I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music. There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week.
I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt. It was designed to discourage.
Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants. High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.
And look, there’s an element of truth to this. Classical music is not a growing field, and it is legitimately hard to get into a big orchestra, or even just a big enough one to take care of your basic income needs. I have heart to heart conversations regularly with my most serious students – because no one should come into this profession expecting their path to be easy or lucrative.
Let’s not discourage people who love what they do, no matter at what level they do it. Let’s not say that since only an elite few can get into the New York Philharmonic, no one should try. Let’s not negate the experiences of people who are playing on the side, playing in community bands, making chamber music with their friends. There is enormous joy in that, and it’s not our place to tell them there isn’t.
And let’s not tell young people that there is no living to be made in music. My colleagues and I are proof that that is not true. I perform with two regional orchestras that don’t conflict with each THAT often. I teach, I freelance actively, I play recitals and concertos, I make reeds for myself and for others. I LOVE what I do, and my freelancer husband and I have a house and a family and a fantastic life that suits us perfectly.
I never did win the BIG job. I doubt I will. But I’m working all the time, I’m joyful in my career, and I am not a unicorn, I am a normal human. I figured out my strengths and what I love to do, and I leveraged them, and I made myself a career. There’s a niche for everyone that wants one.
What is YOUR musical life going to look like?