“So what exactly does someone do with a degree like that that?” My parents and myself have become accustomed to hearing that question from just about everyone not immersed in this “world.” Perhaps the most intriguing thing to me, however, is that every time that inquiry is directed at me, my answer changes. And the more I think about it, the more I realize just how legitimate of a question it is. In May of 2013, I will receive a piece of paper that reads, “Bachelor of Music: Horn Performance.” What does that even mean? A $200,000 piece of paper should be worth something, right? A reality glares at me, assuring that no job is guaranteed after any number of years in school. In fact, opportunities are diminishing by the day. I’ve begun to accept the fact that perhaps, that is not so bad after all.
“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Sayings such as this one have become quite prevalent in today’s world. In fact, most of my fellow conservatory students live by this statement; music is, after all, a very powerful and moving force and we are very much in love with it. I remember when my answer to the opening question was a carbon copy of just about every other freshman; you audition for, and win a place in an orchestra. It appears the perfect situation. An orchestra member gets a salary for playing their instrument, that dearly treasured slice of their very soul, to perform those spectacular manifestations of genius, which poured from the minds of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Mahler, and Stravinsky. Best of all, however, you are surrounded by other musicians who share your passion and enjoy being there. But the truth is, though its members are no less passionate, rare is the orchestra with 100% of its people devoted to a truly stunning performance.
It is common, as I did, to begin in a youth orchestra. Exceptional high school musicians from the surrounding area get together simply to create and share music. I was fortunate enough to live in a city with one of the best youth orchestras in the country. Though it was only high school, priorities were often scattered and confused. I assured myself that once this stage of my schooling life was behind me, so too would be the handful of members who simply did not care and scarcely put forth effort. As it happens, reality has caught up with me.
“I know we will get a standing ovation, but will it truly be deserved?” More than once, this thought has permeated my existence during numerous rehearsals. To be sure, it is no fault of the audience. I am confident our performances are quite good. But there is a subtle, yet profound, difference between good, and great. In the midst of any given rehearsal, the faces speak louder than a drum line. Some have played the piece too many times. Some would rather be practicing their solo for the competition. Some would rather be rehearsing with their quartet. Some sigh in deliberate exasperation as yet another humorless joke crawls out of the conductor’s mouth. Some discuss their party habits. The attention is about as divided as one of Eric Whitacre’s chords!
But am not ungrateful for this experience for without it, I would not have learned to smile in rehearsal and keep playing as beautifully as I can. Really, that is all any one person can do, even though it is difficult and usually seems insignificant. And perhaps most importantly, I might still believe that a career as an orchestra musician is the zenith to grow from a degree in music performance.