If you're like me, you start your day with a liter of water (or coffee!), and settle in to check your email and browse your various news feeds. These days, my online interactions largely consist of dodging spam and various political tirades, but every now and then an inspirational story will pop up. Sometimes it's a link to a news article, and sometimes it's an inspirational banner, but the message is the same: don't quit because your big break could be around the corner. And, without fail, they leave a bitter taste in my mouth and send me searching for the next political soap box to scan past. They offend me so much that I've taken to the blog!
I'm not ungrateful for the fact that I have benefited from some real strokes of luck in my career. I am fortunate to have a lot of wonderful experience in many different facets of classical music, and I wouldn't trade in any experience for a different reality. For some reason, I've never had a professional situation stay with me permanently. I am the first to admit that this is probably rooted in the small odds and ends that I feel like I'm constantly tying up on the horn. And, despite many people telling me to give up, I continue to have hope and pursue my dream of playing the horn professionally every day. As freelancers, I think we all feel like ships at sea being tossed to and fro, so the thought of tomorrow being a completely different situation keeps a lot of us in the game. But...what about today?
My main problem with these posts is that they neglect the many musicians who have embraced their present lives and taken their careers into their own hands. For me, the beauty of this lifestyle is having the power to make your own mark on the world. Without the everyday pressure of answering to a boss, we have the opportunity to reach people in our communities that would otherwise never experience classical music. Our lives are puzzles: they include pieces of teaching, performing, repairing instruments, and sometimes driving cars or delivering food. Those passing conversations we have with people about how this is our side gig inspire others to maybe check out a concert, or learn the guitar. In all honesty, these fleeting moments are some of the only times that I feel like I've really touched lives of the people around me.
In my most humble opinion, the idea of a "big break" needs to die, along with the stinky face that accompanies the idea of a side gig. While these articles sometimes feature older artists that have finally entered the spotlight, these memes usually feature a sunset or a cat hanging onto a window sill as if he was about to fall into a lake (is that REALLY our alternative, lights out or a chilly fall?!). In the 15 years that I've been living in NYC, I'm STILL waiting for my "big break". I'm STILL waiting to be discovered for a show, I'm STILL waiting to be considered for big sub list, I'm STILL waiting to exclusively support my family with a big salary, and I'm STILL biting my nails to find out if we've made the threshold for health benefits.
When I was younger, I used to think that I would have a family after I won the big job I always wanted. I used to think that I didn't deserve to play on the best equipment until I was getting high-paying work. So much of my life has been consumed with thoughts of "I'll get this after I win my job" or "I'll put myself out there after I'm SOMEBODY". I STILL don't have that job, but I have come to terms with the fact that I'm a pretty great person, and a good player. My life is happening NOW, even if my career isn't where I want it to be. It's ok to be a well-rounded person, and I deserve the life that I want.
I'm still working on being the best horn player I can be and, in the meantime, I'm building my freelancing career and having a great time meeting new people and experiencing new things. I have learned to embrace, and even enjoy, my now. I hope we can all find a way to support each other in our journeys to define our present and enjoy the musicians we are today. In keeping with the advice given at the end of one of my favorite reality shows: "if you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?" And if someone hands us an opportunity while we're enjoying the life we built...well, that's just fabulous!