My husband and I saw a wonderful movie last night called A Late Quartet. It stars some fabulous actors, including Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and takes viewers into the lives of four musicians who play in a popular chamber group. The foursome, who've been together for 25 years, are devastated when their cellist (Walken) announces that he has Parkinson's Disease -- and their lives are suddenly turned upside-down and inside out.
I enjoyed the movie because the music was a big focus; there's even a fight over first chair, which I took as a shout-out! But what I really loved was how the story explored the messy dynamics between the quartet members. These musicians had been together for so long, they'd become family -- and as in many families, you had intense fights and heartbreaking betrayals. The final scene was so powerful, it made my eyes tear (and I rarely cry during movies), and the movie audience clapped with approval during the credits. I highly recommend seeing it regardless if you're a musician yourself.
After, my husband and I went to dinner and Jon questioned why I never became a professional musician in the traditional sense, meaning why didn't I join an orchestra or a chamber group? The simple answer: I just didn't want to. Though I was a very competitive flutist in high school, I didn't LIKE being competitive. I usually did well, but it was stressful. I often got up at 4:30 a.m. to get in some practice before school (my parents were early risers so this wasn't an issue) and lost sleep over auditions. If I didn't get a good score or make a particular orchestra, I'd be in tears. I felt almost trapped by being a skilled player because so much was expected of me and I wasn't playing music because I liked it. I just liked being good at it.
The times I did have fun performing were in jazz band and musical pit orchestra, where I played sax. These weren't very competitive groups so I could just relax and enjoy myself. As a group, we worked hard, but there was no fighting over chairs or fighting for a score from judges.
In college, I lightened up a great deal and remembered why I loved to play the flute so much. I wasn't a music major, so it no longer bothered me if I wasn't first chair. At that point, I stopped caring if I was even a part of the first section. I just wanted to play and have a good time. I still practiced a lot, but it was more for myself. I learned how to play clarinet and was proud to be one of the few "triplers" in school.
Still, while I participated in plenty of ensembles, I had no interest in taking "serious" music classes like composition or music theory. During my junior year, my jazz band instructor insisted on giving me private lessons where he taught me some theory and honestly, I hated it. I much preferred playing music as a hobby and wanted to give more time to writing for the local newspaper. He was a teacher whom I respected, but his lessons made me quit the jazz band for a semester because I needed to get away from him.
When I was in grad school, I tried out for a local orchestra and the conductor turned me down because he thought that me not being a music major meant that I wasn't a serious performer. I was angry at the time, but looking back, he was right. I wasn't. I was serious about becoming a journalist. I didn't want to practice flute for six hours a day and then spend hours in rehearsals. Playing the flute for an hour or two in band was enough for me.
These days, I do consider myself to be "professional" because I'm skilled enough that I make some money from playing the flute. I performed with a band for several years, taught at camps and gave private lessons, play at weddings and even put out a CD. But I mainly think of music as a hobby. I know that if I put in more time, I could be a lot better than I am, but I'm happy where I'm at. It fits into my life nicely along with my writing and jewelry making.
In high school, I didn't really care about the music; it was more about being the best -- or one of the best -- at something. I now play BECAUSE I love music and the flute, and I'm much, much happier.
For more musical stories, please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD. FREE on Kindle today, November 10!