Musician’s lament

Orchestra performance
Nailing a musical piece requires a significant investment of time and effort, so why do so few people attend the concerts? (Photo by lorenzog used under Creative Commons license)

By Cindy Benton

Students of classical music are often reminded of the decline in our field. With the rise of technology taking over the production of music and society’s tendency to favor watching the excitement of the newest Hollywood blockbuster over the thrills of a Mahler symphony, our future as musicians aren’t looking too great.

So imagine my excitement when I was told Eric Overholt, a native of Bethany, Oklahoma and the current Associate Principal Horn with the LA Philharmonic, would be coming to SNU to teach a couple of workshops and a master class. A great amount of what this field is about is the connections you make, and as a fellow horn player this one was a phenomenal opportunity. Also, just knowing that someone from the same area actually made it by landing a fantastic job was a great encouragement to me. As I got to talk to him more about his journey, I found that it wasn’t an easy one.

He reminded me how much work being a musician takes, and it completely overwhelms me every time I think about it. Personally, I spend at least 6 hours a week in rehearsals. Go ahead and add in a couple of more hours for weeks with dress rehearsals and performances. Then there’s daily practice time, which for a serious musician should be around two to three hours. We’re now at a minimum of 20 hours a week. In addition to a 17-hour course load, homework, and a 20-30 hour workweek, there’s not even a chance to think about attending Ice Blocking or SNL.

I’ve played sports for most of my life, and I can say that the time commitments for a musician are equal if not greater. There’s a great surrender that has to happen as you study scores, figure out balance within the ensemble, and simply try to convey a message or emotion through music. It’s not only extremely mental but can be a great physical exertion as well. I know that there are times I’ve finished playing with sweat dripping off my face and my body struggling to support itself from sheer exhaustion.

Music requires great discipline and devotion, and I’m not sure musicians receive the recognition they deserve for the hundreds of hours put into a single performance.

Mr. Overholt mentioned a study by Malcom Gladwell that states it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. For me, that means roughly 10 years practicing just to get good enough to have a shot at one of ten jobs that might open up for a horn player against hundreds of other players wanting the exact same thing. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but there still is the question of why we put ourselves up against such slim odds.

The simple answer is the love of the music. There’s very little I’ve found that’s more satisfying than performing in front of a group of people, after putting in countless hours to make it perfect, and nailing it. I mean really nailing it. It’s like training for months, getting to play in the championship game, and being the one that scores the winning goal.  So to walk out onstage and see only people that are required to be there can be a bit discouraging. You know- friends, family, and students that are there to receive points for Fine Arts.

I guess all of this is to say, consider supporting your peers by attending a concert once in a while. Go to a recital. Feed into the community of the student body that SNU so proudly boasts of. Sure, some of the selections will be a bit cheesy. You might not like every piece on the program; I can guarantee that there are people performing that feel the same way. However, I am betting that there will be something that takes you by surprise and sweeps you of your feet if you allow it to. Consider giving music a chance and musicians an opportunity to share with you why we love what we do.

  1. Wonderful comments about how much time it takes for a musician to be accomplished.