Seeking the Love of Music That I Once Felt
by Erin Yanacek
I remember the moment when I fell in love with music. I was 12 years old, attending a high school orchestra concert. My brother was playing horn, and while the concert was anything but perfect, it was perhaps the first time that my budding adult mind witnessed a large ensemble in performance. Captivated and slightly embarrassed, I allowed myself to cry when the music moved me. It was as though I was both hearing sound and understanding tenderness for the first time. My lungs, it seemed, were filling with oxygen for the first time, and I could not have been more infatuated. Yet in the 12 years that followed, the story has changed.
Today, it is difficult for me to listen to classical music. I leave concerts at intermission, even when the performers are excellent. I insist that the radio be off while I drive, or at least turned to a pop or news station. And at home, I can only stomach the sound of jazz, if not only the chirping of birds or silence.
And yet, my profession is as a classical musician. I play the trumpet for a living and long to be furiously in love with this art form. Why does this awful feeling plague me?
The problem likely began with the decision to create a profession out of music-making. The standard first step was a successful audition for a university that offered a Major in music. My acceptance and matriculation into a program inspired the confidence that this would be the right step toward allowing my passion to mature.
The academic system, despite its well-intentioned faculty, was lacking. Numbers and test scores were easily quantifiable, while concepts like communication through music and aesthetic value were more difficult to grade. Emphasis was often placed on skills that contributed neither to artistic development nor to a helpful understanding of entrepreneurship.
As I developed, I began to participate in the local gig scene. Orchestras, chamber ensembles, and churches provided some opportunities to get paid to perform. Here I discovered an interesting set of unspoken rules related to hierarchy, ability, and camaraderie. It was crucial to network with the right people, and it was just as important not to step on any seasoned musicians’ egotistical toes. I learned to navigate the system, but I still squirm with feelings of guilt and superficiality when I paint on a smile for a potential boss, colleague, or patron.
As time went on, I discovered that classical music does not lend itself easily to a healthy salary. Capable musicians outnumber available gigs, and thus a battle for survival ensues, where more hours of practice per day will likely win in the end. It is amazing that any musician manages to keep creativity, musicality, or originality in mind with all of our modern-day challenges.
Now it is as though my initial love and passion for music, for creative, original, fascinating sound, is quelled. Difficulties persists in trying to juggle my own creative needs with the demands of a system that I had hoped would nurture my abilities. I am left exasperated, creatively frustrated, and unable even to hear classical music without facing a flood of conflicting emotions. And yet, I stay in the field—out of habit, perhaps, but also out of hope and trust that someday, classical music will somehow register with me once again.
The prospect of changing my career path arises… or I could simply continue to follow my mentors’ advice and practice my excerpts faithfully. Perhaps I will one day arrive at a point of happiness and understanding with the craft, and my original passion will return.
I recently stumbled upon a relevant piece of advice. Renee Fleming, who is arguably the most prominent soprano in the world, had an opportunity to sing for renowned mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani in her early 20’s. Fleming had arrived in the conservatory system by way of a humble background, with music infused as an everyday part of her family life as a child. DeGaetani, hearing Fleming’s natural and intuitive understanding of music, told her, “Don’t train all that naturalness out of your voice.” What a wonderful perspective —and one that I will certainly adopt from this point forward.
I long to enjoy music. To have the same uninhibited rush of the emotion, of tears, of clarity that I did in my first experiences of listening to ensembles perform, half of my lifetime ago. It is not entirely clear to me where to turn to achieve this, but I trust that the path will present itself over time. And in the meantime—back to the practice room I go.
Articles of Related Interest from The Muse Dialogue
“Artists, Craftsmen…and the Craft of Art” by Erin Yanacek
“A Question of Arts Survival” by Andrew Swensen
“The Classical Musician’s Paradigm Shift” by Annie Gordon