so…what do you play?

Hello dear reader! Many of the posts on Conservatory Culture are directed at all classical musicians in general, but many of my viewpoints and priorities are colored by the fact that I’m a pianist myself. So I’m curious about the actual demography of my readership and how this blog can evolve to include more people–should I try to include more posts by violinists, for example? Please tell me what you play!

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What are some changes you would like to see in the world and/or culture of classical music?

changes

*More practical training for musicians. Private lessons, ensembles, theory, and music history are all valuable, but in the end, even the most brilliant teacher or talented performer will not succeed if they don’t understand basic business principles. I know far too many wonderful players who are underemployed because they don’t understand how to market themselves, behave professionally, network, etc.
*More emphasis on community outreach and education! Why don’t music degrees require community service? Music is a wonderful tool for social change, and spending hours by yourself in a practice room is not how you make the world a better place. I think that classical music’s focus on accomplishment and talent promote a wonderful culture that values hard work and excellent art, and there are a lot of ways to share this culture that are being underexploited. Everyone doesn’t have to be a prodigy who practices 8 hrs/day, but everybody can benefit from the beauty, work ethic, and interpersonal skills that music provides. Let’s start sharing!
A general advance in understanding of how better technique can be acquired, so that fewer fail because of “bad prescriptions.” Less myth and wider spread awareness of what really works, fundamentally, and practically.
A growth of composers looking not to change music but a growth of an appreciation towards music changing how composers are composing.
A much greater appreciation and literacy for classical music (and fine art in general)
More respect for the music profession, attendance to concerts, value of teachers, etc
As of now I feel as if performance has become more for show and virtuosity rather than deeply connecting to the music itself. Some performers are more worried about their facial expressions or their hair flip, and I’d like people to realize that those physical behaviors does not necessarily mean the music itself is good.
Can be more active and positive (classical music)
Common courtesy. Your average listener at a symphony concert generally doesn’t know not to be a disruption visually or audibly.
For classical musicians who spend hours practicing in solitude to realize that classical music as an art form is dying and something needs to be done about it.
Having it be more accessible to people who don’t really listen to classical, bc it’s a shame that some really great pieces are not that well known to the rest of the world
I would like to see it become less stuffy, which I think is already happening. Less concerned with propriety and perfection (although we should always be pursuing excellence!) and more interested in the enjoyment of music and its powers to express human emotions. I love hearing about the community outreach groups which are starting to bring classical music into informal environments so that children, or outsiders, can explore and even participate in classical music. I’d also love it if classical music performances in general could be made more accessible to those who can’t afford to go, or who don’t understand classical music (perhaps some educational lectures or audience participation should be explored). Increased community involvement, interaction, and education could only be a positive thing.
I would love to see elitism and snobbery in the classical music world go the way of the dinosaur. Classical music lovers have no right to whine about the lack of young people in concert halls today when formal clothing is required, cell phone use is restricted, and it’s taboo to clap in between movements. If classical musicians want to expand their audience, they need to start playing informal concerts where normal people like to go. No more stuffy concert halls and $180 dollar tickets. Music should be free.
I’d like to see more young people at symphony concerts. I’d like to see more support from government institutions to make classical music a staple of our culture they way it is in parts of Europe. I’d like to see the audition process shift it’s focus back to finding the best musician rather than the “most perfect player” or the person with the best connections.
It’s really amazing to see how much music has changed over time and across cultures. It’s also pretty much a coin toss when it comes to what’s next for music since people are constantly inventing new ways to produce sounds and create music. But if I had a choice in it all, I’d love to see music go backward instead of forward, straying from the 20/21st century and reevaluating what was created in previous periods. It would be cool to have people creating/recreating in styles that were foundational building blocks to music itself and just applying everything we know now on those types of music. I’m sure this has already been done in some form, but that knowledge exceeds me.
More classical music outside of the concert hall, and a greater variety of it. I think classical music is moving this way, but in today’s society we have access to so much music, and I’d love to see more of it being played and introduced to new audiences (or old audiences hearing new music). Anyone can find a recording of Beethoven’s 9th if that’s what they want to listen to (but I certainly don’t want to stop studying and performing pieces like Beethoven’s 9th!) A healthier balance can be found.
More exaggeration in tempo changes and rubato. Casual performances of chamber music. For guitar, we have few opportunities to just get a group together and play, so I would like to have that chance. I’d like to see more classical musicians trying electronic music in appreciation and in performance. Also, some more integration of modern music into traditional programming. And along those lines, creative programming, in that the recital is not the only format for solo or small group performers.
More focus on God.
My biggest wish is this: I would like to see students helping each other more – perhaps having a buddy system or students teaching each other. This also reaches other facets of classical music life… I wish that performers and composers went to each other’s concerts more. I wish that people knew enough modern music to understand what is high quality and powerful, and what is poorly done. That way, students could play the music written now, not just the (admittedly rich) “standard” repertoire. The other thing I would like to see is an emphasis made on moving people’s emotions, not just their intellects. Of the dozens of performances I went to in the past year, I enjoyed many, I was interested in many, but I was moved only by 2 or 3.
Song that can connect with both audiences that are uneducated about the classical genre and those that are educated in classical music.
The main change I would love to see is a moving away from the rather narrow minded and ?? mindset that the classical world has become known for. I want there to be no reason for anyone to think that a certain timbre or idea does not belong in the genre. Obviously if one does not enjoy something, that is simply a matter of personal taste, but to have someone dictate what does or does not belong in a form of art is ridiculous, and to me, the classical community is the worst offender of this.
We have to teach people about how great music is. Classical music is perceived as stodgy and boring, for old people, but we know that’s not true. We have to teach everyone how exciting and interesting and beautiful it is. We can’t blame people for not being interested in classical music, when they don’t know anything about it.
We need to practice improvising more.
Worldwide: Broader cultural awareness and respect; balancing the individual over the ego. Classical Music Culture: Embrace sound, music in all its forms; not superimpose “cult” value systems which reject everything else by nature.
So much more new and early music! So many performers are caught up in very late baroque to the beginning of the 20th century. Also i think the way we present classical music needs to move away from formality and into more relaxed, casual settings. This music is too awesome to sit silently and expressionless through! Dance! Drink!

What are some unique or valuable traits that you offer to the world and/or culture of classical music?

unique

A desire to create new music. An ability to improvise that still is lacking in many professional classical musicians. I’ve had many styles of learning and been involved in other genres outside classical music.
I…well look here are those anxieties. In a field where all my auditions feature about 500+ auditioners in just my voice type alone, it’s hard to say I have anything too unique. I come from a strong southern folk and Irish folk background and my most unique trait is probably that my voice does not fit in traditional voice fachs, (unique timbre in respect to my range and size) which can lend new colors
I’m really not certain about this yet. That’s a huge body of water with a lot of fish in it!
I love music. That’s not true of many professionals.
The ability to make classical music relevant for non-classical audiences.
I like to think that I work well with others, so playing with others in collaborative roles is easier for me. Since I have also struggled with the mental doubts that are huge obstacles to creating art, I think I’m in a better place to understand and help those who are dealing with the same issues and insecurities. Confidence comes more easily to some people than others, and I think many people often overlook the fact that these personal fears can be subdued through strategic approaches and practice. Hopefully I can explore this more and come from a compassionate perspective to help people who do struggle with these issues to realize their full potential.
Improvisational and sacred background.
I can’t offer anything so unique that no other musician possesses, besides my entire self.
*Professionalism – the ability to show up on time, prepare ahead of time, work well with others, respond to e-mails in a timely fashion, and generally go above and beyond what is expected of me.
*A wide range of skills – I am able not only to play well, but market myself, network, attract clients/students, etc. I also am able to play a wide range of styles and genres.
I’m not sure how to answer this question…I like pop music and I guess during the time I’ve studied classical music I’ve been able to incorporate a bit of my pop music to it, even with things like theory and dictation. But I’m not completely sure…
Extreme attention to detail (often sacrificing appreciation of the big picture, on the flip side)
Undying love for music from all periods and a desire to interpret in my own fashion
Drive to become a great teacher and help students to see classical music as something worth lifelong devotion
I am always listening to and watching tons of different kinds of music and performances (visual art, dance, jazz, singers, opera, ballet, all kinds of pop music), from which I draw inspiration and find new ways to improve my own playing and approach to music. Enthusiasm, openness, and a passion for reaching out to new audiences, especially young ones.
A lot of people in the classical world are “good players,” meaning that there is no shortage of talent; the way I’m different is that I approach every playing situation with an attitude of cooperation, which makes me easy (and I hope, enjoyable) to work with.
I seek to bring humor and charm to my performances 🙂 I also compose and arrange, and I perform modern music (good modern music). I also try to show what is great and unusual in any piece I play.
People are so hard on themselves in regards to their skills, technique, and performance. Everyone has their own sets of strengths and weaknesses–some were born to perform, some were born to compose, some were born to teach. There will always be someone better or more talented, so we really just need to release ourselves from this vicious little cycle. A little friendly competition is a good motivator every once in a while, but it should never be the sole factor in bettering yourself as a musician. It’s so easy to lose sight of everything you’ve worked towards and the person you were when you get involved in these petty things. “Better is the enemy of good.”
Enthusiasm, open to try new things, I really believe in outreach
100% confidence and perseverance in eventually producing something accessible and highly effective in helping pianist of all ages develop better technique to further their musical growth.
Interest in music history, and the connections both historical and present between art, music, literature, and other aspects of culture
I feel that, as a primarily electronics and dance based musician I am able to bring to the table a mindset that most composers and musicians aren’t necessarily familiar with. In using timbres and ideas more closely acquainted with genres such as techno and electro, which some classical minded artists find to be a “bad” sound, I feel like I am (hopefully) helping to open up the realm of classical composition to a more modern way of thinking.
-an emphasis on early music
-extensive study and experience in collaborative music, instrumental and largely vocal
-experience teaching a full studio of 15+ students
I want to show people the beauty of classical music and that anyone can enjoy it
Cultural exchange
Every song is open to your own interpretation and has some wiggle room as far as making it relate to something in your own life.
Exposure and integration of non-western art and philosophical thought; taking my passion for classical music and extending that and such elements into the broader world of music outside the classical realm.

What are some challenges you have faced during your study of classical music? (Mental, financial, physical, circumstantial, etc.)

challenges

Sometimes not knowing what I’m trying to show in the music or what the music is trying to show me and sometimes wondering why I’m in this line of (expensive) profession
No money, not enough food because no money, tired because not enough food.
The main challenges I have faced in my study of classical music have been not having the financial stability to sustain the upkeep of my instrument while living comfortably, as well as the mental stress brought on by long hours of practicing and/or composing to meet a deadline, resulting in a very anti-social lifestyle.
*The feeling that my music education was not making me a well-rounded person, but instead was turning me into a robot who did nothing but practice and rehearse with no thought for politics, literature, activism, etc. It’s sometimes hard to find musicians who care about the world in a more broad and engaged way.
*Hand/wrist injuries from playing too much.
Financial challenges are especially prevalent with singers. My parents are both very supportive but even application fees for the more-or-less required summer programs (pay-to-sings) pushed our budget hugely. I was rejected from programs based on the amount of aid i would need and will be graduating my program now with quite a hefty student debt. Mentally anxiety and self confidence can be hugely impacting in a career where rejection is more common than not.
Mental. Doing effective, involved, focused practice consistently is highly dependent on every other circumstance in life promoting a healthy mental state. Often times, I’m distracted, tired, or generally unfocused and have to remind myself that practice done on auto pilot only causes regression.
Mostly in music itself, how to reach the next level, how to break through to new ways of thinking and not just keep resting on old ways.
Rigors of practice, performance preparation and anxiety, some back problems. During undergrad I was about to transfer to Manhattan School of Music, but decided not to go because they offered me no aid.
Financial anxiety snowballing over into other facets -performance and physical (tendonitis)- notably.
Self-confidence, balancing work and practice, the massive amount of repertoire we are all always trying to prepare and keep fresh. Financial…tuition, extra lesson fees, instrument cost, festival cost.
I’ve faced physical challenges: my natural approach to playing my instrument has a lot of tension, so the development of my technique has had a large focus on ridding myself of this tension throughout my body – in my back, my shoulders, my arms, my face, my neck. I really feel like few people have taught me how to do this, and no one person has. I’ve had to piece together many things and reanalyze my playing constantly. This has been a frustrating struggle. When your teachers fail to see these things it can be very damaging. Luckily I was able to stop myself from doing certain things after realizing they were causing me pain and inhibiting my playing and practicing. The positive side of going through these struggles is that they are easier for me to identify in students since I had to go through them myself. I know for a fact that some of my teachers at the conservatory can no longer play like they used to be able to, not just because they are getting older, but because they are really having problems. They won’t come out and tell you these things, but after a while you gather it. There was also a prominent American pedagogue of my instrument who really ruined his hands through his way of playing. Yet he is still widely quoted and respected. So I feel like I’m in a really good place with this now, but it has been a battle and I still work on all of it every day. Other challenges are mental and emotional, some of which stem from pursuing classical music, but some are things people would go through regardless of what they begin pursuing (existential problems). A challenge for me was that I was very fortunate to attend a very good secondary school, where virtually every student goes to college afterwards. The expectations in this community are pretty high, and often times people see my study of music as something less worthwhile. Regardless of how you feel about something, when someone sends you bad energy you receive it, so it’s at times a struggle to tell people about what I’m doing when some of my former classmates are landing great jobs and opportunities, or are studying to become doctors and lawyers, etc. I’ve come to terms with these struggles in very good ways, and to explain everything may be outside the scope of this survey, but the process of arriving at my outlook now has been difficult. A lot of it is actually pressure you put upon yourself, and expectations you put upon yourself. I often feel worried that my perceived worth to society is less because I’m a musician. That’s bullshit of course, but it’s not easy to arrive at a confident and secure understanding of why such a thought is bullshit. Another challenge is that practicing doesn’t produce a finished product in the same way that other work sessions do. If I build a desk, the quality of the desk could be very good or very bad, but eventually I have a desk. With practicing you’re working on a skill, but you don’t come out at the end with a finished “product,” unless you’ve made a recording or something like that. It’s like if you were a desk-builder and the only way you could make a profit from this skill would be to build the desk in front of people, and teach people how to build the desk, because after you finish building it it vanishes into thin air.
One challenge is the feeling that everyone is so good that my chances of getting a position in a university are small. Another challenge is truly doing the work; I don’t enjoy practicing, I enjoy improving and, of course, making music. It can be frustrating when you don’t improve fast enough, or your practice doesn’t give you the results you want.
Too much physical energy to sit still or discomfort from sitting still.
I am scared to break out of my shell when it comes to emoting a song. I care too much about what others think and how they will judge me.
I’ve had a broad array of serious physical issues that have severely limited my practice time and repertoire choices. I’ve had problems with my back, neck, hands, shoulders, wrists, elbows; you name it.
Performance anxiety, financial problems. Its also difficult finding time to practice on top of classes and homework.
TENDONITIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! school costs
Self-doubt, competition among peers, job availability.
Pressure of competition from fellow students; comparing myself to other musicians; lack of motivation to practice; stress
Practice everyday is still a pain!
Physical- funding for a better instrument, education, custom fitted ear plugs
Mental- Worrying about career viability and how happiness relates to income
Physical- Worrying about hearing damage and how it could destroy my ability to appreciate music
Mental: things not progressing as I hoped they would. Trying to overcome unproductive practice habits. Not accomplishing as much as I knew I could over my first degrees. Time management!
Financial: work interfering with study.
Physical: chronic pain from not maintaining correct posture during all the time a pianist spends sitting!
I would say I’ve had it relatively easy on the hardships spectrum of things when it comes to music, but I’ve still had a few. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a challenge, but I’ve had it ingrained in me that music isn’t the most stable choice for a major or a career, so this has always been something in the back of my mind. It’s definitely made me question why I was even studying music in the first place. In regards to physical challenges, I haven’t had any major injuries, but technique has always (and is still currently) been a big part of what I think would make me a much better musician. Yes, technique isn’t everything, but it would be significantly easier to focus on the overall musicality of my pieces if I wasn’t so busy worrying about sections I know I can’t physically accomplish 50% of the time. My largest problem is probably the mental game of it all, which really hinders my performances. I can’t even begin to describe the type of anxiety I feel when I have to get on stage and perform, even though I know I’m capable of doing it and have practiced it thousands of times. I always think to myself that people must think I’m a horrible pianist by the way they hear me play on stage, but in a practice room by myself the quality, precision, and accuracy improves tenfold. I can’t really pinpoint what exactly it is that causes me to react and feel this way, but it’s something I still deal with to this day.
The biggest challenge for me has been mental/emotional. Confidence and conviction are key to being a successful performer, and I’ve found that self-doubt, or frustration at my skill level when compared to others, has often held me back from making music, or caused me to lose motivation or to question why I even chose to study classical music. However, continuing to pursue music has also taught me a lot about myself as a person, and about life in general: if you love something, keep at it. Don’t keep worrying about how you compare to others, but pursue excellence for its own sake. Heart–passion, honesty, love–matters more than technical perfection. And if you make a mistake, do it with conviction! Then forget about it and don’t let it distract you from your higher goals.
Bonus response (submitted via email):
Practicing classical music has taught me the most about life and the way I should approach anything else I do – with fervor, discipline, and purpose. “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk only tends to poverty.” Everything in life is about discipline, hard work, and luck truly is when “opportunity meets preparation”. Classical music requires years of rigorous training from a young age and throughout our childhood, we don’t really realize what we’re preparing for. After several performances, you start to reap what you sowed during those endless hours of solitude. That seemingly endless amount of time of loneliness has taught me to churn my bitterness towards practicing into love for performing. Performing is a humbling experience that once abused, can manifest itself into one of arrogance. Through classical music I’ve discovered and shaped my personality, spirit, and character. As life is all about developing yourself as a person, I’ve found this art form to be one worthy of pursuit.

Survey: What Does Classical Music Mean to You?

Introduction

  1. Many people have asked what prompted this survey, and the honest answer is personal curiosity. It’s rare for people to think deeply about the “why” behind what they’re doing, and it’s an especially relevant question when you consider the unique difficulties that classical music presents as a profession. I was hoping that the survey responses would be insightful and encouraging to everyone involved (and they certainly were for me).
  2. And a big THANK YOU to everyone who took the time and energy to fill out the survey! It’s not the easiest way to spend your free time when everyone is busy with work and school and practice. It was incredibly interesting to read all your responses. I realized that many of us are in the same boat when it comes to things like performance anxiety or financial stress, and I like that the anonymous format enabled us to be honest about our fears. It’s also uplifting to realize that many students have put a lot of thought into how they can contribute to and improve the classical music establishment, instead of just complacently accepting how it is.
  3. Lastly, my hope was to provoke thoughtful discussion, and I want that to continue after these results are published! So if you have any feedback at all (even if it’s about how I can better present the results), leave a comment or contact me anonymously in the form at the end of this post!

On to the results!

1. Where are you from?

Of the 40 people who started the survey, 24 completed it. The majority of respondents were from Washington state, with California coming in second.

location

2. What degree program are you currently in?

The majority of the respondents were in Bachelor of Music programs or had graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree.

degree

3. What do you see yourself doing professionally when your studies are completed?

Many people listed multiple possibilities, but the most popular were teaching and performing in general.

profession

Some of the responses, in randomized order:

I think I will earn most of my money through teaching private lessons, but I also want to be active in performing, whether that involves collaborative, chamber, or solo works. I’m also intrigued by the idea of arts administration or starting some form of community outreach arts organization, but that’s something that I’m just starting to explore.

Already graduated – currently a freelance musician playing with several professional orchestras and maintaining a private teaching studio. Also involved in politics as my ‘day job.’

Teaching, performing and working as a collaborative pianist, blogging about music and helping to spread classical music awareness in the community

Freelancing, working towards membership in a symphony orchestra.

The logical and most reasonable choice is teaching, and although that isn’t my life’s passion, I could still see myself doing it.

I am interested in voice injuries; I want to research what types of habits in singing lead to what voice injuries.

Teaching piano in a university as well as privately. I would also like to promote classical music, especially to young people.

The Deeper Questions

Each of the last three questions on the survey has its own separate post, with answers in mostly randomized order:

4. What are some challenges you have faced during your study of classical music? (Mental, financial, physical, circumstantial, etc.)

5. What are some unique or valuable traits that you offer to the world and/or culture of classical music?

6. What are some changes you would like to see in the world and/or culture of classical music?

Again, thank you to everyone for giving me feedback, participating in or promoting the survey, or even just expressing interest in the results! I hope the results are as interesting and beneficial to you as they were to me.

Feedback?