’t do anything. So too when you actively do nothing.

Fuck value and the isolating violence it impresses on us.

Breathe. Just breathe.

Only then can we begin to loosen our chains.

Truly yours,


Brought To You By Fake News

Last week, the administration approached Joe Peterson about his March 15th practice room op-ed, calling his work “fake news.” He writes: “Their concern shows that students, in fact, do have power. We just need to recognize it collectively.”

Photo by The Citizen-Penguin

Last week, a member of the Juilliard administration caught my attention in the hall and asked if I would be willing to speak with them about the practice room op-ed I wrote a month or so ago. Innocent enough, I thought; at least this was a sure sign that they read it.

What proceeded a conversation that gave the illusion of student support – “I’m on your side” – was a grilling on “proper” journalism. According to this administration member, I would have been more credible had I gone to them first with my concerns because only then would I have been enlightened with “all the facts.” I was told that some of what I said just wasn’t true, and they went as far as calling the work I produced “fake news.”

These are the absent facts that made the original piece “fake news:”

1. The practice room situation used to be a lot(!) worse back in the day.

2. Juilliard spent hundred(s!) of thousands of dollars on the new system.

and the most glaring omission in their eyes:

3. Juilliard really does care about their students.

Let me first say, excuse me for not prioritizing the feelings of a billion dollar organization over the legitimate concerns of a population of students, especially when students are paying upwards of $60,000 a year in tuition for their education. Student issues have a history of being suppressed and brushed under the rug by college administrations (this is made easier by the collective memory limitations of a four year institution), so I personally feel justified in having not gone through the administration first, especially when including “all the facts” would have changed the focus of the editorial. In the practice room op-ed, I wrote about the practice rooms as they are experienced today, and while I sympathise with what alumni had to put up with in the past, those were a different set of circumstances.

And the fact of “care” is an interesting one. I never declared outright that Juilliard didn’t care about their students – this was only suggested by the fact of the material conditions that I presented, which aren’t wrong. I really appreciate being told by a member of the administration that Juilliard cares about their students because this shows a willingness to move forward. When this care is realised through the best possible working conditions for one of the best conservatories in the world, I will even believe it.

Including information that tells readers how much better things are today, about how much money was (and is) spent on the current system, and about how much Juilliard cares about their students only serves to motivate passivity, which, frankly, seems to me to produce the aura of fake news as well. That’s not my business, though. In making these suggestions, the administration is effectively silencing what is potential for students to recognize and actualize their interests, which is not what I am about.

That these “facts” were said to have given more credibility to what was clearly an op-ed piece from a justifiably frustrated student perspective shows just how out of touch people in power can be. The point was not to try and convince anyone in the administration that the practice room issue was credible enough to be taken seriously, and the point was definitely not to lull students into complacency by telling stories of how much better things are now than they once were. The point was to open up a dialogue within the student body about how We can most effectively secure the conditions that allow Us to benefit the most from our education. I hope this is transparent.

Student action itself is much more valuable than administrative “facts” and “care” because students are why Juilliard exists. What needs to be recognized is the fact that the institution of Juilliard exists for their students, for our education and for our betterment, and the student body needs to hold the institution accountable when this doesn’t show. Students don’t serve the administration and shouldn’t be intimidated by it; the administration serves the students. The administration needs to hear the collective roar of outrage when things are bad, whether it’s to do with practice rooms or anything else. They need to know that if student issues are swept under the rug, we are the cereal that will crunch so that they know that we are still here.

In essence, sure, things used to be worse, but that is not a good enough excuse to refuse to improve. That the administration approached me with such concern shows that students do in fact have power. We just need to recognize it collectively.

Where TF Are The Practice Rooms?

One student ponders why a school leading the world in musical education has an insufficient amount of practice rooms. Joe Peterson looks into an issue that has affected most, if not all musicians at The Juilliard School.

Photo by Fiona Robberson

Many musicians at Juilliard are intimately familiar with the electric red banner at the practice room kiosks signaling “All practice rooms are currently signed out by other students.” Every single day (including weekends) there are significant blocks of time when there are no open practice rooms available.

Often, there are lines of three or four people waiting at each kiosk, leading to a game of reflexes, won out of luck as opposed to who got in line first. Furthermore, the kiosks seem to break almost every day, creating even longer lines, and wasting more of our limited time.

On some days, many of us spend upwards of 30 minutes waiting for a practice room. Some days, even more. And then, some of us give up in frustration and go watch Netflix.

Considering we often only have 30 minute intervals to practice between each class, and considering many of us live too far to just go home and practice between classes, this situation is detrimental to our advancement as artists. Hours, if not days, of our time at Juilliard are lost to waiting for practice rooms, and this could very well be the time that determines whether we win our dream job or not.

It also seems to illustrate a lack of respect. Juilliard’s cost of attendance is upwards of $60,000 per year, which is by no means exceptional for a private institution (#cripplingstudentloandebt). Nonetheless, many of us pay tuition with the basic assumption that we will at least have the opportunity to work on our craft.

This provokes many questions. Does Juilliard not have enough practice rooms? Does Juilliard accept a larger student body than it is able to sustain? Does Juilliard™ spend more money on its brand then it does on our education? Or is it simply a matter of facility maintenance and faulty mechanics?

Regardless of the answers, Juilliard is supposed to give us a leg up, not an obstacle to overcome. We are a valuable commodity, and we deserve to be treated as such.  


  1. Build more practice rooms.
  2. Consolidate all the kiosks into one to eliminate the competition of reflexes.
  3. Maintain the kiosk so that there is never an empty room when a line is present.
  4. Accept fewer musicians.
  5. Practice less.

If you or a loved one can think of any better solutions, please share them in the comments.

Artists as Citizens and the Need for Solidarity

EDITORIAL by Joe Peterson: As artists who happen to also be citizens, we often wonder what the world is actually getting of use from us; specifically, we wonder how playing shows for mostly rich old whit people performing works by mostly dead (or nearly mostly dead) white dudes contributes to civic culture.

As artists who happen to also be citizens, we often wonder what the world is actually getting of use from us; specifically, we wonder how playing shows for mostly rich old white people performing works by mostly dead (or nearly mostly dead) white dudes contributes to civic culture.

Though we can and do produce incredibly intense and life-changing emotional experiences, the honest response to the question of changing the world is that we  probably don’t, and that we do at most maintain a cultural equilibriumfar from invoking the change many of us feel is necessary. What we truthfully provide the world is an escape from harsh realities, and, unfortunately, after we bow and go home, that reality is still there, and there it will continue to be, until quite a few somebodies do something about it.

Luckily, we exist outside the practice room and off the stage, and we can offer our solidarity with the people doing the doing.

For example, March 8th is the International Women’s Strike. It is organized around the Resistance and Refusal of decades of marginalization and oppression. It is, according to organizers, by and for “working women inside and outside of the home, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, CIS, queer and trans women.” This strike stems from a long tradition of workers using their control of labor to ignite institutional change.

And even when we do not belong to the communities subject to “misogynist policies, […] decades long economic inequality, criminalization and policing, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad,” we are still directly affected by their presence every day. It is necessary to show support with the resistance through solidarity, because anything less is tacit acceptance of fundamentally unjust social arrangements.

It is our job as artists to tell stories. It is our job as citizens to listen to our communities. So, it’s not that big of a step to combine these two and express active solidarity. Those struggling must not be left alone in Resistance and Refusal if these movements are to gain any ground. All forms of participation are necessary moving forward, from sharing information on Facebook, to marching in the streets, to heeding the call for a one-hour strike and rally in Washington Square on March 8th.   

As artists, but also as citizens, we can dedicate our lives to doing more than putting a band-aid on the struggles of existence: it is not that big of a step to recognize our own place among the increasing struggle for more just gender relations, and a more just world. We aren’t good citizens if we don’t participate in the life of our communities, and we aren’t good artists if we don’t leave the practice room.

So get out and march. Our future depends on it.

Four Concerns with the Kovner Fellowship [UPDATED]

Editorial from Joseph Peterson ’20: At The Juilliard School, not a week goes by when I haven’t listened to concerns regarding the program that provides full tuition, housing, and special privileges to certain members of the student body, based solely on a 15 minute audition and alleged high school performance. This is the Kovner Fellowship program, or the Juilliard equivalent of winning the lottery. I have written these concerns down so that they are no longer just angry whispers out of fear of being silenced.

UPDATED: Read a note from the author in the comments.

At The Juilliard School, not a week goes by when I haven’t listened to concerns regarding the program that provides full tuition, housing, and special privileges to certain members of the student body, based solely on a 15 minute audition and alleged high school performance. This is the Kovner Fellowship program, or the Juilliard equivalent of winning the lottery. I have written these concerns down so that they are no longer just angry whispers out of fear of being silenced.

As a disclaimer, I should write that this article is in no way intended to criticize or call out Kovner Fellowship recipients themselves. They are entitled to the best possible education. But then, so are the rest of us.

Concern with Transparency

There is a complete lack of transparency in the decision-making process behind the Kovner Fellowship. The Juilliard website states that the following criteria goes into choosing Kovner recipients: “Artistic merit of the highest caliber; a successful academic history; [and] a personal capacity for intellectual curiosity, commitment to the value of art in society, and potential for leadership in the field.” There is no written application for the Kovner Fellowship. There is no interview. There is only the initial 15 minute entrance audition and, allegedly, an inquiry into the applicant’s high school academic achievement, though this can be quickly ruled out after speaking briefly with a survey of Kovner recipients. How can a personal capacity for intellectual curiosity, commitment to the value of art in society, and potential for leadership in the field be determined after a 15 minute audition where there is no more human interaction than a brief “thank you” after playing? Either there are other unspoken considerations taken into account, including which summer programs one has been to and who one might happen to know on the selection committee, or the Fellowship is solely awarded based off of an interpretation of merit, based on a 15 minute audition. Either way, this should be made clear to the Juilliard community.

Concerning Our Community

The Kovner Fellowship is dividing our community. The Juilliard School website states that Kovner recipients benefit from “enhanced programmatic content,” and the following “enhanced” activities have been confirmed: Kovner Fellows are entitled their own entrepreneurship classes, their own orientation, and even go on apple picking trips together. Because these activities are not open to the whole community, it gives the impression that non-Kovner recipients are less valued within the Juilliard community, which very well could be true. This makes excluded students defensive and bitter, and moreover, resentful when a Kovner recipient receives a special opportunity they didn’t audition for, even when it could very well have been earned. Given the already intensely competitive environments that Juilliard students are subjected to, these hierarchical politics should be the last thing on the minds of students, which is why the enhanced programmatic content should be offered to all students, not just the special few.

Concern with Merit

Most Kovner Fellowship recipients come from families that can already afford a Juilliard education. To be worthy of receiving any merit-based award, one first needs money to spend on the best private lessons, money to spend on the best pre-college program, money to spend on the best summer programs, and, of course, money to spend on application fees, audition fees, flights, hotels, and trial lessons. This is a theme for all top-tier colleges and universities: “Roughly one in four of the richest students attend an elite college universities that typically cluster toward the top of annual rankings […] In contrast, less than one-half of 1 percent of children from the bottom fifth of American families attend an elite college; less than [50 percent] attend any college at all.”1 The same can be said for merit-based awards at The Juilliard School – recipients are essentially being rewarded for their wealth and circumstance, something out of their control, while those with fewer privileges are left footing the bill. This continues the cycle of poverty.

Concerning the Juilliard Endowment

Juilliard has a $980 million endowment. Considering only around 850 students attend Juilliard, it is absurd that there are students paying $60,000 a year, period. The Curtis Institute of Music has an endowment somewhere between $130 million and $236 million, and they are completely tuition-free. Juilliard owes it to their students, who are entering some of the most competitive fields on the planet, to lower, if not eliminate, tuition costs.

What is to be done?

The Kovner Fellowship needs to be much more transparent, so that there is no longer ambiguity or suspicion surrounding the award itself. The enhanced programmatic content Kovner recipients receive should be open to all students on a case-by-case basis. Juilliard boasts a commitment to community building, and in that vein, all students should be treated equally, regardless of their financial aid package. Scholarship funds should also be distributed based on need rather than merit to combat the ridiculous wealth gap at Juilliard.

This essay is meant to make the concerned voices of many within the Juilliard community heard, as well as provide several solutions. This writer hopes that it will lead to a more open and transparent dialogue—no longer whispered, but articulated loud and clear.


1 Source: Aisch, Buchanan, Cox, & Quealy. “Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.The New York Times, 18 Jan. 2017)

CORRECTED 11/18: Curtis endowment data has been updated with information from their latest Annual Report.