A Glass of Chianti

Friday, June 10, 2005

I didn't settle

A couple of days ago in a bookstore I ran into a guy who attended high school with me. It was a strange meeting for a variety of reasons (one of which being that I couldn't remember his last name for the life of me. I did, however, remember what instrument he played in the band). His wife went to the "rival" high school, but I knew her because she played the clarinet as well, and we sat near each other one year in All-Region band. I asked how they were doing, what was going on... the things you talk about when you meet someone you haven't seen in six years in a random encounter.
He asked me what was going on and I told him I taught music. I could tell he was a little surprised because he said, "Wow! That's surprising. Everyone thought you were going to be really successful."
I knew what he meant, and he didn't mean it as a slam on my current profession. He went on to say that he was sure I was a great teacher and that my students were really lucky to have me. Blah, blah, blah. I get something along these lines fairly often. I think it's because people don't think you go into music unless that's all you have going for you. Music is kind of the last resort of career choices. This reputation is fair, to a point. The job opportunities for classical musicians aren't very varied or plentiful. You spend an incredible amount of work preparing for a job that isn't ever going to be lucrative (or even likely to put you much above the poverty line). There are hundreds of (qualified) people who try out for each opening in an orchestra. One has a better chance of playing football professionally than playing in an orchestra for a living, I imagine. And frankly, from the people that I met while attending an extremely well-respected music school, many of them don't have anything else "going for them" that they can "fall back on." It's a bleak prospect, but the people making these decisions to study music do it with their eyes open and lots and lots of passion.
To be fair, my classmate's surprise possibly came from the fact that I was known more for my politics than for my clarinet playing. Some of this was due to the fact that I was much more vocal about my love of politics than my love for music due to my (always) unrequited crushes on guys who were much more into politics and/or philosophy than music. In fact, it's still that way... and my crushes are still unrequited. *sigh*
I, for one, didn't settle for a career in music. I turned down the prestigious college acceptances and generous scholarships to "better" schools to go to the school I did because I wanted to study music. I wanted to go to the best place possible for that and I was lucky enough to study and play with great people while I was there. I practiced (and still do) 8 or 9 hours a day because I want to get better at an instrument which helps me to express things that are impossible to say with words. I am happy to be able to go into my job and say truthfully and honestly that there is nothing else that I'd rather do. My students are the most awesome students of clarinet anywhere. I turned down the things I did because they can't compare to the joy that music brings me.
I know the field isn't for everyone, and I know that even some people who really want to can't make a living in it, but it is the field for me, and I'm incredibly happy to have the choice to participate in it.
The only thing I regret is had I gone to one of those "better schools" I probably would have learned some punctuation rules. And how to edit for clarity. Those things would have been nice...