I may catch some flack for this, but I’ve seen it so frequently the past few months I simply cannot stay silent anymore.
There are A LOT of professional (or aspiring to professional) musicians out there who need an attitude adjustment. What am I talking about, you may ask? Statements like the following:
“I’ve studied this instrument for ____ years. I know best.”
“I didn’t spend all that time in school to play whole notes.”
“They don’t read music. How could they know what they want to hear?”
If you’re a musician who chooses to collaborate with others, you don’t have the right to criticize them unless they’ve validly done something stupid or ignorant. There’s a story I heard a few years ago which happened during a recording session, where the composer freaked out because a melody they’d written was not played in the bassoon, like they wanted. The conductor explained that it was out of the bassoon’s range, so the oboe took it instead. The composer, livid, said, “Well, the computer can play it!”
Now, before you roll your eyes, consider that the bassoon falls into the class of instruments that MOST MUSICIANS don’t know how to write for, unless they play it. (Heck, I don’t know the range of a bassoon. I’d have to look it up.) Others in this class are viola, English horn, saxophone, and contra-anything. And the rule remains – just because it CAN be done, does not mean it SHOULD.
So, any of you who roll your eyes when you hear an ignorant statement like, “Well, the computer can play it!” instead of complaining about someone being stupid, EDUCATE them. You don’t know anyone else’s musical background, and I can solidly say from experience that some of the most beautiful and interesting music I’ve heard came from people who don’t read music and don’t know “the rules.” (Of course, if they choose to argue with you and live in their ignorance is bliss world, that’s their choice and you can’t help it. Just smile and nod and keep their name in mind so you don’t work with them ever again.)
And for the record, there are very famous composers out there who couldn’t write a viola part for shit. Tchaikovsky and Copland, I’m looking at you. John Williams, too.
But there’s another side to this musician attitude adjustment. Many of the people I work with are NOT of a classical nature, even if they play classical instruments. If you play violin, for example, and decide that you want to play for rock bands, most of your playing career is going to be long, held notes. All those hours perfecting Mendelssohn / Sibelius / Tchaikovsky / *insert commonly overplayed violin concerto here* definitely honed your skills and (hopefully) made you better, but can you count to a click track? Can you follow a changing drum pattern or a new guitar riff? Can you play without a key signature? Can you improvise a solo? If your answer to any of those is “No,” then I’m sorry to say you’re going to find it difficult to get along in the non-traditional music world. And nobody cares that you won the concerto competition with the Brahms as a freshman. It’s irrelevant to your current situation.
Musicians do not live in their own isolated bubble. Very rarely do we perform anything by ourselves. So not only do you have to keep your ego in check, you have to know how to work and blend with others. How many of you eschewed chamber music in college because it took away from your solo practice time? Guess how many musical skills you missed out on? A rock band is just an amplified chamber ensemble. Everyone has their own part, and if you mess up, you screw up the rest of the group’s sound. You can mess up in a symphonic string section and nobody but you (and possibly your stand partner) will know.
Additionally, when you choose to play parties or events, remember your audience. One of my best friends has a story from her college days of a gig with the cello choir that frustrated the group because:
– They had to play in a small area and “didn’t have enough bow room”
– The audience wanted to hear familiar tunes, not the complicated, obscure stuff the cello choir wanted to play
– The audience barely listened because the cello choir were background music
– Nobody in the crowd acknowledged the “artistic integrity” of the cello choir
Now, this friend and I played in the same youth orchestra. We played gigs and concerts where there was barely enough room to sit let alone play. We played Christmas carols in a greenhouse, or outside (on Long Island, in December) and HAD FUN, because that’s what gigging and playing for the public is supposed to be – FUN.
And I think that’s where many professional musicians need the biggest attitude adjustment. Just because you went to school, have a particular degree, have played here and there for particular big names, if at some point there wasn’t an element of fun, you need to figure out why. It’s not necessarily a “go home and re-evaluate your life” kind of thing, but it is something worth thinking about. If you’ve lost the fun of music, you’ve lost the purpose of music. It’s entertainment. It’s expression. It’s art. There is no right or wrong, no absolute yes or no. It’s all up for interpretation.
So instead of criticizing others for being less educated than you, or not knowing what your instrument is capable of, enjoy the experience of opening up someone’s mind to new knowledge, and allow the things THEY know to enter your mind as well. Share your love of music in multiple ways. But if all you can think of is, “I did all this work for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and they’re paying me next to nothing. This is such a waste of my talent!” then please go get a day job and leave these gigs to people who will find the fun in them. And check your ego at the door, because if all you’ve done to this point is practice in solitude, not even a McJob is going to employ you.