Here we are, in the middle of April and it's still snowing here on the East Coast. Even though the April showers are somewhat frozen, I hope everyone is getting ready for a long-coming thaw and plenty of outdoor concerts!
One of the driving forces behind many of the musical choices I make comes from one of the first conversations that I had with Jerome Ashby, whom I studied with during my Bachelor's Degree. Starstruck, excited, and feeling the pressure of being the smallest fish in the freshman pond, I asked him every question I could think of, including "which recordings should I be listening to?" After sharing that my favorite recordings were the Bernstein Mahlers from the '60s, which I had discovered in a half-price bookstore in Houston, he said: "I love those recordings because everyone sounded like someone had told them 'This is the last time you get to play your instrument.' "
This sentiment has guided almost every major musical decision I've made in my career. From choosing summer festivals to reading scores, I often ask myself: "if this is the last time I get to play this piece, is this the decision I want to go out on?" It has permeated the way I listen to music, and it's probably what keeps me locked into the passion I have for being a horn player. Unfortunately, this excitement has probably kept me from fitting in and making a name as a flexible person. Don't get me wrong: I love working as a section player and I take fitting into other people's sounds very seriously. However, when I play in a leading position, I am always looking for ways that my voice will contribute to the people around me. The results, or non-results, of taking this risk have often led me to return to another piece of advice that has loomed overhead for many years: "your zeal for the horn will ultimately be your downfall".
The truth is, for the last four years, I have been approaching every playing opportunity like it's the last one I'll have. I've been thinking to myself, "maybe I won't get called for this show again", or "maybe this is the last time I'll play in an orchestra again". In all honesty, that's the real reason I made the album. I wanted some kind of lasting proof that, at one point in time, I had a real talent and passion for something that I believe is truly special that just didn't turn my way.
I probably would feel differently if I had a full calendar of dates that seemed to just interlock with each other on any given day. A stretch of empty dates has only happened to me one other time in my career, and that was when I just left school. Most freelancers know how sobering it is to enter a new job market with no reputation, until you hit that one lucky job when you meet someone that adores the way you play, and knows who to get you in touch with. When I look back on things now, it seems like every major opportunity I've had was the result of an audition that I played well in. In my desperation and staring into an ocean of time, I practiced like my life depended on it because I had no musical life outside of my practicing. As a freelancer, it's so easy to hang your self-worth on the amount of work you're getting. When I didn't have that, I found that the next best thing was the level I was playing at. I practiced ferociously and obsessively.
I've ended up where I am through many twists and turns, some much more successful than others. In this present moment, I think that I'm selling myself shorter than I should be. I'm not crazy enough about my practicing, and I'm not playing as solid as I know I can when I go into a job. Full honesty: I learned how to play like an asshole at some point, and the last four years have been about restructuring myself in a way that's more palatable. I still think I sounded my absolute best when I was playing aggressively but, if I want to play and work, I have to adjust a few things from what I truly want to be and do. I'm still getting used to this new sound and hoping that the work will follow, somehow, some way.
I am trying to acknowledge that auditions are not about how good you are as a player, but they're about how well you play the game on that day. This is tough for me because I taught myself to lean on my talent when things aren't going so great, and that's just not how the world works. As stubborn as I am, it's a struggle to let go of my pride and just change with the times, but I'm still trying to find balance in my playing level and the significance of any single job. Do I still work my tail off to sound as good as I can, even though I know I won't end up with a show of my own or an orchestral job afterwards? For me, it's a resounding yes. I just need to find a way to move past the expectation of something better coming along. This is my life as a musician, so I'm trying to take it for what it's worth, or accept that it's time to do something else.
Here I am, and I'm always feeling like I'm at the twilight of my career. The older I get, the more ridiculous I feel going into jobs where everyone is in school, and the more out-of-place I feel at auditions where everyone is ten years younger than I am and dressed in suits. I am working on tapping into that fierce energy where I'm consumed by practicing and I have a clear idea of how I want to sound. On the other hand, the excitement I'm getting from listening to recordings and studying scores again is something I haven't done since those precious college days. Maybe this time in my life isn't the beginning of the end, but a new beginning of music-making, and I'll come out of this a stronger and better musician. Maybe there are things working within me that I don't quite understand yet.
There's one thing that I know will never go away, and that's love. Pure, un-messed-around-with love and joy for playing the horn. Sure, the money part kind of sucks right now, but if you tell me I get to play the horn again, I'm all in. So I'm not going anywhere anytime soon, I have too many things I need to get better at!