The start of my journey as a hornist was very unconventional. When I signed up to play in band during 5th grade I wanted to play the trumpet. However, there were already too many trumpet players so I played the saxophone (alto, tenor, and baritone) from 5th grade into high school. I was a good saxophone player for my age, but during all of that time I still wanted to play the trumpet.
During the first semester of my sophomore year of high school my band director asked for volunteers to learn to play a few notes on the horn for a piece at our first concert. Her current student-teacher at the time was a horn player and he would teach anyone who was interested how to play. (There were no horn players in our high school band.) I don't remember how, but I mistakenly volunteered. Since it was as close as I was ever going to get to ever playing a trumpet I decided not to correct the mistake. Three other students also volunteered. We only played horn on one short piece. On every other piece we played our primary instruments. Everyone including myself expected to return to our primary instruments full-time after the concert. After the concert I put the school's horn away never expecting to see it again.
During the next rehearsal we had seating auditions for the upcoming concert. For the past couple of weeks I had been publicly bragging about how I planned to beat the first-chair alto saxophone player in this audition. (I was second chair, and yes, I have always been a competitive person!) I practiced a lot for the audition, however, when the results were posted at the following rehearsal I found (to my horror) that not only had I not beat the first chair player, I was demoted to third chair! Not willing to face the embarrassment of my loss, I walked over to the instrument storage room, put my saxophone away, and picked up the horn. I literally never played another note on a saxophone ever again.
Ever since I started playing horn in high school I've felt an unexplained attraction to music. I have talent in other far more financially lucrative fields (i.e. computer programming), yet I can't imagine myself doing anything else. Times are not great for musicians, every year several full-time orchestras close down or make cuts, and previously successful part-time organizations are struggling with declining single ticket sales as people guard their disposable income. Colleges and school districts across the country are being forced to make massive cuts, and arts education is an easy place to target. Even jobs that were once considered safe, such as positions in military bands, are now facing cuts. Worse of all lots of people do not see the value of the arts at all. Many don't even believe being a musician is a real job, deriding it as being paid to participate in a hobby. Many arts organizations themselves now malign musicians as being greedy just for their desire to make a living wage.
Because of the seemingly dire situation of the arts there are many bitter musicians out there. Lots of them have a hard time finding anything positive to say about their education/career choice and only talk about the regrets they have and their desire to get out of the field as quickly as possible. Any sensible person would see the writing on the wall and get out of the arts, but I guess I'm not very sensible.
There are still opportunities out there for those willing to work for them. Yes, in order to take advantage of any of these one has to be among the best players around. However, for those willing to work towards this goal, all is not bleak. Though things may seem dark now, odds are that at some point the economy will rebound, people will once again have more discretionary income, and there will be more opportunities available.
Everyday I get up early so that I make sure I get in as many hours of practice (at least three) as I can. I attend as many concerts as possible, I take lessons on a regular basis, I spend much of my free time listening to recordings, and I go to as many auditions as I can afford. I spend lots of time thinking about how I can improve my playing and increase the efficiency of my practice sessions. I do all of this work praying as hard as I can that one day I'll be able to take advantage of one of the opportunities I mentioned above.
John Ericson posted an article on Horn Matters about a major turning point in his life and how it has affected his life and his career. In it he quotes Philip Farkas from his book, "The Art of Musicianship".
Formerly, I had assumed that all the events leading up to my engagement by the Chicago Symphony were completely haphazard–a bit of luck here, a chance encounter there, until I eventually ended up in the Chicago Symphony, as unpredictably as a seashell washes up on a beach. But, with my change in thinking came the realization that perhaps all these apparently haphazard events weren’t haphazard at all. Perhaps, back in high school, when I had had that fight with the gym teacher, and the supervisor had suggested that I could fill my physical education requirement by switching to the marching band, it was not just an aimless suggestion. Was it mere chance that the street-car conductor, after telling me I could no longer bring my beloved tuba on board the street-car because it blocked traffic, pointed to a French horn being carried by another bandsman that I would be allowed to bring “one of them” aboard? … The more I pondered these questions the more convinced I became that it wasn’t all just haphazard–that I wasn’t just a seashell washed up willy-nilly on the Chicago Symphony’s “shore.” So it wasn’t jut a series of unrelated, random events which eventually put me on that stage. It was a series of incredibly interwoven and predestined events which put me there. … I was there because I had been led there by an amazing chain of events, not just mere coincidence, and, because I had been led there, certainly I could do the work assigned to me, and failure was not a part of that plan.
Like Farkas and John Ericson I don't believe my involvement in music was an accident. I believe that God has guided my life in this direction for a reason. I don't know what that reason is yet, but I know there is a reason. My career in music has been progressing well so far. Lately, I've won positions in part-time orchestras, I've made it to the finals for full-time orchestras, and I've begun to find more work as a freelancer in Dallas. It is a privilege to play and teach music for a living. I don't look to music to fulfill me, I firmly believe that anyone who does will be very disappointed. Being a musician is a job and it has positives and negatives just like any other job. However, even now, I can't imagine myself doing anything else, so I'll continue to work as hard as I can to become the best player I possibly can.