I find that there is something wonderfully peaceful and magical about watching someone prepare to do something, whether it is before a soccer player takes the field, a ballerina takes to the floor, a musician begins to practice, or a painter puts his or her brush to the canvas. There is almost a palpable anticipation for what comes after the warm-ups or preparations are complete because just from watching them, you know that you are in for a treat; they have had years to refine and hone not only their skill or art, but to practice their preparatory rituals as well.
Before I unpack, I put my case down and stretch – right shoulder, then left, flex and hold my right wrist for a forearm stretch, then the left. Bend and hold fingers on the right hand, do the same for the left. Shake it out, then open the case. Violin out, attach shoulder rest, remove bow from case and tighten before applying rosin. G major scale, 3 octaves, 2 notes per bow. Then 3, then 4, then 6, then 8. Then arpeggios. What comes after depends on my mood, but these parts are always the same.
There is a huge rift between expectations and pay between professional musicians and professional athletes. For the sake of comparisons, when I say professional musicians, I’m referring to classical and jazz musicians as even at the peak of success, they do not make nearly as much money as popular musicians even though they put in significantly more work (I’ll go into this argument later). Similarly, regarding my definition of “professional athletes”, I will be referring to football, hockey, basketball, and all those sports that pay their players obscene amounts of money regardless of whether they win or lose.
What sparked these thoughts? I recently picked up my violin again for the first time in months. I didn’t play much because my wrist hasn’t been in the greatest shape, but Doris, if you’re reading this, be proud of me because I’ve only mostly been working on scales, etudes, and Bach. Playing the violin again reminded me of many conversations I had with musician friends throughout the years. Having spent lots of time around musicians of all sorts growing up, we all joke about growing up and living in a paper box – we only say this half-jokingly. Almost every professional musician I know has to work at least two or three jobs; sometimes those jobs have to do with music, but a lot of the time those jobs don’t. Two examples of this that immediately come to mind:
Classical music can be very intimidating to get into. With such a large volume of music spanning centuries and many different genres, it is impossible to pick a good starting place without guidance. I will be writing an article on this at some point in the new future, but for today, let’s assume you are simply interested in attending a live classical music concert near you.
We as classical musicians are a very snobby bunch. We expect people to come into our hallowed concert halls and know exactly what to do and what not to do. The modern act of sitting down in (hopefully) completely silence in a concert hall is actually a fairly new practice – in classical music’s earlier years, it was perfectly normal to stand up, mill about, have a chat or a drink with a friend while Haydn’s latest creation was blasting behind you. This is not the case anymore and if you don’t have a friend to explain what’s going on to you, you will probably be completely as oblivious as I was when I first stepped into a concert hall myself.