6 Common Struggles Of Being A Classical Musician In Today's World
I am a Millennial and enjoy all things Millennial. I love forward thinking, enjoy debating and pushing boundaries, modern music and the latest TV shows, but I'm also an avid classical musician.
Although I didn't study it in school, I have always kept up with it on the side.
I am often asked why I do so, as if one excludes the other (being a Millennial and enjoying classical), or as if keeping up such a hobby were weird, or in some way illogical or inexplicable.
There are thousands of young classical musicians out there who are equally avid, whether they study it in school or do it on the side.
We are often misunderstood because many in our generation — especially non-musicians — don’t understand the concept of investing oneself in something they would consider “old-fashioned.”
I happen to think that it has nothing to do with “old-fashioned.” We simply lie in the middle circle of the Venn diagram; we are young and respect music of a previous generation.
If I tell someone I play the guitar vs. play the flute, I get very different reactions.
This is because people have a very narrow idea of what flute playing entails, while there's a "cool" stigma that surrounds shredding on the guitar.
Few young people listen to classical music (essentially just 19th-century pop) and thus, they have little to no concept of its beauty, its genius, or of its importance and power.
I’m not suggesting you have to like listening to classical music, but it’s important to have an appreciation for it. I'm tired of having to deal with explaining myself, what it is I do and why I do it.
So, here are a few common responses most classical musicians get, what’s running through our heads when you say it and an explanation that might help you to understand us:
1. People don’t actually know what instrument you play.
“The flute… you mean, this one?” *Mimics playing the recorder in the air.* No, stop. I don’t play the instrument everyone learned "Mary Had A Little Lamb" on at age 6.
We are so used to hearing electronic and computer-animated sound that it has become difficult to differentiate between different instruments. Or maybe, we are simply not educated on the matter.
I play an instrument that fills an entire room with sound so clear, pristine and full, it is inescapable. Every instrument has its own distinct characteristics.
It is vital to learn the importance and beauty of different instruments so one has an appreciation for them and what they contribute to music.
It opens one’s mind to the different levels, dimensions and intricacies of composing music.
2. People have no concept of classical composers anymore.
Many young adults don’t realize that Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are entirely different composers of different eras. They probably don’t even recognize those names. It’s such a sad reality.
It’s like getting 90s Britney Spears and Kanye West confused or getting Elvis from the 1960s mistaken for Michael Jackson in the 80s.
No one ever mixes those artists up, and there are only two decades that separate them instead of an entire century. Also, composers actually wrote their own pieces.
Anyway, mixing those artists up doesn’t happen, and it shouldn’t happen. Similarly, people shouldn’t get icons of previous centuries mixed up.
You don’t have to have in-depth knowledge of classical musicians, but just a little concept of who they were wouldn't hurt.
3. People don’t get your passion for listening to classical music.
Classical music can bring me to tears within seconds. The unity of all those instruments and individual musicians to create such full, moving, synchronous harmonies blows my mind.
It staggers me that someone has the gift of hearing music that has never before been imagined and has the ability to write it down, assigning every instrument its own task.
It eventually unearths a masterpiece that lives on centuries later.
Yes, some modern music moves me, too, and some classical music doesn’t, but it is the genius behind a composer that blows my mind.
The process of writing music has broadened enormously with the explosion of technology, making it possible to create music never before possible.
That is a feat in itself, but it has also become simpler with synthesizers, computer programs, etc.
Classical music was written by hand and played by hand. I don’t think such work and creativity should be forgotten.
4. People don’t understand that though you hate practicing, you love to play.
Whenever I complain about practicing (I try not to, but it’s inevitable), I get “Why do you even play?” as a response.
Let me explain this for all of you whose parents let you quit band in middle school: You probably don’t like to study, do you? But you like to understand and the knowledge that comes from understanding.
You also like where it’s leading you (hopefully). It’s the exact same thing for musicians.
Our "studying" is just scales and finger-work, perfecting technique and learning, interpreting and memorizing pieces.
5. People don’t get that playing an instrument seriously is a full-time job.
It isn’t easy to simply pick up an instrument and play a piece. As previously mentioned, there are so many aspects and sides to playing an instrument.
It takes hours to learn a piece. There is constant growth, and after all those lessons from teachers, recitals, concerts, camps and hours practicing, only an extreme few make it to the top.
6. “You should be a musician!”
When people say this, they mean professionally. Everyone who plays and interprets and creates music is a musician (another common misconception: just because you do it as a hobby DOES NOT make you less of a musician.)
Being a professional musician, however, does heighten the pressure and stress. It is one of the most competitive industries in the world.
Not only is it competitive, but there is also a constant struggle for income, booking new venues and searching for new opportunities. It’s the opposite of a typical nine-to-five job.
However, those sacrifices are worth it because a musician’s passion for what he or she does is what feeds him or her.
Our fervor for what we do overpowers common misconceptions and struggles of being a classical musician who pursues what he or she loves.
That even though there are few who understand why we hold onto music of the past, we also hold on to quality, sound and genius that should never be forgotten.
I may not have convinced you to take up an instrument, but I hope I’ve stirred your curiosity about the beauty of classical music.
If you’re interested in listening to some fantastic classical music, I love Tchaikovsky’s majestic "Piano Concerto No. 1" or Edward Elgar’s moving "Nimrod" variation, the last variation of his "Enigma Variations."
If you want a piece that genially (and comically) shows you how a symphony orchestra is put together, listen to Benjamin Britten’s "The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra."