Saturday, October 4, 2014

Cat's out of the bag; success is coming out of the box

Today the world looks and operates quite differently than it did 50 years ago, and the same is true of the music world. With the music community’s recent panic to sustain audiences, there’s a growing emphasis on outreach, and in some ways, musical altruism. Longy’s own Teaching Artist Program is symptomatic of this trend. It’s no longer enough to just practice and be good at an instrument, so one must take a course preparing him- or herself to give interactive concerts and create lesson plans to essentially help foster children’s curiosity about classical music. Just this year, Boston’s Symphony Nova launched its fellowship program, which, in addition to providing participants with orchestral experience, also sends them out into the community to perform outreach concerts and try out some teaching artistry. From The Top also has education and outreach programs whose purposes are quite similar, and has instituted a community concert series. Even the most prestigious of musicians and music-related organizations are realizing that for the community to appreciate music, we must first appreciate them.

However, as quickly as this shift towards community-oriented music is happening, Sara Sitzer of New Music Box suggests that our concept of what makes a musician successful is not evolving fast enough to reflect these changing ideals. Sitzer suggests classical musicians do still feel pressure to win a competition or be accepted into a prestigious school, ensemble, or orchestra in order to feel that they are succeeding at their craft. These accolades are, of course, something to be celebrated for anyone who manages them. However, other, less traditional methods of building a career are just as valid and are too often overlooked. Sitzer reports of a discussion with Howard Herring, president of the prestigious training orchestra the New World Symphony, that he encourages the New World fellows to embody three primary principles:

  1. Independence. Independent thinking allows us to think outside the box and be proactive about our passions.
  2. Inclusiveness. When we engage our communities, great things are possible.
  3. Responsibility. Taking responsibility for our art form ensures its continued relevance in society.

Herring also differentiates between a job and a career: a job is something that you get, a career is something that you build. By this definition, a job is only part of one’s career; ideally, a career is a series of choices that affect the music community in one’s unique and genuine way. Depending on the person, this may include so-called traditional kinds of success, or not. Perhaps popular ideas of what success is will soon catch up to the shift in focus, and become more inclusive of the many different roles musicians can play in the community. For Sitzer’s full article, please visit:

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