There’s a serious problem with classical music, and it’s not that nobody pays attention to it.
Here’s the problem: Every ounce of individuality and deviation from the norm is pummeled out of you. You learn the music they tell you to learn. You play it the way they tell you to play it. You run yourself into the ground until they like your playing. They turn you into a machine. Eventually, all you know and care about is your instrument. You spend more time with the damn thing than you spend with your own family.
The world demands perfection from you, and you try your hardest to please it. If you are not “perfect” in your execution of the music, you will never get a job that pays. It’s the same pressure on adolescents who want to get into a good music school. They spend hours on end trying to satisfy the status quo, and if they can’t do it, they get turned down from every notable music school in the country, and, in turn, a job that pays.
So, trying to salvage the abilities and knowledge you worked so hard to get, you turn to teaching. You get your certification to teach in public schools, or you go get your doctorate so you can teach at a place of higher education. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get a handsome salary with tenure to boot. But this will likely never happen if you teach in public schools, and public music programs are on their way out anyway. Perhaps if you’re brave enough, you start your own teaching studio, and maybe get a couple of dedicated and capable friends in on the deal.
What ever happened to performing? Well, now that you’re a teacher, you play at student recitals and you land the occasional wedding gig. If you have good contacts, you might be asked to play as a substitute for a regular symphony musician, or you might get a gig as a studio musician.
There’s nothing wrong with that kind of career. You teach to earn income, and you play here and there to supplement. But think back to when you first became passionate about playing. What was it that you wanted? What made you pine for your instrument? I doubt it was teaching or playing music as a substitute or temp. More than likely, you dreamed about soloing. You dreamt about playing music for huge audiences, making them swoon over the sounds you produced from your instrument. I know I had this dream. You would travel the world until you were too old to do so any more, then you would return home to teach as a legendary pedagogue until the end of your days.
Everyone (here, at least) has wanted to be the next Heifetz or Menuhin or Gingold at some point in their musical career. So where did that dream go?
It disappeared when you lost your individuality as a student. It disappeared when they said “You must be perfect.”
“Perfect at what?” I ask. Perfect at playing every note on the page as written? Perfect at executing every crescendo and decrescendo, at executing every minute detail of every piece you play?
My point, ladies and gentleman, is that there’s no creation. No innovation. Classical music is frozen in time, while the rest of the world continues to re-invent itself. Those who are considered masters of the traditional ways are put upon a pedestal, while everyone else must satisfy themselves with the system of “orchestra or bust.”
There are classical musicians out there who are earnestly trying to re-invent themselves and progress classical music beyond what is “perfect.” David Garrett is one of them. Say what you might about him, but you cannot deny that he is doing more to advance our world than any “legitimate” classical violinist out there today.
Music is more than just tradition and perfection (although, yes, these are good fundamental things to have in music). It’s about finding your own voice and doing what you really want to do. If you want to be a performer and make good money at it, there is literally nothing stopping you. Abandon the tradition and re-invent the music.
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