Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's My Motivation Again?

I’ve chosen today’s topic based on a reader comment. (Yes, I do take your feedback into consideration -- please keep it coming.)

This non-oboist reader said: “I don't know how you manage to have a full-time day job with the reeds. I would stab myself with the knife (intentionally) after about 3 weeks, let alone if I had to do it with something else full-time.”

Well, that’s pretty much how I felt when I started this blog and article project -- just teetering on the brink of burnout. So I started looking for others like me to figure out how they do it. But something I haven’t personally addressed yet is why?

I ask this in all of my interviews: Did/do you you desire to have performing and teaching as your full-time career?

I started out my music career wanting to be a teacher; specifically I dreamed of running a youth orchestra. But I switched to my major from music education to oboe performance mid-way through my sophomore year at Duquesne. I wanted to focus more on the oboe than I was able to do as a music ed major in a tough program.

But I never thought I’d make my living performing. I actually wanted to be a librarian when I changed majors. I had spent the previous summer running the children’s programs at our local library, which is how I got that idea. I also thought that maybe I’d go back and get a teaching certificate after completing my undergrad and getting to a higher level of personal musicianship.

I graduated early, but I had absolutely no plan for what I’d do next. I had changed my mind about the library idea. I tried to find a job and nothing materialized. I remember applying to a small newspaper outside of Pittsburgh to write the obituaries; writing was always something I’d been interested in, ever since I was a little kid. If I hadn't studied music, I probably would have studied journalism. For a while, I even wanted to be a music critic.

So I started applying to master's programs in performance because that’s what my friends were doing and I didn’t know what else to do. I ended up with an assistantship at Temple but I needed to make more money because the stipend was not nearly enough to live on. I applied anywhere that had an opening. And I mean anywhere. Cocktail waitress and cashier at a pizza joint were just some of the Craigslist ads I replied to.

I was just very lucky to actually get a job at a music organization. I started working at the Relache Ensemble, a new music group, a few months after moving to Philly. I became fascinated by all that goes into making a performance happen. I started learning about elements of the music business that I had no concept of before I started working there, such as marketing, fundraising, tickets, music libraries, etc.

After Relache, I worked for the Music Training Center and also The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, where I learned even more about arts organizations.

For a brief time when I started my Master’s degree, I really wanted to get a full-time playing job. I got lucky and advanced in the first two auditions that I took for some big military jobs. I think I wanted to take that route because that’s what my friends were trying to do. But working at Relache and the Chamber Orchestra made me realize that there are lots of ways to work in music other than performing and teaching.

I’m very proud of my friends who have gotten full-time orchestra jobs and I can fully appreciate the level of talent and hard work they have put in to get where they are. But I don’t envy them; I have pulled enough all-nighters at the reed desk to satisfy me for a lifetime. To win an audition, you do need to be somewhat single-minded and focused on that goal, and as you can see, I really never was from the start!

Even though it was hard when I was at Temple -- at one point, I was working three jobs, going to school, and freelancing -- I like the way things have turned out and I am proud of the work I put into building my careers.

I believe that musical education and training teaches such a variety of skills that are invaluable and transferable to any work environment or field. So perhaps there are other ways you can advance music without following a traditional path, or while you have another career simultaneously -- maybe something you never even knew existed while you were drilling excerpts day after day!

Be open-minded and don’t feel like it makes you less of a musician if you decide to go in another direction. One thing that every musician knows is just how hard it is to be a musician, and there’s no shame in doing something else instead of -- or in addition to -- your music career.

Special thanks to my friend, colleague, and avid blog reader Catherine Schaefer for proofing this post. Cat is also a pretty amazing pianist who just performed on Houston Public Radio.

Photo: cheezburger.com

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