Musicians in a box

I’m glad so many people liked yesterday’s post on Orchestra Auditions.  I wanted to write something about them because so many of our friends and family are confused about what it is that we do.  Now, the audition post doesn’t really cover that, so I’ll have to write another post later about the day to day life of a performing musician (even though my blog covers MY life, I’m technically not a performing musician at this time, so it would be quite a bit different).

When I was growing up I felt isolated from my peers.  I was an avid reader, I wore thick glasses, and I was a bit of a “know-it-all.”  I also played the violin and piano.  All of these things made me stick out, and when you stick out in school, generally people don’t like you.  I didn’t mind, because I didn’t like them either.  As I grew older I knew I would be leaving my hometown for college and wasn’t planning to look back.  (I also grew taller, got contacts, and became ridiculously-good-looking.) I was very serious about the violin and spent my summers and weekends with other like-minded teenagers, with whom I got along (generally) very well.  I became convinced that non-musicians were just incompatible with musicians.

I went off to college and surrounded myself for the next six years (bachelor’s and master’s degree: musicians are generally VERY well-educated) with musicians.  Other than family and a few select friends from home, everybody I knew was a musician.  We all shared the same problems, we all understood our successes.  It was a very homogenized environment, and at the time I loved it.  Yes, we had our own hierarchy—there were groups of “cool” musicians, those who considered themselves to be better at their instruments than the rest of us, but there were plenty of great people to go around.   Overall college was a fantastic time, though busy and stressful.

After I graduated, I got a job in the Charlotte Symphony.  There I made friends with members of the orchestra, but I was quite a bit younger than most of them, and they enjoyed telling me that quite often.  I felt rather alone.  Luckily I was able to make some friends outside of the symphony through a friend of my sister’s, and spent quite a bit of time hanging out with them. They were generally computer programmers who appreciated free symphony tickets so it worked out well.  This was my first real taste of “normal” folks since school, and the experience was MUCH more positive.  It helped that they had also been “nerds” growing up and had played in their school bands.

But then I returned to Cleveland…and again insulated myself with a musician only crowd.  It was easier, not having to explain our lifestyle, why we got up late (we worked late), why we only worked 20 hours a week (a common fallacy), why we had such dainty wrists (oh, is that just me?), and why sometimes we would cocoon ourselves for weeks on end practicing every spare moment and then become really depressed.

The problem with only having musicians as friends is that it gets a little boring.  Some people love to talk “shop” all the time.  Some people don’t do anything other than practice and go to work.  Some people are emotionally stinted, having spent most of their formative years practicing instead of socializing and learning how to deal with society.  And especially, when you are like me and teach more than you perform…you do get jealous…and tired…of hearing people complain about how awful the guest conductor is this week or how tough it is to have 4 1/2 hours of rehearsal.

But if you branch out from musicians, NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU DO.  And they do want to.  Recently Chris had an audition and I was attempting to explain it to some people.  They were most baffled by the fact that no one had been hired for the position, but their minds were pretty blown by the amount of time he had spent practicing for it (all of his time for over a month).  Few people even understand that a symphony job can be a full-time job!  (I remember the shocked looks on the faces of my extended families when I explained that).

That’s why I entitled this post:  musicians  in box.  We musicians put ourselves in a box.  And we need to take ourselves out of the box and branch out, meet more people, spread our love of music, and become better people for it.

3 thoughts on “Musicians in a box”

  1. THANKS for writing this! I have the same issue with friends/family who think the lifestyle of a musician is the easiest in the world. Not too long ago, when I was getting ready for one orchestra audition, my in-laws were telling me, “well, it’s good you’re doing this audition because you can just get it and then be set for life! Don’t orchestras only rehearse a few times a week?? You’ll have all that free time, and then you can give us more grand kids!” Um, NO. I tried to explain that it wasn’t like that at all, but all I got were blank stares. Not to mention that it’s not even an issue of just doing the audition and then voila! you’re in! I wish!
    Or when parents ask me, “So, um, what ELSE do you do when you’re not here teaching my kid?” Like teaching isn’t a “real” job or practicing isn’t a “real” thing.

    But I also agree with the part about getting tired of hanging around the same crowd and hearing them talk shop. Going to CCM, I always told myself I never wanted to be like the weirdos who locked themselves up in their practice rooms b/c they were so socially awkward, but of course, as you mentioned in your other post, it definitely takes a ridiculous amount of work to survive in this profession. My husband and I desperately wish we had pursued double majors–although when I actually ask myself what it is I would have rather done, I can’t come up with an answer.

    Thanks for keeping it real:P

  2. Your posts the past couple of days have really been making me think about my “previous life”! I had a very similar upbringing, complete with the small hometown that I couldn’t wait to leave. Reminds me of spending my lunch periods alone and practicing in the band room for whatever competition, audition or whatever was coming up. Most of my friends musicians for sure. And I was hyperfocused.

    However, when I got to college even though I was immersed in the college of music and ensembles and such, my closest friends were generally not music majors (which, as you know is a different lifestyle and culture). Many played in HS band or were in marching band but I often felt very isolated in my classes or when we went on ensemble tours. Even then I tried to nurture other non-musical interests (sorority, volunteering, exercising, etc) and most music majors that I was acquainted with did nothing but practice or hang out with each other (talking about music). I remember trying to fit in but not feeling “good enough” even though I had a great circle of (non-musical) friends. In hindsight, I wonder if the perception of me is that I wasn’t “serious enough” or that I thought I was “too cool” given that I didn’t live an insular lifestyle.

    Then and now when people found out I was a music major, people were generally shocked and I HATE(D) having to justify that musicians are nice people, not all snobby or weird or full of themselves…even though I know it can be a tough and intimidating crowd. (Kind of reminds me doctors, that’s another very insular group that also loves to talk shop and can be intimidating!) All that being said, I miss it! And thanks for letting me ramble on in your comments section. 🙂

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