The New York Times is out this weekend with a story about this year’s edition of Baltimore Symphony Academy, which I attended at the end of June. This story is from the perspective of Daniel Wakin, who played clarinet in Group 1 (I was in Group 2).
Here’s the link: Band Camp for Grown-Ups.
It’s an interesting story, which really does a nice job of pointing out the differences between amateur and professional orchestra musicians. One of my friends has described that difference eloquently in an e-mail to me:
I really like the use of the term “melody expression” to denote one of
the techniques available to turn notes into music. I’ll try to remember
that the next time I want to elaborate on the subject.
I also enjoyed the use of the expression “Let’s get inside the sound”
Marin Alsop used in directing the strings to work on some rough spots.
The article also spoke of a few of the many technical subtleties that
need to be developed in order to play well. I learned quite a bit just
reading the article. For one, I never thought about the need to consider
room acoustics when deciding when precisely to make an entrance. That’s
something that a non-professional musician would never consider.
“I seemed to enter consistently late. Members later told me that along
with incompetence, this was probably a result of the acoustics of the
hall, which require some anticipation from players sitting toward the
back of the stage.”
That’s not something the average concert-goer would ever be aware of
either unless they were also professional musicians. The more I learn
about what it takes to be a professional musician, the more I grow in
awe of them!
I agree with Lee. I don’t think the average concert-goer — or even your average amateur — realizes how subtle, driven, and perfection-seeking the life of a professional orchestra player is. That was driven home to me, when — during a lunch — someone asked the BSO’s new principal bassoonist what it took to win his position.
After a moment, Fei Xie responded, “You have to be willing to throw a big part of your life away.” He went on to say that he spent his life either practicing, playing, or making reeds – consciously giving up what other people perceive as “a normal life.”
What he said struck a special chord with me. I don’t have any regrets about what my life has included, and I can’t imagine what I would have given up to dedicate my life full-time to a music career. It brought me a kind of peace about the choices I’ve made and helps explain why I’m a “midlife musician” — not a professional one.