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 advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: reprise 
Date:   2008-11-03 19:49

Have any of you had professional aspirations and later adjusted to the life of an amateur musician? Has anybody set aside the clarinet for many years and managed to get back to a point of being able to do freelance or other professional playing?

I grew up wanting to be a professional musician -- and had much encouragement from teachers, validation from competition wins, scholarship offers, etc. I got an undergraduate and masters degree in clarinet performance from highly regarded music schools. But, I was then forced to put the instrument aside due to a combination of financial issues and health problems (the latter made focus and practicing virtually impossible).

I stopped playing completely for over a decade. Even when my health returned, it was too emotionally painful to think about trying to play again. My life is a good one. I have a career that pays well, though I don't love it the way I love music. I have a spouse, a house, all that good stuff. But the absence of music is this huge hole. Recently, I've been feeling waves of intense grief over not having continued on that path. (Yes, I have a therapist!)

I've begun playing again and while it's frustrating to see all the ground that I've lost, I am inching back toward the facility that I once had. I've joined a community performing group, too. Yet, I'm having a hard time reconciling myself to performance as an avocation, in community groups that (for obvious reasons) don't come close to the level of the orchestras & bands I used to play with in music school.

I know that it's possible I would never have "made it" as a professional musician, and that even if I did, I'd likely be living a far less financially comfortable life than I am now. But, I also didn't really get the chance to give it a fair shot.

Are any of you in similar situations? Looking for advice, inspiration, consolation... Thanks in advance.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: BflatNH 
Date:   2008-11-03 20:16

So many ways to go with this. (I gave up early and am now back and looking to do more, but pro seems unlikely at this point, but who knows...)
Life happens, some do not survive, yet you and your dream have. To have gone along another path may have been more important and necessary to why you are here. Having done what you had to do, you can bring a perspective and passion to music that some who have never left cannot. Some cannot fully appreciate something until it is gone, and when they get a second chance (as I seem to have), they will not let it pass without a full effort.
A couple of things - it is good to grieve a loss and to have others be there with you in it - thank you for sharing. Second, as to your health, Vince Lombardi reportedly said 'Fatigue makes cowards of us all', so in view of your other achievements, your heroism may have been maxed out for a few decades. Quoting the prophet Woody Allen, "80% of life is showing up." so I applaud you for putting your oar in the water wherever you can. Many people do not have the opportunities that you do have. Be flexible and available - the universe knows about you and will use you. The brain will continue to grow when challenged, and even among those with Alzheimer, the music areas seem to be the last to go. Sign up for the 120 year plan. Teach what you do know. Express your feelings in your playing - people will respond.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: GBK 
Date:   2008-11-03 21:12

You might find this thread in the "Keepers" section of interest.

It describes a close friend of mine who took an extreme approach:



 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: EEBaum 
Date:   2008-11-03 21:40

I came to a couple realizations on my own, somewhat related to what you're going through, that have helped me drop the possibility of "making my living playing for a professional orchestra."

Probably the most critical and hard to swallow is the fact that if you're not doing it, there are hundreds waiting in the wings to do it as well. And, more or less, they'll probably do as good a job at it as you would. "Yes, but that's not me!" you may say. For me, though, it came to a point of "yes, it's not you, but look how much they put into it, and how fragile their situation may be, and how some of them end up finding it a joyless repetitive experience at times."

As a composer, a brief glimpse into the world of film scoring made things like that a LOT easier to cope with. I started out really wanting to do films... this'll be great fun, I thought, and I can have my name on films and go to parties and write really cool music and it'll be fun! Then I got to scoring a couple films and found that I didn't actually like doing it, but somewhat liked having done it; much of it is thankless gruntwork, and most all of it is to someone else's specifications. And I would always hear of people who spend years only doing umpteen Disney sequels and such... the ones who had "made it", and every 10 years or so got to do a project they REALLY WANTED TO DO. And I realized that, if I didn't pursue film scoring as a career path, I could do all sorts of projects I REALLY WANT TO DO right now!

So, in a roundabout way, I came to the conclusion that, while there are big lucrative things in the music field, many are fiercely competitive and require great dedication and endless grunt work and a truckload of luck to even be considered for. Which is not to disparage people who do dedicate themselves to landing a big orchestral gig. I have a great deal of respect for that level of dedication. It just doesn't match my personality. I can only practice excerpts of Daphnis and Midsummer so long before I wonder what else I could be doing with my time. I like to try things that are new and different and weird all the time, and such a single-goal direction makes me feel like I'm missing out.

So I've concluded that if I want to do music my way, I'm going to have to take charge of the circumstances myself and not depend on outside influences to grant me a 1 in 100 (1000?) (10000?) chance at some great musical gig. I've been making plans, and putting some of them into effect, to facilitate just that. I'm applying to grad school for next fall, which would open the door to teaching positions that would keep me surrounded by musicians. I've been in contact with people to form a wind quintet. I'm starting my own business of selling my music and some T-Shirts (if all goes to plan, I'll be a board sponsor soon...). Loftier goals that I've been working on details of include opening a small, casual chamber music hall (that I think could be supported without patrons), and starting a contemporary chamber orchestra.

So there are other things that you can do, without depending on the mainstream classical establishment to provide you with opportunities. Things at a high level of musical quality, things that it's quite possible nobody else is doing. The caveat is that you'll probably have to start it yourself.

I've also come to the realization that there is a great abundance (at least in my area) of people who play at a very high level of musicianship -- who could hold their own in a major orchestra if the chance arose -- that either aren't pursuing the hardcore classical performer career path, or haven't been able to land a gig. Excellent players, with nowhere to play, perhaps playing church gigs and community orchestras to keep their chops up. They're looking for a good, fulfilling ensemble, but most don't even consider the possibility of starting one themselves. If you want to start one, they're ready for you.

As a side note, it was also very helpful for me psychologically to have my own 15 minutes of fame. I conducted the premiere of a piece of mine in Russia last year. Big to do for the local region, had multiple interviews in the papers and local television, reception with University presidents, people recognizing me in the streets. Local celebrity for a few days. Not Dudamel-level international buzz by any means, but it was something. Couple weeks afterwards, I had this great sense of calm, of "OK, that was fun, now I know what that's all about. No need to pursue fame for fame's sake any further. On to making music!"

Until grad school? I'm working as a computer programmer and network administrator for a local software company. Pays the bills, and they've been great about flexible schedules. The biggest thing pushing me to grad school (for composition) is that my musical inspiration and involvement is very closely tied to my being surrounded by musicians, and the absence of such has seen my chops and output decline significantly over recent years, a trend I intend to reverse fully.

So, don't look at what you *could have* done, look at what you still *can* do. If anything the hiatus may have been the push you needed to look at all the possibilities outside the very narrow classical-gig track.

Good luck to you!


 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: johnniegoldfish 
Date:   2008-11-03 22:31

Hey Boobie,
You could be playing in a Klezmer band in VT.
The gods and goddesses will take you where you dare.
First you think it, then you do it.
Time, cash, energy, and patience. - Melville
Oh by the way the Klezmer band has a clarinet, sorry.
Do you double on accordian.


 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: clarinetguy 2017
Date:   2008-11-04 00:26

A high school student who loves music decides to become a music major. There is nothing that this student wants more. He/she is undecided about which route to follow--performance, music ed., etc., but during the first couple years of college, it doesn't really matter. The student takes lessons, performs in excellent performance groups, and lives and breathes music twelve hours a day. When the student reaches his/her junior and senior years, decisions have to be made. Those who go the education route take plenty of education courses and student teach. Those who go the performance route realize that a masters degree is almost a necessity.
Absent from this discussion are the large numbers of students who change their majors because they realize that music really isn't for them.

In some ways, I was just like you, although I got my degree in music ed.
In high school I was one of the top clarinet players in my state, and when I went to a prestigious state university, I was one of the top freshman clarinetists in the university band. I briefly considered a career in clarinet performance, but I set this dream aside when I realized that I just didn't quite have what it took.

Music educators soon discover a very different reality outside of college in the public schools. I won't go into all the details because that is a topic for another discussion. I think I was like many other teachers--I still played fairly well on the clarinet after leaving college, but my skills definitely slipped. I just didn't have the time.

I think many performance majors discover the same thing you discovered. As a student in the protective cocoon of a university music school, you feel fantastic. Once you're forced to leave the cocoon, it's a harsh world. There just aren't that many performance jobs out there, and most of the jobs that do exist just don't pay very well.

I wonder how many people out there are truly happy in their chosen occupation. I know a lot of people who get up and go to work every day; they don't love their jobs, but they know that they have to pay the bills.
Ask yourself this question: If you had a career as a clarinet performer, how do you know that you'd really be happy?

Perhaps you can form a small chamber group and perform just for the fun of it. I know people who have done this, and they really enjoy it.

Here's something else to think about: You have a wonderful skill--playing the clarinet--and it's a skill you'll have for the rest of your life. I'd like to share three brief stories that may put all of this into perspective.

1. I recently had the opportunity to hear an adult clarinet choir. The members were of all different ages, but I could tell from watching them that they enjoyed what they were doing. One of the members was an elderly woman who was playing a contra-alto clarinet. I don't know how old she was, but if I had to guess, I'd bet that she was over 80. Watching her play made me feel so good! She seemed to be so dedicated to what she was doing, but at the same time, I could tell that she was really enjoying herself. To me, this inspiring woman represents everything that is good and pure about the world of music.

2. I know an elderly man who plays the trumpet. It was never his career, but he always enjoyed playing and he always played in bands.
He and his wife were happily married for many years, but his wife died several years ago. Her death hit him hard. He's been through some rough times recently, but he keeps on playing his trumpet. He recently said to me, "It keeps me alive."

3. I know of another man who played the clarinet as a young man. World War II and another career interrupted his clarinet dreams, and he didn't play much for a long time. When he was in his 70s and retired, he picked it up again and played in some small groups, including a jazz group. He loved what he was doing, and I'm convinced that this activity helped to keep him active and alive. I was sorry to hear about his death a few years ago, but at least his last years were filled with playing the clarinet, something he did for enjoyment.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: BflatNH 
Date:   2008-11-04 00:27

A corollary question, and a subject touched on in the 'keepers' thread cited by GBK, is that of balance for a sustainable life. A rough cut for me are reasonable portions of doing($), learning, teaching and playing.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: mrn 
Date:   2008-11-04 03:43

Except for the why and when of leaving the pro-musician track, your story sounds a lot like mine, reprise.

I was a hot shot music guy in high school. I made Texas All-State band as a freshman, was the first chair in my HS band all 4 years (we were 5A Honor Band my senior year and the top three chairs had all been All-State players), and I had played a lot of advanced stuff from Weber to Poulenc to Copland. So I was all set to major in music and become a pro symphony guy, and, like you, had lots of encouragement from a lot of people.

But, I changed my mind about majoring in music part-way through my senior year of high school. The idea of taking out a bunch of student loans to major in something where even finding what I considered to be a decent job was going to be an uphill exercise in probability made majoring in music lose a lot of the appeal. Plus I also had a knack for science and math, so it made sense to major in something technical, where at least I'd know I could get a job.

Maybe if I had actually auditioned somewhere, I might have gotten some scholarship money and if I had, I might have gone the music route (or double-majored or something), but at age 17 I had gotten kind of cynical and I was VERY naive about the music world, college, and everything else, including myself, so I sort of gave up on it before even giving myself a chance. My teacher thought I should audition for Curtis, but I blew her off because I'd never heard of the place and it was further than I wanted to travel to go to school. That's teenage logic for you. Nowadays, I'd say, "OK. You think I'm good enough for this, so I'll give it a try. It may be a long shot, but so is getting an orchestra job and at least with THIS long shot, I'm not already saddled with loans to pay back, so I have nothing to lose!" But I hadn't grown up enough to be able to think like that, so I not only did not audition for Curtis, I didn't audition anywhere!

Instead, I majored in engineering at a university with no music school, and I did well there, so I really can't complain. However, it still sometimes bothers me a little that I never got to see how far I could have gotten had I continued with music as a serious endeavor in college.

Anyway, so I was a volunteer church musician for a while in college and grad school, and then when I went to law school I joined a community band. Now this was a very different experience for me because I had been used to playing in an ultra-competitive band in the most competitive area of the most band-competitive state in the country, and this community band didn't even have an audition requirement. But it still reminded me of how much fun it was to play in an instrumental ensemble (which I hadn't done in some time), and although the group didn't play at the same level I was used to and didn't play the same level of challenging repertoire, it was still a lot of fun just to get to be a part of it. Some of the people in the group were professionals, actually, and could play at a much higher level than the group as a whole. I think they enjoyed it for the same reason I did, though--playing *my* part to *my* satisfaction and just being part of the group was more satisfying to me than what level the group as a whole was playing at. And sometimes being a "big fish" in a little community pond has its advantages. I got to play that cool solo from "Blue Shades" with the community band, for instance.

After I graduated law school, I didn't do much in the way of music for about seven years and what I did (primarily as a volunteer church musician) didn't involve much clarinet playing. What I realized, though, was that I really missed both playing in an ensemble and playing challenging music--I missed the challenge of it! So at about the end of last year I decided to start playing my clarinet on a regular basis again, pulling out old solos and etudes and such. This time, though, I auditioned and landed a spot in a semi-professional regional symphony orchestra (i.e., part volunteers, part paid professionals). We play a lot of the same stuff the big orchestras play (although not necessarily to their level of polish, of course), but perhaps more importantly, there is a real atmosphere of professionalism in the ensemble. It's a grown-up group that plays grown-up music--music that's actually worth taking home to practice! And I love it!

If you're not satisfied where you are, you may just need to find the right ensemble to play with. Of course, they're not always that easy to find--or to find an opening in. For me, it helped to be able to play in a real symphony orchestra (even as a volunteer musician) as opposed to just a community band (especially one without an audition requirement).

The other thing I realized (that I really kind of wish I had realized sooner) was that even the pros usually have a day job. Mine just doesn't happen to involve music. I noticed that the concertmaster of one orchestra around here (a 100% paid professional orchestra, mind you) just happens to be lawyer (like me). Somebody mentioned in one thread on this BBoard that there's a TV weatherman somewhere who's on the oboe sub list for a major symphony orchestra. So if you've got a Master's in clarinet performance and you're up to it, for crying out loud, just give it a shot and audition somewhere! You have nothing to lose! You don't have to have to give up a life in music just because you've followed other career plans.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: David Spiegelthal 2017
Date:   2008-11-04 04:27

Amazing how many of us have similar stories! I was a 'hotshot' bass clarinetist in high school, dreamed of becoming a symphony player, but was realistic enough to know I didn't have the talent nor the all-consuming desire to succeed as a classical musician. Got degrees in engineering, but continued to play music (classical, jazz, rock) on the side and continue to do so today, some thirty years later. Along the way picked up a little side hobby/business doing woodwind repair work and mouthpiece refacing, but fortunately have never had to make my primary income from music!

There are many, many ways to enjoy music, for musicians at every skill level --- but very few opportunities for most of us to make a living exclusively from music. So my advice would be, don't give up your dreams; just adjust your goals and expectations to meet reality half-way.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: bmcgar 2017
Date:   2008-11-04 05:15

In my youth I played professionally for a little over a year in a metropolitan symphony orchestra until an auto accident screwed up the motor control in one of my hands.

Twenty-six years later, I began playing again, then without the anxiety of looking over my shoulder to see who was nipping at my heels, trying to survive making peanuts for wages and worrying if my contract would be extended, and spending my life in a practice room.

I enjoy my musical life much more now than I ever did when the clarinet was my obsession and then my full-time job.

Why would anyone want to sacrifice being a musician to be a pro musician? It's not for the sheer love of music. (I don't buy that for a minute.) What is it about being paid for playing that means so much to some of us?

Thank heavens for that black Blazer that ran the red light!


 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Nessie1 
Date:   2008-11-04 08:23

Like many on this thread, in my teens I had hopes of playing for a living (although I was a far less advanced player at that stage than many of these people). However, the exams I needed to get into university to do music were rather a shock (or rather the results were) so I ended up doing a different subject. I have since made my living in direct marketing for a wide range of products and services. I did go through many years of regret, soul-searching and negative emotions over it all (yes, I have seen a therapist too!).

However, in between times I have taken up another instrument besides the clarinet, competed in and won prizes at music festivals, given my own lunchtime recitals, played in an orchestra and a band, attended summer schools, retaken the exams I did badly in at 18, amongst other activities, and eventually I returned to university part-time and achieved a BMus, including the final year performance option.

Of course there are times when I wish I could just once in my life play the Mozart concerto with a good orchestra (who knows? - it could just happen one day) but I still get an enormous amount of pleasure from the music I am involved in and meet all sorts of lovely people.

What I would say to you is don't let regrets about whether you actually make your living playing take away the fun and the joy of whatever music you do get involved in. Of course you still have a large part to play in deciding what exactly that will be and at what kind of level. How much time can you devote to practice and rehearsals? Can you afford regular good
quality lessons? Subs for organisations you may join etc? How understanding is your spouse? These are all the kind of things where all of us have to make choices and decisions in life and trade one thing off against another but in many cases they are not irrevocable choices. You could consider making a one-year or three-year plan for starters.

Good luck


 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: skygardener 
Date:   2008-11-04 08:37

I think if you ask for "advice for letting go of professional dreams" you have already lost part of the battle. Why not "Advice for getting professional dreams back"?

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Hank Lehrer 
Date:   2008-11-04 11:52


I always figured you were a "hot" in some way.

mrrn has got everything just about lined up except I went the music education route and was always playing professionally on the side. I did this well for almost two decades.

Then in my late 30s, I began to redefine myself and started, thanks to the GI Bill, doing flight instruction on the side. What followed was some professional GA flying and then with all my teaching experience coupled with advanced aviation ratings landed a university teaching job in aviation.

I now have well over 40 years of full-time teaching experience (16 HS and 25+ in university). I still continue some part-time distance teaching with three aviation universities currently and seem to still be in demand for curriculum consulting work. I play two night a week in very fine local communiversity bands.

I don't do gigs much any more as they have dried up and I would rather be home enjoying relaxed evenings. All this came after a bit of work getting some advanced degrees, writing and presenting, and being a self-starter.

Perhaps the approach should be "Advice for developing new professional dreams" which is a little different that skygardner's advice. It is really never too late. My dad used to say "I wish I had learned to play the accordion."


 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Steve L 
Date:   2008-11-04 11:59

Your body and finances conspired to tell you that at that time you needed to change direction.
Try to look at the situation from a different perspective. Anything we do in life is never lost, all life is just experience. Your experience at that time was to achieve a high standard of musicianship and then drop it like a stone.
'My life is a good one' (quote). That says it all, maybe it would not have been had you continued on the musical path.
If you think about it you have not really lost anything. All your skill and knowledge is still lurking in your cells.
If the community performing group do not come close to the level you were previously used to, I would say you have an opportunity to see how your influence and experience could improve the group.
Maybe your previous music training was really nothing about becoming a professional musician in the way you envisaged. Maybe you could put that experience to good effect now. I would look for the signs (and ditch your therapist :-)

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: stebinus 
Date:   2008-11-04 14:00

For a long time I wanted to be a pro but realized finally the pressure and competition weren't for me. Later on I developed a repertoire of jazz arrangements with recorded accompaniments and played them in nursing and retirement homes which turned out to be very satisfying. Think of what you have to give and who would benefit from it.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Jaysne 
Date:   2008-11-04 15:34

We all hear inspiring stories about people who, despite the odds, work hard at their craft and grow up to triumph over adversity, with many of those stories having to do with musicians like yourself.

While they are indeed inspiring and motivating, the fact is that for every hard-working person who succeeds, there are probably 1000 who are equally as talented (or more so), who work just as hard (or harder) who don't succeed. Life just isn't fair.

So with that in mind, I wouldn't beat myself up about what could have been. I myself went to music school in my mid-30s and for three years worked harder than anyone else at my sax playing. Guess what--many, many people were still better than me. I gave it a fair shot, and still didn't get what I had hoped for. But so what.

It sounds to me like you have a great life--much more than most people, and certainly more than many professional musicians. Be thankful for what you have, and keep practicing. Eventually you will retrieve most of what you had on your clarinet, and that hole in your life will slowly close up. And the better you get, the more groups you'll play with, and you'll start to meet better players--including some who are way better than you ever were, even in your heyday. And that will revive your creative juices, which will be therapy itself.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: reprise 
Date:   2008-11-04 15:44

Wow -- I am truly overwhelmed at the compassionate responses from all of you. I am new to this board and frankly was a bit afraid I would come back and read things like, "Oh, get over yourself and quit playing once and for all. Obviously you were never good enough."

bmcgar: That's a good question -- why does being paid seem to mean so much to us? I've wondered about that, too. I think part of it is about our culture's obsession with "professionals" -- although I know intellectually that it is not accurate, there is a sense that anything amateur is also inferior. Or maybe it has to do with how tied people tend to be to our jobs as our identity -- so if music is "just" an avocation, not something that we get paid for, then it isn't our "real" identity? And I know for me -- as it sounds like for many of you -- music is such a deep part of me that to not have it be a central part of my identity feels like chopping a hunk of my soul off.

In any case, I am truly touched by all of your responses and creative ideas and encouragement --- and I am feeling more optimistic than ever this morning about figuring out a way to bring music back into my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Tony Beck 
Date:   2008-11-04 15:56

One of the things I’ve noted about talented people is that most have talents in many areas. You can see that just from the responses here. Part of life is making decisions, and most of those decisions involve tradeoffs. You simply can’t do everything you have a talent for, especially at the level you know you could achieve. Usually, those talents that have the best returns (family, money, lifestyle, mobility, you name it) aren’t necessarily the ones you enjoy the most. Therefore, the choices you make aren’t the one you wish you could have made, and it can be very hard to put away the what-ifs and if-onlys. Still, as long as you keep your talents in mind when choosing, your first choice isn’t the only one that can lead to fulfillment. As you are discovering, that choice doesn’t preclude developing and enjoying your other abilities too.

Most of us have been through painful career decisions. It’s a part of life. As a teenager I wanted more than anything to be a professional pilot. I worked at the airport starting at age 13 and got a pilot’s license about the same time as a driver’s license. Events conspired to close that door. After a couple side trips, I went into engineering, which I enjoy very much, but not as much as flying. That too involved several weighty decisions. For instance, do I take the “perfect job”, or live where my family is happiest.

In the meantime, music has always been a part of my life. I played clarinet in high school and in college, and made a few regional bands. I was far from pro material, but did well enough to cover the humanities requirements and keep my GPA up. For a long time after graduation, my playing was limited to the stereo. When my daughter started in her school band, her teacher recruited me into the local community band. After a layoff of about 20 years, it was great to be playing again. That eventually led to a gig with a local German Band every October.

There was an interesting study done a few years ago which concluded that most people don’t choose a career, they more or less fall into one through circumstance. Given the huge number of opportunities, that’s understandable. In fact, it shows in the posts here. Ultimately, you get to discover those opportunities and make the choices. The secret is to not be a passenger on this trip. Keep driving, wherever the forks and turns in the road lead.

Like the old Eagles song concludes; “It really wasn’t wasted time.”

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: mrn 
Date:   2008-11-04 16:21

Don't forget that the original meaning of the word "amateur" comes from the Latin word for love. An amateur musician is someone who makes music simply because they love music! Being an "amateur" doesn't mean you're not as good. There are plenty of amateurs out there who are better than a lot of professionals.

Ever read Sherlock Holmes? He was a fictional character, of course, but he's a good literary example of an AMATEUR detective who's every bit as good--in fact, better--than the professionals. There are people like that in all kinds of fields, but especially in music.

I personally dislike the term "avocation," because it implies doing something you have no calling to do (because it literally means "away from one's calling"). For many of us amateurs, we feel as "called" to music as anyone else. We just have another way we pay our bills (and, truth be told, so do a lot of professionals).

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: stevesklar 
Date:   2008-11-04 17:20

So many great responses.

In HighSchool and college I had great aspirations. I was actually in a college music program (sax & clarinet) while still in High School - Wayne State - that opportunity was free thanks to my band director. Anyways I went to college full-time (UM) but quickly learned that I had a medical allergy to cigarette smoke (and other pollutants). And back then it was everywhere - concert halls, weddings, bars, etc

So I could not be a performance person back then. very disappointing to say the least. Music Ed wasn't my cup of tea and I ended up in a completely different field. Any of course my daily job isn't related to my degree !!

But back then I also got into repair and have kept at it over the years. So at least I get to play a variety of clarinets all the time.

I do "sub" in local bands (mostly jazz, college). To keep it exciting in the college bands I try to not do more than 3 or 4 practices before a concert so that i have to keep as sharp as possible. great sightreading too.

clarinetguy - I'm in soufthfield/troy MI too - shoot me an email and maybe we can get together for duets (you have no email in your profile).

Stephen Sklar
My YouTube Channel of Clarinet Information

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Ed 
Date:   2008-11-04 19:20

While I don't want to sound like a Hallmark card or self help book which offers a one line fix-it quote, I find it somehow appropriate to think of the line by John Lennon,

"Life is what happens when you are making other plans"

There are likely few of us who have the lives that we might have planned 10, 20 or more years ago.

I think you are on the right path. Remember the joy that music brings to you. Don't be caught up with what might have been, but instead with where you are today. Move forward. Don't be caught up with status.

In every area there seem to be good musicians. Many may have other day jobs, not only as teachers or church musicians but as lawyers, doctors, business people, etc. It may be worthwhile to find some that share your interests and play some chamber music or other.

Good Luck and let us know how it goes.

(now I just have to remember to bookmark this thread for the next time I get frustrated!)

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: malanr 
Date:   2008-11-04 20:23

All I have to say is WOW!

I guess my advice is, if you love it, do it.

I didn't realize how much i missed playing until i picked it up again. and now i'm starting to repair, practice, teach, and worst of all, I'm working on putting a community band together. (my wife is gonna kill me)

Life is why i quit playing in the first place, and now that i have a 7 month old, i realize that life goes by much too quick to let something slip away.

I'm gonna have something to teach my son.


Just another muscian

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: weberfan 
Date:   2008-11-04 21:31


I've wanted to play the clarinet since I was 8 or 9. I tried when I was 9--fourth grade--and gave up. Afraid to be bad. At 27 I tried again. Too busy, and daunted, as well, by the work involved and the fear of failure.

At 59, after thinking about it for so many years, a friend said, "You're just sitting around waiting for your life to begin." There was always something, and it was easy to rationalize: kids, career, you name it.

But this time I could taste it. More than a year ago, I found a teacher, bought a reconditioned clarinet and started fresh. If my passion is ever matched by my skill, Sony will sign me to a recording contract. But don't hold your breath.

My deep regret? That I no longer have decades left to learn what you and so many others on this board already know about playing. That I may never have the speed or skill I crave. But I'm making up for lost time, learning to be patient and playing joyfully every day. And looking forward to chamber work and, maybe, even a community band. As I told my wife, who is less interested in reeds than I am, at least I don't play golf.

And I'm very glad to know you are playing again, too.

Post Edited (2008-11-04 21:34)

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Claire Annette 
Date:   2008-11-04 22:07

My own story has been reiterated in this thread many times.

I chose the music ed. route instead of performance...then did nothing with that degree, really. I have my master's in another area and laid my clarinet down for more than two decades, teaching the occasional lesson here and there.

While I realize that trying to go pro isn't an option for me at this point in my life, Istarted playing again, in earnest, a year ago. I'm teaching clarinet again and I play in a community group. It's hard to walk into an organization, though, that doesn't know your background and where the highest players have been grandfathered in just because they've been there the longest. While I love to practice and to play, this is a huge frustration for me right now.

As for playing in groups as quality as those ensembles we remember from high school, college, and graduate days, the closest I've been able to come lately was volunteering to play in an ensemble that was put together for a university conducting seminar. It was liberating and an immense pleasure to once again play amongst musicians (all adults and music grads) who played musically and who played well.

Perhaps the original poster can find such opportunities through a local university, especially if that university's clarinet section needs additional players?

Don't forget church opportunities as well. Especially around Christmas, jobs abound for orchestral players willing to attend a couple of rehearsals and play for cantatas. Same with Easter. Larger churches that can pay well usually bring in good musicians who need very little rehearsal.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: reprise 
Date:   2008-11-06 16:59

Thank you to all who've responded so far -- and mrn, thanks for the reminder of what the word "amateur" actually means! You've all been a great font of wisdom and inspiration.

And so, newly inspired, I'm jumping back on the horse to see where it will take me. I have a lead on some clarinet teachers in the area to help me get back into shape, ordered some new music & supplies, and I'm trying to imagine a new set of goals for myself.

It is refreshing, I will say, to have money this time around. I remember struggling as a music student without any family financial support or safety net --- and envying other students who could buy new equipment, hire accompanists, and jet off to Aspen or Banff for the summer. I'm finding a satisfying freedom in the money from my job -- even if I don't love it, I have enough money to spend on clarinet related stuff now.

Now I'll move on to figuring out how to balance a demanding work schedule with enough time for practicing and playing...

Thanks again everybody! I'll keep you posted!

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Ryan25 
Date:   2008-11-06 18:36

I would just like to add two simple rules to live by if one chooses to try and be a professional. These are not rules meant to attack anyone or imply anything.

1. The most important aspect to becoming a professional is your work ethic. You have to work harder than you think is possible. No matter how good any of us think we are, we will never be good "enough". Talent is abundant in many people and is manifested in each of us in different ways. Talent and love is just not enough. You have to out work everyone you know and don't know and you have to even out work your own ideas. I have never met a great player that did not bust their butt. People I know that have won auditions lately practice more than you can possibly imagine.

2. No matter how good we get or how good we "think" we are, this does not entitle any of us to anything. The world is not against you and auditions or limited jobs is not something you should take personally. Great players are all over the place that could hold a variety of positions in big groups. Just because we work really hard, have the passion and desire, does not mean there is a job for us. That's not the way it works. Too many musicians I know that are tremendous players get burnt out because they assume their skill and desire entities them to opportunity. In a perfect world it should but it just does not work like that.

I say if you can accept things you can not control and work as hard as you can despite not having a good performing situation, then go for it and don't look back. The only thing any of us can control is working as hard as we can to be prepared for opportunities that come our way.

Good luck and be free in your journey. Don't play and improve to make money or get a job. Try and always aim for a higher ideal than that. Otherwise, it's a recipe for disappointment. Just work as hard as you can. Fight to improve everyday and most importantly, listen to music and other musicians as much as possible.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Ralph Katz 
Date:   2008-11-08 23:58

Musicians are like athletes and there are more aspirations than jobs. We are filled with dreams as children, based on our limited experience. Those people whose extended life experiences have validated their childhood dreams are indeed fortunate, and mostly have great parents and teachers to thank. But I also know there plenty of people with the sense to move on.

Quitting is hard, even when there are concrete rewards for doing so. I know plenty of talented musicians who have quit and moved on to better jobs, but also know plenty who have hung in there over the decades, cobbling together their lives.

It is very difficult to face quitting. We are told not to quit, and there is an implicit shame in doing so. I quit a job in 1974 and my friends and relations all told me what a stupid thing I had done. When shortly thereafter, my former employer laid off people with way more seniority than me, it became apparent that I had done a smart thing. I have had a hard time talking to all those jokers ever since, but those who hung with me are still golden.

I quit playing clarinet altogether in 1976. When I started again 4 years later, I had a much better job, some stability, and a good relationship. The relationship went out the window when I started playing clarinet again. My playing sure hasn't been the same since I quit. But I have also learned a lot since then, too.

I knew plenty of people in my parent's generation who would have stuck with their career no matter what, right up until their early demise. Look around; you are likely to see a lot of vibrant career-changers.

A relative's husband quit practicing law to pursue his dream of teaching elementary school, and made a go of it, but ended back in law. It is easy to label people who do things like this as "flip-floppers", but few of us are running for public office. This lawyer is a really cool guy, who has been doing an unbelievable job raising his son since his wife died. Was his stint in the classroom really some sort of training ground, a result of divine providence? Sure looks like that to me.

Post Edited (2008-11-09 00:12)

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Jaysne 
Date:   2008-11-09 18:04

You know, I've played with plenty of musicians in community groups who are, simply put, good enough to be professionals. I can think of two different tenor sax players with whom I've played in part-time big bands who blew me away with their soloing chops.

Another lead alto player I played with in one of those bands had the prettiest tone I've ever heard. And the solo trumpet player constantly astounded me with his inventiveness.

All these guys had normal day gigs and did music for recreation. But I could listen to them for hours. They just chose a different path than their full-time gigging brothers.

My point is, just because you're not a full-time professional doesn't mean you can't play like one. Sounds to me like with some time, you'll be able to fit quite nicely into that category.

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: reprise 
Date:   2008-11-11 16:00

I just came across a relevant -- and beautifully written -- memoir called "Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music" by Glenn Kurtz. He's a classical guitarist, trained at New England Conservatory, who then gave up the instrument completely for many years. The feelings of loss he describes upon giving up the instrument are exactly what I felt -- and his description of the new perspective he gets from returning to music later on is truly inspirational. I highly recommend it!

 Re: advice for letting go of professional dreams
Author: Hank Lehrer 
Date:   2008-11-12 16:24


May I nominate this thread for the Keeper Hall of Fame when the discussion runs its course. There is a tremendous amount of insightful wisdom here that needs to be preserved.

I've really enjoyed the stories. Great stuff! Extremely inspiring.


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