I think I would make a terrible professional orchestral musician.
I wouldn’t be able to pass an audition. My hands get really shaky when I try and play soft orchestral excerpts in isolation.
I also hate practicing excerpts. I don’t really understand the whole process.
Even though I love listening to orchestral music, there’s not much motivating me to practice it like my orchestrally-inclined peers.
And I’ve figured out that I don’t really need to practice it.
There are too many people that are really good at things in this world. It takes a lot of strength and energy to try and be good at something you aren’t naturally very good at unless you absolutely love it and it’s your heart's desire to be better.
In my experience studying in institutions, this has been a significant personal struggle. Classical music is not a one-size fits all model where everyone can be an orchestral musician. It can’t be.
It’s the same as saying every doctor should aspire to be a surgeon. We all know that’s impossible, and quite frankly, ridiculous.
There is so much other music out there that requires the expertise of classical musicians, and it's not all traditional orchestral music. This is true for myself as a percussionist, as most of my options for solo and chamber repertoire are from the 20th century.
Not to mention, classical music audiences are small. Orchestras are scrambling for funding. Jobs are waning. We are constantly reminded of this. You can read about it here. And here. And here. And here. Maybe here if you’re still not convinced.
Yet why are institutions still trying to sell us this orchestral “dream”? Of course, it is possible for some, and orchestral music is important to study for everyone, but for the majority, this type of employment is not attainable. But more importantly, it’s not always desired.
There are some institutions that are aware of this, and are addressing it through promoting the concept of a “portfolio career”. Freelancers can create their own opportunities, across a variety of fields, which is a more realistic career proposal in this current world.
So teach us how to start an ensemble, how to apply for grants, how to be entrepreneurs. Teach us that it is ok to have another day job if it means we can pay our rent and pursue our artistry better. Show us where the opportunities lie, connect us with different audiences and artists across disciplines. Give us the tools to understand why our hands might shake, or why we run out of air quickly, or why our arms are sore. Understand that the world is a very different place, and sustainable employment for any individual in any field is not as easy as it once was.
Engage with our curiosity, and assume the best of us.
And there are so many other serious things occurring in the world, and making our art institutions feel heavy and stressful seems unnecessary. We are lucky to be able to create music. It’s a gift. But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.
Everyone should be allowed to take their own artistry seriously, in whatever form they desire. Passion and dedication are the only determinants of success.
In the end, we’re all just trying to survive doing what we do best.
So please, encourage us to do just that.
And finally, an institution should exist for its students, and not for it’s self-sustainment.
Otherwise, it serves no purpose.