Violinist Holly Mulcahy (who has suggested many a good cat video for this blog) wrote an excellent post on The Partial Observer about how a career as a professional orchestra musician can make one feel like a zoo animal. Holly has been a member of several professional orchestras, including the Richmond Symphony and the Delaware Symphony. Here is a snippet from her post:
If anyone would have told me that 15 years into a career as a professional orchestra musician might make me feel like a zoo animal I would have laughed in their face. Nevertheless, 15 years into my career and that’s exactly how I feel, or at least that’s how it seems for some of the time.
A number of factors contribute to this. First, as a single member of up to 100 performers, you come across as a nameless, faceless member of a collective. Add to that being a member of the most predominant instrument in any orchestra, a violinist, you have even less of an identity. Then there’s all the black and white we have to wear; after some time, you can feel like an anonymous zebra walking out into your pen eating the same grass day after day. At the same, time, most musicians are somewhat prepared for this reality since being a part of a large ensemble is something they’ve actively prepared for most of their life.
Click here for the complete post from Holly.
Holly offer a great analysis of orchestra “adoption” programs, where a patron will contribute a certain amount of money and be paired with an orchestra musician for the season. This “adoption” will be listed in the program, and the musician will typically be invited to several donor events throughout the season, sitting at a table with their paired patrons.
These kind of programs can often be a good thing. The IRIS Orchestra, for example, has a program that in some ways resembles this model, only with genuine, long-term pairings with families, and without the financial element, fostering genuine bonds between performers and audience members. Too often, however, these programs end up serving as thinly-veiled revenue generation tools. Holly delves into this sticky subject with great insight, and I encourage readers to check out her complete post.
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