I owe you a ton of blog posts, and I'm trying to get back to faithfully writing one a week. This summer has been full of heat, good food, fun outings with the kids, and lucky for me, lots of time sitting in cool pits. In addition to catching up with colleagues I haven't seen in a while, and meeting some new ones along the way, I've also been making some important strides on the new Patterson. I have many posts on the way about things I've been thinking about lately.
A few weeks back, an article made its way across my News Feed many times over. It was written by a violinist who went to conservatory, walked away from music for a time, and returned with a different state of mind. Click the link above to read it, because it's very well written and rings true for many of us that have that standard conservatory experience. As many things do, it gave me a time to pause and reflect on the great fortune I have to define myself as a true freelancing musician. As much as I love it or hate it at times, I'm far enough along the way that I can justify this as a career, and maybe even a calling.
Many of us classical musicians, and especially brass players, are programmed from the get go to pursue traditional careers as symphony musicians, solo musicians, or chamber music musicians. In some places, there's even an implied negation of any other genres or paths that lead anywhere but the audition circuit. This can result in many talented people feeling bored or trapped in great jobs, or even questioning whether or not the classical dream was really theirs in the first place.
I have had conversations with many of my colleagues that reassess what they're currently doing and whether or not it's justifiable as a legitimate career. These conversations almost always end with "just because it doesn't look the way you thought it would doesn't mean it's not ok to be happy". Ambition is a wonderful motivator, but at a certain point it can become a monster that devours your self-worth or sometimes replaces your talent altogether. A lot of times, when we write our situations down on paper and assess them subjectively, they look much better than when we step back into our reality. And yet, we still feel dissatisfied and unhappy.
When you're serious about your instrument, it's almost a given that at some point you're going to put blinders on and persevere until you accomplish a goal that you set for yourself. When I'm trying to clean up articulation, it's a great technique. But other times the goal takes so long to materialize that I change, and the goal is irrelevant. For example, I spent many years on the Conn trying to maximize the amount of time I could play before taking in more air, and this goal was neutralized when I switched to the Schmid, which was significantly lighter. So should I maybe adjust the expectations I have of myself when it comes to my career?
I've always thought that I would end up as an orchestral horn player. It's my favorite kind of work, and it's what I think I sound best on. Many times this year I've found myself working tirelessly on side gigs and horn jobs alike because it's a great opportunity to play the horn, and I put off an audition or invest more time into fundamentals and equipment issues. Sometimes it feels like the orchestral scene is so very far away from my reality. In practicing this rep and obsessively working towards it, I'm starting to take stock in the fact that I have real colleagues around me that I look up to, a calendar of work to do, and (gasp!) some spending time and money to take our kids out on a really awesome excursion to our second home, Dunkin' Donuts.
Sure, I could be bitter that almost every horn player I went to school with has full-time employment that they've won through a hard-earned audition victory, but why should my idea of "greatness" get in the way of what is essentially a successful career? I have enough food and money, I'm happy with the way I sound, and I have the time to take care of myself on the horn. I am challenged and I have opportunities to learn new music. I have goals but, at the same time, I have enough freedom over my schedule that I can significantly participate in my kids' lives. No, it doesn't look the way I thought it would when I was in college, but it seems that I've somehow become something I never thought about...happy?!
Don't get me wrong, there are many jobs open that I am prepping for at the moment, and I can't wait to get back out there and really represent myself at an audition, fresh out of what I've been calling "Equipment Hell". I think though, I'm going to make a renewed effort to look at what I have and love it, as opposed to looking at what other musicians have and hating myself for being "so far behind". And all things considered, I've had some success lately, so I'm going to take what I can get and use it to make my best better. My goal has shifted from doing a specific kind of work to really and truly playing to the best of my ability, which is something I can work towards every day. So here's hoping that you too can take stock of the work that you have and find something about it that you enjoy.
One of Steve's favorite things to say to me is "you can be happy while you're working for what you want". I finally have to admit that I think he's right!