It’s usually the 3rd or 4th question in a post-concert Q&A session. The first ones are always about how I chose my program, which of the pieces was my favorite, if I worked closely with the composers of the newer pieces, etc.
But then it comes. Like clockwork.
Honestly, I tell this story a lot and it gets some laughs, for sure. The truth? My mom had made a new friend through her babysitting co-op, and this friend was very into the Suzuki Method. Her daughter, Carla, was my age, my BFF, and played the violin and the piano. Her son, Blake, was a few years older and my brother’s BFF. Blake played the cello.
So one day we went over to their house and the kids played their instruments for me and I was supposed to decide which one I liked the sound of the best.
You see, I thought very highly of Blake. In fact, I was deeply in love with him, and I knew how these things worked. If we were ever going to get married, I’d have to play the cello too. Right? Because you have to match.
So the answer, truthfully? I had a crush on an 8-year-old boy who played the cello, so that’s the instrument I picked.
I know….it’s totally adorable, and it all worked out. Well, not in the “And they lived happily ever after” kind of way, but in that I seemed to like cello enough to make a career out of it. (God, can you imagine if he had played the flute? or the trombone? My life would be completely different!)
So why does it make me uncomfortable?
All of those hours practicing, fighting with my mother, crying on my way to lessons and group classes, stress from competitions won and lost, college auditions, more stress, more practicing. The countless weekends that were spent working instead of out with friends. The weddings I had to miss because I had a concert, the Sunday morning brunches that I could never take part in because I had a Sunday morning teaching job.
And then I think of the incredible friendships I have formed, the gorgeous places I have traveled to for concerts and tours, that indescribable feeling of being in the middle of an orchestra playing a Sibelius Symphony, or the heightened emotional state you experience while performing the Mozart Requiem or St. Matthew’s Passion,
Most people make their career decisions when they are adults. We musicians tend to make them when we are 5 years old. The instrument we choose can often be random or, like me, made from less than ideal criteria, and so I think it’s important to realize that we are not “STUCK” with these decisions we made way back when.
And that if something doesn’t feel quite right, or if the burden and frustration of the sacrifices start to outweigh the sense of gratitude and luck in “Making It” in the arts, you should figure out a way to realign things for yourself.
For me? That looked like giving up a job that needed me every Sunday and starting my own program that I could schedule any time I wanted. It meant less gig-freelancing and more recitals and chamber music, where I could have a say in the rehearsal schedules, the concert dates, and the repertoire.
I know others for whom the opposite was true. After years of being soloists, they realized they weren’t happy having to be on the road all the time, making every single decision, and they moved into an orchestra job, where they could settle in one place, have a family, and a reliable schedule.
What about you? Are the things you are doing in your career done with purpose and intention? Or are you just saying yes to whatever comes up next?
This Pandemic has wreaked havoc on the arts in so many ways, but you can also look for the hidden gifts. Not chasing from gig to gig every day, you actually have some time to think about what you want to be doing—right now.
Pssst…There’s a new Tales From The Lane Facebook Group! Come and join us over there for some live (and lively) conversations about navigating the world of professional music-making. Click here to check it out! I’ll see you there.