Author: Terry Stibal
Date: 2005-08-03 16:00
At least there are now some teaching positions available. There was a great upheaval in the public school positions as the mass of post-World War II teachers, many schooled under the marvelous GI Bill, finally reached retirement age in the 1970's, '80's and '90's. What was once a jam packed field now at least has some movement in same.
But, the stark fact remains that hundreds of colleges nation- and world-wide are turning out two and three very good clarinet players every year, and these "ready to earn" folks are crowding into a career path that is (unlike pro sports or hard, physical labor) relatively easy for the incumbent to remain in well into their 60's. People eager to remain at a position, combined with people piling up at the entrance portals, all with a decreasing public interest in the world of "art" music, is a reality that you ignore at your (and your future family's) peril.
I once wrote a long allegorical tale about this called Stephen and Susan. Stephen was the best basketball player that ever came out of the deepest ghetto the United States could produce, while Susan was the product of a middle class family that supported her clarinet talent to the hilt. Both perfected their skills through endless rounds of practice, both got full ride scholarships (well, Susan's wasn't quite as good as Stephen's), and both attended college for the requisite four years.
Stephen played roundball for Jerkwater U for the full time, but ended up with a relatively meaningless degree in marketing (the easy route, if you will). He naturally did not continue on to "pro" basketball, as there were too many applicants for too many slots, and he was not the "best of the best".
Oddly enough, Susan followed much the same path. She played clarinet for Jerkwater U for the full time as well. True, few came to hear her play, but the "increasing competence" of her play paralleled that of Stephen (who was also getting cash under the table, but never mind that). And she, just as naturally, did not continuing on to pro music as there were too many applicants etc., etc.
Here was the big rub: Stephen, being a little more bright than the average hoopster, at least applied himself and had a marketing degree. He had to, as he couldn't major in something as marginal as "basketball". So, when the pro dream ran out, he was at least equipped with the entry key to the "real world".
Susan, who was smart as a whip as well, still followed the "craft oriented" music degree program. She might have gotten a minor in teaching, but her main thrust was what she did best, playing that damn'd clarinet. Virtually all of her courses after the second year were music oriented. And, while music theory and counterpoint may apply to performance and composition, they have little "real world" impact outside of the tight field of "art" music.
Stephen, who did not have the option to take hours of "basketball theory" as part of his degree program, at least got the gut stuff needed for his marketing degree IN ADDITION to his play time. He still had to at least sit through all of the "regular world" course work.
Who's the better candidate for the job market?
(And, you could postulate a worse situtation: an aspiring clarinet player who's also a good basketball player, and who decides to follow the music degree while playing basketball for old Siwash. I guess the only way to make that one worse would be for the person to be female and aspiring to the WNBA upon graduation...)
I think that it would better serve most of our up and coming young artists to join the union. It won't necessarily get you more work (but it can if you meet the right people), but it will drive home, each and every month, just what kind of market there is out there for their talents so dearly won.
Naturally, I've just pitched the last issue of International Musician, but I generally have a good laugh for what appears in the "Positions" column each month. "For Service" orchestras far, far outnumber the salaried positions, and each and every opening is matched by dozens of players aspiring to the position. (I was told that one, bush league "for service" contra-bassoon position was besieged by fifty applicants at the first stage...a scary prospect indeed.)
Truth be told, most decent clarinet players who would want to make a living through music would be better served by enlisting in the military rather than trying to compete for what, for the greatest part, are minimum wage type jobs outside of the "big five" orchestras. However, while the military promises that bandsmen will be exempted from many things, with the shortages in all categories that they're experiencing these days, I'd not count on the promise to be fulfilled. There were a goodly number of bandsmen in the 4th Infantry Division band in 1970 who found themselves being used as fillers for line infantry battalions in the Cambodian Invasion. I know: I avoided that fate by voluntarily transferring to the armored cavalry squadron instead of the band when I had the chance.
Noting the $10.00 a hour wage spec for much of the straight symphony work that's there, and the retort that additional money would be made by working "second jobs", what needs to be considered is that those second jobs take a lot of additional time out of the day. Piling another five or ten thousand gross into the total brings up the wage to living levels only at the expense of working eighty hour weeks. Do the division again, and keep in mind that ten years from now you'll not have the vim and vigor that you possess as a young modern in the height of your college season.
And, one more time: You still can play one hell of a lot of clarinet while gainfully employed elsewhere. It's relatively cost free, you can improve your abilities to the nth degree, and in the meantime you'll have medical insurance, cars newer than ten years old, a home of your own, and a work life that doesn't resemble being chained to a galley bench.
(You can even make some decent money for it on the side. My contractors each take home just under a C note for three hours work on a Friday night, plus the included meal and (usually) the access to the open bar afterwards. Just make sure that you play both sax and clarinet, and are a damn'd good reader to boot.)
True, it won't be your life's mainstay and you will have to do something other than play clarinet to put the basics on the dinner table. But, you just have to accept that reality that people (cf the Pittsburgh Ballet's audience experience above) don't wanna pay that much for what you want to do.
As good as you (and Sabine Meyer and Roberto Gonzalez and any number of other "really good" players who are already certified as "really good") all are, it's just not good enough for commercially viable numbers of audience members to pony up the freight on a regular and comprehensive basis.
Remember that in employment, what matters is what OTHERS want you to do, not what YOU want to do.
And, classical saxophone majors...now THERE'S a topic worthy of further exploration. Word to the wise: Marcel Mule didn't spend all of that time in the French Army because he was a militarist...
leader of Houston's Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra