Hopefully you will forgive me for this rant. This is one of those topics that I am passionate about.
Music is a hard career. Rewarding – yes, fun – yes, satisfying – most of the time, but it is also highly competitive and requires a huge amount of skill and hard work. Being successful musicians requires us to be very very good at what we do.
This is why I am a firm believer that music students should not have a ‘backstop’ or ‘fall back’ career plan.
The Parable of Oscar
I have a friend who was an excellent trumpet player – he still is but this story is about his younger years. Oscar was always a committed musician and was always passionate about practice and playing at a high standard. He played in a variety of ensembles and did well in all his exams. When he left school he was easily capable of becoming a professional trumpet player with a bit more study and experience. Unfortunately Oscar had parents! Oscar’s parents were very supportive of his music all the way through school, right up until he said he wanted to be a professional musician.
At this point Oscar’s parents patted him on the shoulder and told him that that would be great, after he had a profession to ‘fall back on’. Oscar was a good boy so went to university to study accounting as his parents wanted him to. After years at university and then working Oscar became a chartered accountant but still wanted to play the trumpet so finally went and studied trumpet playing in his late 20’s. Unfortunately Oscar’s playing level had dropped a bit in those years with a split focus and he never managed to really get to the professional level that he was once capable of. Life forces took over and Oscar needed money so went back to being an accountant and lived comfortably ever after.
The moral of the story is that music is too competitive to split the focus with something else. The entire purpose of a back stop is that it is easier field to get jobs in – nobody has brain surgery as their backstop position. When things get tough it will always be easier to get a job in the backstop position especially as the time spend working on the backstop has reduced the chances of being an outstanding musician.
I had lunch with Oscar the other day and told him that I use his story in my classes (and now blog). His reaction was ‘good’. I don’t think he is bitter but he is certainly disappointed and would do things differently if he had his chance.
I understand that having a back stop career is sensible from a parents perspective but not if it reduces the chances of living the dream. We should always inspire our students to live their dreams.