For pianists and other musicians!
I have been asked this question many times from students, from friends and from people that hear me play the piano.
In my opinion being a musician is great! I’m a pianist; I love music and I love the piano.
I love instruments. I love the violin for its wonderful, piggy sound, I love the oboe, I adore the clarinet I admire the artistry of the music technology people. I like music. I love it.
I just can’t imagine myself doing something different. When you are a pianist and a piano teacher like me, you get to see lovely faces, happy faces all the time and they come to you when they are ready to create. How good is that? Compared to a doctor, of course, that only sees sad faces; except when he is giving the news of the death of someone’s mother-in-law.
But being a pianist or any other type of musician is not for all.
If you want a straightforward job, a square job, then don’t become a musician. It’s not an easy profession; it’s hard. Music is for those who want to “suffer” all their lives; but suffer in a good way. I know music is hard, but somehow I like it. It’s strange, isn’t it?
When you are about to decide what to do in your life or you are making a career choice, you must think carefully. You need to tackle a few important questions if you choose to become a musician, such as: Is music for you? Do you really like your instrument that much that you are willing to play it in the longer term? Do you like playing with others, especially with difficult cases such as singers for instance, that like to pull stunts before concerts? Do you like traveling? Do you like traveling in not so nice places (usually)? Would you mind not having a regular income (in many cases)? Would you mind chasing people to give you your payment for the lessons that you taught weeks or even months ago?
Because, let’s face it. If you are not a top, top virtuoso, chances are that you might have to answer some of the questions above.
I never try to persuade my students to become musicians. I leave it to them; I never advocate it. I might ask what they would like to do after school, when they are 17 or 18 years old, but I never try to talk them into becoming musicians. If they say to me that they want to become pianists or work in the music industry, fine. I will help them, as much as I can, to realize their potential; but only if they express the desire.
As you may understand, pushing someone to do something is never nice, especially when it comes to important decisions in life. If someone is eager to become a musician, I know it. I can sense it like the eagle senses its pray, I can see it in the eyes, I can hear it the voice and I can feel it in their performances. I just know. The reason is because I used to be one of those eager people.
I remember that I was dying to become a musician since I first started keyboard lessons and I constantly did things to achieve it. My teachers knew it too, not because I was the best of students when it came down to musical performance, but they knew it because I always tried my best. And I NEVER missed a lesson in all my years as a student. Does it sound impossible? Well, it’s the truth. You can ask my piano teachers. Even when I had the flu, or suffering with ear aches, severe stomach pains or high fever, I would still go to my piano lesson.
At the same time I would not accept when people tried to discourage me; even when they were realistic and right I would ignore them. I would pretend I listened to them but somehow I would think that they didn’t “know” me. I would say to myself that they didn’t “understand” my potential. I was naive, yes, but I only listened to the ones that believed in me. I only appreciated the ones that even though they may have known I wasn’t a fine musician they would still encourage me. The rest? They were history.
Of course, I was also blessed to have studied with amazing teachers and pedagogues, but that’s another story. To cut to the chase, I have been lucky.
Because luck plays a very important role in our lives; especially when taking decisions. When you are about to make a career choice , luck can play an important role. Because if I didn’t go to a pivotal concert many years ago and instead went to the theatre to see a friend playing a “tree”, maybe my life would have been completely different today. At the time I didn’t know what was the right thing to do. Go to a piano recital, or go see my friend play a tree? I couldn’t decide. I felt guilty for not going to watch my friend’s role, but I knew that I just had to go to that recital. It was fate. By sheer luck I chose to go and this changed my life. I got inspired and that night I made some serious decisions about what I wanted to do in my life; just in a couple of hours. Funny, isn’t it?
It was pure luck too when my father traveled to Athens for his work when I was 7 years old and was urged by my mother to buy me a tiny keyboard for a Christmas present. This gave me the opportunity to start learning some tunes by ear before I went on to start my first keyboard lessons. Moreover, luck it was when a well respected pianist and teacher heard me playing the keyboard in an exam when I was 12 and suggested I should pick up piano instead, because I had “talent”. This and that and the other thing; the list of luckiness is long.
So you need to be lucky. But remember! In order to be lucky, you have to “call” the goddess of fortune and luck; you have to put yourself in the situation to be lucky. Since, if I didn’t like playing the keyboard at all, and wasn’t playing well on that particular exam, that teacher wouldn’t have appreciated my keyboard playing.
But with luck, comes failure. I have failed countless times in my quest of becoming a musician. And because of those important failures – that are many more than the successes – I appreciate even more the fact that I can play the piano today and teach my wonderful students.
Failure is an essential part of living fully and successfully. So when deciding if you want to become a musician you need to welcome failure as much as being ready to greet success.
Be prepared to experience sleepless nights thinking that you didn’t deserve to be rejected on that audition. Be prepared to “swallow” that your friend played worst than you in that piano competition, but he got through to the next round and you didn’t. Be ready, to be let down by many years of friendship that went astray when your friend didn’t tell you about that orchestral audition and you didn’t get the place as a violinist. (You remember that Stelio? That’s for you). Yes… be ready to be let down… a lot.
But after the dust settles, and the “night” has finally departed, you may call yourself a musician. You deserve it.
So yes: failure, success, luck, are all part of being a musician . And all those things should be welcomed by you. As for me, somehow I like failing. I know it sounds strange but I like failing and I like failing a lot; I like it because I can say to myself that at least I tried; and because when I succeed it feels even better. I become wiser and stronger.
I might run out of cliché expressions to paraphrase in this article, but if you are not ready to go to war, don’t even start.
So, to recap:
Music is great as it is. If you want to do it, do it. If in any doubt, then think twice about it. It’s a lovely thing to be a musician but it’s also nice to just listen to it and not getting involved professionally. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t forget of course that a musician is anybody who is involved with music in one way or another, but they don’t necessarily do it as a profession; well, my friend has a different opinion and thinks that music graduates who stopped doing music after college they have “chickened out”, but I disagree.
And more importantly, please, do some practising and stop reading pointless articles! 😀
Haha the last sentence got me there! Gonna go practice right now
Thank you for liking my article. Good luck to your future musical endeavors.
Your articles are witty and fun to read. I’m far from a professional musician, but work with young piano students and am an aide for a junior college music theory class….while continually learning to do all I can to help the students learn to learn. 😀 This article was helpful as many of these students want to get a ‘music degree’ but have not taken any private lessons on their instruments, or have played very long. Some show such a passion for music, others not so much. Thank you for your words/articles to keep my mind open and fresh with thoughts for students and myself.
Anna, thank you very much for your kind words. As you said, our job is to “help the students learn to learn”. I couldn’t agree more.
We just have to help them realize their musical desires. However, it’s up to them, through their own provenance and drive, to make it in the music business.
We just teach them, and hope for the best.