The Path of the Musician
By Chris Van Hof ~ Posted Thu, 11/06/2008 - 7:55pm
I just finished an article for the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra's newletter about musical entrepreneurship. I soon found myself being reminded of how we musicians "do it" to make a living.
While writing this article, I wanted to share with young musicians all the possibilities of what's "out there" for them. I also wanted to be frank about the prospect of trying to make music your vocation. Over the course of writing and editing, I found that I was reflecting on all the important decisions I had made in my life that have sent me far afield from where I started.
The honest truth about being a music major in college is that you spend hours and hours fine-tuning your craft, pay thousands of dollars for materials, instruments, competitions, and tuition, only to enter a job market that is crammed with over-qualified and highly degreed people, and with jobs that don't reflect pay-wise what you put into your schooling. Imagine my shock when a college teaching job that paid less than my old position behind the counter at Wegmans' deli required a doctoral degree!
But, eager musicians who are passionate about their craft need not worry. For in the true spirit of Schubert (a schoolteacher), Ives (an insurance salesman), Borodin (a chemist), and Rimsky-Korsakov (a navy officer), a musician can still be a musician by cobbling together work that suits them. I've very happily been able to do just this, even though none of my jobs are anything I considered even two years ago.
Of course, the bread and butter is WXXI. Here I can study music history, meet international soloists and conductors (big thanks to Julia Figueras for those opportunities!), listen to the greatest orchestras and artists in the world, and keep my finger on the pulse of the art music world. At Nazareth College, I feed my teaching bug, sharing the finer details of low brass performance and pedagogy with 5 undergraduate music majors. In my brass quintet and New Orleans trombone rock band (www.poboysbrassband.com) I can arrange, compose, and of course, perform.
None of these opportunities were in my mind when I set out to college over 7 years ago. But, this is how musicians "do it." If we're not blessed with transcendant talent like a member of a full-time orchestra, or a touring soloist, then we take a cue from the masters of music history and cobble together a living that cuts across styles, media, means of distribution, and format. And for a musical omnivore like me, many musicians wouldn't have it any other way.