In my short life experience so far, so many classical musicians spend so much time learning how to do music that we so often neglect to reflect on why we do music in the first place. I was helping a saxophonist friend of mine consider his options as a classical saxophonist. After brainstorming a few ideas with him, I eventually asked him, "Why do you play the saxophone?" He stopped and thought. After a while, he told me that he hadn't thought about that in a long time. A busy couple of degrees had taught him how to play well. Yet, he could think of why he even played the saxophone to begin with or what he hoped to get out of his career. Eventually, we agreed that he couldn't make a good career decision if he didn't know what he wanted out of his (saxophone) life.
Later that night, I wondered why I was still attempting to have some career in music. What continues to draw me to the art? Why have I spent so much time in a practice room? Why should I continue striving to do something musical? If the next several years will be devoted to building this career, only an articulated why would help me through the difficult times. I have often flirted with other fields, transitioning into something more traditionally corporate, and abandoning what has already been a difficult road.
After weeks of reflecting, I remembered why I slid into a music double major, why I joined a military band program instead of going to law school, why bringing musicians together brings me joy: as a political science major and debater in my undergrad, I studied evil things. In my master's, I studied various aspects of global policy. The world has truly terrible, horrific things in it. I have looked into the yawning abyss, that chasm of human misery and stood frozen. How do you respond to awful things? From some unknown part deep within me, I responded by seeking to create something beautiful through my clarinet and later, after some very difficult times in my life, through building ensembles. I cling to music like a raft. Only a few years ago did I hear Bernstein's response to violence, and it has resonated deeply with me. "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." What else can be the response to the dark things that would crush our souls and extinguish the human spirit? To me, Beauty and the creative process that invokes it fuels hope, our dreams of a better world, and most importantly our spirits. My performances and my work to bring musicians and audiences together through concerts has been in service of creating this fuel for a better world.
All musicians (and artists) dream. I would submit that the professional music world would be better if we spent more time exploring our dreams (beyond winning an audition) and why. What is your dream? What's your why for doing music?