Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I’m struggling to achieve a tenured position in a very difficult field- classical music. I have been working as a freelancer for many years, but most of the time, I had to work a technical job in order to pay the bills and have any type of security. Last year, I left the job and instead of trying to find another one, I decided to give the tenure one last shot. I know that this is my last chance; I’m in my mid-forties.
The biggest problem I have is emotional- I try not to get bitter when other musicians who don’t have nearly the experience I do, defeat me in final auditions.
I will deliver what I know is a technically perfect performance, yet I am ignored by the people who are in the position to hire. Many of the musicians who have secured full time permanent jobs with benefits are older than I am, so it can’t just be age.
I live alone and I get zero support from my parents, and I think this is part of the missing piece. I believe in myself, but it is all a struggle. The musicians I see in the symphonies have a natural self-confidence, and that I feel missing. I believe in myself but I wish someone else would too.
I need to get some joy into my playing but I am drowning in bitterness. I feel that I’m never going to succeed if I can’t get over this problem.
Any suggestions that don’t involve years of therapy? I don’t have the funds or the time for it.
I know a number of musicians who are in the same situation that you are. Many of them have given up music completely for other fields that have better prospects. You might be the most gregarious man alive and it might not make a lick of difference when it comes to obtaining your goal. Unfortunately there are hundreds of people applying for very few positions. It is the same for tenured positions in every field. Taking it personally will only get you a trip to the hospital with heart failure or a stroke.
Sure, it is always a good idea to be personable but the world doesn’t necessarily reward hard work and steady effort as we all were told. There are a million other musicians who want the same thing and put forth the same or more effort. The world rewards creativity and flash. If you do something entirely different, such as develop a U-tube video that’s catchy and cool and goes viral, you might get your position. You would be known and being known matters. It doesn’t hurt to take “this last stab” but if it doesn’t pan out don’t take it personally and make music your love and hobby and get a steady paying job in some other area of music or something else.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: there’ve been a lot of assumptions made here, and a great deal of misunderstanding. First, let me clear this up: Youtube is not going to help Stan. Viral, catchy and cool is great if you have an idiosyncratic musical style and want a cult following. It won’t help you land a permanent job in a classical orchestra. Those are elite positions that are grounded in artistry and an incredible number of hours of playing. Classical music is never an overnight sensation. There can be as many politics involved as with a campaign for the presidency.
There’s another matter I must address. Here’s something that non-artists just don’t understand- there is a HUGE difference between someone who “enjoys” playing music or creating art, and a true, driven artist. It’s like the difference between an occasional babysitter who likes playing with kids, and a full time mom. Telling a true artist to put their drive aside for practical reasons is pointless. You would be better off spending your time trying to convince a gay guy that he should marry a woman and forget about men because his life will be easier. Don’t waste your breath! We each are what we are, and different things matter to each of us. Yes, someone who is a hobbyist or play-for-fun musician can let it go, get the job, and dabble in their spare time. But a true artist, someone who has that strong relentless drive, would rather die. The so-called practical “security” which Dr. B describes would be like a coffin to them. It has no value or meaning. I can’t think of a more sure fire road to alcoholism, addiction and depression. In my book, a guy who is in his mid-forties and single has already come to understand that safe and normal is not his goal. There is a voice in your head that will not be quieted. You know who you are. Go down fighting.
But I think I understand what your problem is, and what is holding you back, Stan. You are thinking that the natural self-confidence you observe in the stars of your profession is an aspect of personality. It is not. Pay attention. It’s not simply that they play well…it’s that their art has become such a part of them, they forget they are even playing. There is nothing but the music, and they are carried by it. They are not self-confident; they have passed beyond their mere selves. This is the place that you have to get to if you want to be at the top of the classic field and land a coveted spot in an elite orchestra. You have to be so good that you forget yourself. Right now, that’s all you can think of- your limitations, the guys who beat you, and the handicaps that are holding you back. Forget that crap. Just get to be that good.
If you try and fail, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you you’re good enough to have had steady freelance work, you are already better than most people would even dream of being. There are smaller ponds where you can be the big fish. If you try for the top and fail, you are still so much further along because of that effort. And if what you really love is to play, trust me…people will always recognize your quality.
You have my blessing to go charge at those windmills.