A few days after putting out part 5 of This Crazy Business, I realized that a few of my comments and assumptions expressed in this post could use some clarification. I’d like to take a moment and try to articulate a few topics that I glossed over or mischaracterized in this (and other similar) posts.
First, the title of my post–Driving for Dollars-life as a classical music bottom feeder–while intended as satire, also was just a tad (OK, maybe more than just a tad) disparaging to freelance musicians in general, and especially to the individual I was describing in the opening paragraphs of my post. While the body of the post (hopefully) makes clear that I really don’t think of freelance musicians as "bottom feeders", the title and initial tone of the post does not make that clear. I actually deeply respect and admire the individual I was describing, and I only meant to highlight a situation that hundreds and hundreds of instrumentalists (myself included) find themselves in, namely members of many different orchestras, each in a different state.
Reducing orchestral gigs to black-and-white numbers, while interesting and informative, is a rather shallow representation of the true reasons why someone chooses to work in many different regional orchestras. I have done this sort of work–seven orchestras, seven states, seven weeks–many times in the past myself, and while I often paint it in a bleak light, there are many positives to this lifestyle as well. Artistic, emotional, and spiritual reasons factor into one’s decision to play music (whether orchestral, jazz, bluegrass, rock, or any other style of music), and reducing a playing opportunity to a table of statistics does not really represent these other reasons at all.
Rather than list all the reasons why one would choose to take certain kinds of work, I’ll be having a guest writer chime in on this topic. It should prove to be a great read, and you can look for this contribution here on the blog soon.
Many of the long-standing themes of this blog involve the topic of freelance musician work (particularly orchestral playing), and while many of these posts are critical of aspects of this business, I always try to make a distinction between criticizing the system and criticizing the people working in that system. I am an active participant in the system, and while it has its ups and downs, I love working with my colleagues and making great music every week with them. I often think of this as a given, and probably come off sounding much more gloom-and-doom than I actually feel. Just ask my colleagues–most would not think that I come off as a gloom-and-doom guy.
I’m mainly trying to raise people’s awareness of likely career prospects after leaving music school if one follows a "traditional" career path, and I like to think that I provide both tales of inspiration with the Contrabass Conversations episodes and tales of caution with my own long-form serial posts. I see the podcast project as something truly constructive for the community, while I look at my own writings on the subject as more opinionated and possibly negative or critical of certain aspects of the business. These writings are (despite tables, statistics, and the like) perspective and opinion pieces, a certain interpretation of a set of facts, figures and circumstances. It’s the way I see it–it may or may not be the way you see it, or the way that things play out for you if you follow a similar path. I am always interested in divergent viewpoints on these topics, and feel free to chime in with a comment or a guest post at any time (just click the comment link below the post or the contact link in the menubar).
If push came to shove, I’d like to think that people would remember me for these Contrabass Conversations projects–helping others to learn about the great musicians of our instrument, discover new pieces, and be inspired by outstanding interviews and performances. That’s what makes music special, and the carping that I do in many of my posts, while sincerely tended as valuable advice, should be looked at as just that–advice from one musician who may have an entirely different set of beliefs, assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses than you. Just because certain things played out a certain way for me, that is no reason to assume that they will play out for you in the same way.
We musicians live in a world of endless opportunity and creativity, and if we wok hard and are adaptive to circumstances, the sky is the limit.