"That's a Hard Job!"
One of the first things a fellow musician usually says when I tell them I play in the MET Orchestra: “That’s a hard job!” The long hours, the constantly shifting repertoire, the extremes of character on any given night…it’s challenging. (In fairness, is there really such a thing as an easy job? I don’t think so, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
I knew this going in—I knew it before I even showed up at the audition. Or at least, I thought I did. Perhaps unconsciously, my assumption was that the “hard” part would be working my tail off to be as prepared as possible, resulting in a succession of performances that would end with wiping my brow and saying, “Phew, I’m glad that went OK.” I couldn’t conceive of allowing anything to go truly badly, because I was convinced I just wouldn’t let it happen.
The problem is, that’s not how it goes. Despite your best efforts, sometimes you just won’t play all that well, and that’s a hard thing to deal with—especially when it’s in front of colleagues you respect immensely and 3,800 expectant audience members. It’s an intense sensation (especially as a 23 year-old) to come down from initial thrill of winning an audition and realize that you’re now expected to be a leader among musicians who were on a pedestal just days ago. To me, the truly hard part of the job is when I feel that I’ve failed to live up to that expectation.
I learned an immense amount from Larry Rachleff, the deservedly-renowned music director of the Shepherd School Symphony. One thing in particular that he said has stuck with me most of all. When asked what it “takes” to make it as a musician, he always responds, “The ability to keep trying when you won’t get what you want 75% of the time.”
There’s this notion that if you win a great job, you’ve figured everything out. But the reality is, we all exist on a continuum on which we’re always trying to improve. In practical terms, that means you won’t get what you want (in this case, living up to a certain standard) every single time, especially at first. I like to think that I’ve improved (actually, I’m pretty positive I’ve improved a lot), but those first couple of years, and the first year in particular, were hard. How did I come to terms with that? Next time.