Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Best Advice I Ever Got

An article by Daniel J. Wakin in today's New York Times Arts & Leisure section follows up on Juilliard's class of 1994 and what they're doing today.

Of 44 instrumentalists who graduated that year, Wakin and the contributing reporters were able to trace 36. (The article didn't track pianists or singers.) Of those 36, about a dozen have dropped out of professional musical performance altogether. Eleven have full-time orchestral jobs and the remaining teach or free-lance or have full-time careers as soloists.

It's an excellent article, with much insight about the combination of talent, hard work, connections, business abilities, and just plain luck it takes to become a professional musician. And it reminded me that I feel pretty lucky that I didn't try to make it as a pro.

I am grateful beyond belief to Beverly Radin, my flute teacher in high school and a couple of summers in my college years. When I was in my senior year of high school and getting ready to apply to colleges, I seriously considered applying to conservatories. Beverly, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, advised me to apply only to liberal-arts colleges. She felt that a conservatory degree wasn't necessary for a career in music, and she felt strongly that it was important to get a well-rounded education. Yes, she had some regrets about having gone to conservatory. She was encouraging about my abilities and musicianship, so I don't think her suggestion came out of a belief that I wouldn't make it as a flutist.

This really did turn out to be the best advice I ever got. My life would be pretty different if I'd gone to a conservatory, and it's hard to imagine that it would have been any better than it is now. By the time I left Brandeis, I'd realized that the solo flute repertory didn't interest me enough that I wanted to play it for the rest of my life, and I'd realized I was never going to be dedicated enough to practicing to be able to compete with the flutists coming out of music schools. But I'd gotten a great general education, and I wound up going to graduate school in musicology for a couple of years. Before I became a technical writer, I worked at a series of uninteresting jobs to support my jujitsu habit. (Technical writing still supports the jujitsu habit, just in somewhat better style than being an insurance underwriter.) I am just grateful that I got that general education and didn't spend several years in the conservatory hothouse aiming for the wrong career.

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