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Is it time for me to quit?


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cantusemyrealname
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 10:31 am    Post subject: Is it time for me to quit? Reply with quote

I need to do this anonymously because it is bad mojo to bring this up with colleagues, in my experience. The music world is far too small and I feel like I can't get advice about this from anybody without a lot of negative blowback.

Ever since I was 12 years old, I've wanted to be a professional trumpet player. I was self-taught for a year, then took lessons with a very good teacher until I went to college for music with a scholarship at a highly regarded school. I studied with a famous teacher and graduated with very little debt. I then went to another highly regarded school and studied with another famous teacher and gigged enough to pay off all of my school debt while totally supporting myself. I did a couple of the big music festivals and all that stuff throughout school. Right out of school I got a teaching job at a small college and won some auditions for little regional orchestras. I am extremely privileged and very lucky, I know that, and I am grateful for the tremendous opportunities I've been given.

Several years later here I am, thinking about quitting. I already quit my college teaching job, and I've decided not to teach any other students. I've been turning down gigs lately because they don't pay enough or sound boring. I didn't play on any holidays this year because I didn't feel like it. I turned down Easter gigs because I'd rather eat some candy and spend time with my family. This will be the first time I'm not playing an Easter gig since I was 13 years old.

I haven't been to an audition in several years because the jobs that come up pay less than I make now, except for the biggest gigs (NY Phil, San Francisco, etc) that I don't think I have a reasonable chance of winning because I simply don't play at that level on a day-to-day basis. I think my very best playing could fit in, and I've subbed with ICSOM groups, but my average isn't good enough. I have another non-music job that is very flexible, pays well, and is somewhat fun. I have good benefits, own a home, and am generally happy. I imagine some people reading this would love to punch me in the face and take the gigs I find “boring.” I apologize to those people, I don't mean to be an entitled jerk, I'm just looking for advice.

The weird thing is, I spend hours per day practicing. I love playing and practicing. I work on excerpts, solos, etudes, transcriptions, etc. I practice things that are neither fun nor easy simply because I want to improve and like the challenge. I play most of my horns most days, and I think I am continuing to improve my skills (based on recording myself over time). It's like something in me is telling me not to quit, not to give up. I want to play compelling music with great musicians. I think this is what is motivating me to continue to practice rigorously. If I can get my average playing to be at the highest level, maybe I have a shot at playing interesting repertoire with excellent musicians.

Or, maybe I'm just a loser who can't face the idea that I've failed and should just move on. Often I have depressing thoughts like “why try? Those orchestras are going to be out of business soon anyway.” Sometimes I think I just don't care anymore, but the idea of orchestras going out of business depresses me and proves I do still care. I think this music is wonderful, and it could benefit so many people. I don't want to watch it die, I don't want to see my colleagues from groups I play with take enormous pay cuts or slash their seasons down to nothing. I don't want to play nothing but video game music/movie soundtracks/Celtic Woman/Beatles covers/80s rock w orchestra, etc. I want to play some Brahms and Strauss and Stravinsky darnit!

So, what should I do? Should I just quit and let others have my gigs? Should I keep on keepin' on until I actually stop caring? Should I cut my losses and move on? Looking for input especially from people who have been down this path. Thanks for your time.
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Richard III
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 10:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I will skip the usual self deprecating stuff I usually put first and just say why don't you form your own group. Play what you want. You be the boss. Take what gigs you want or don't take any.
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falado
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 10:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Richard III wrote:
I will skip the usual self deprecating stuff I usually put first and just say why don't you form your own group. Play what you want. You be the boss. Take what gigs you want or don't take any.


1+ You beat me to it. I have also been frustrated. I still get the same money I got 40 years ago and for the same work. I play a lot of gigs I'd rather not. No Easter this year and I'm doing shows too. I am now starting my own group. Actually 2 groups that do 2 different styles of music and with pro players. I think if you package your product right it can be sold. It's got to be good and have an entertaining and educational value to it. One of the groups I want to do is an ensemble, maybe 5 or 6 brass, a couple reeds and maybe drums, to promote music education and live music to our schools and young adults. Look at groups like Boston Brass or Mnozzil. Sure there is some schict to it, but they also do some great music, they work, and can command decent salaries.

Just some thought, Dave
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Bach37
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I went through the exact same thing many years ago. Worked on a MBA and started my own business. Made some money and retired at 53. Now I play when and what I want, for free. Try very hard not to take pay gigs from the local pros.
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andybharms
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I mean... you are comfortable, so why quit?

This is a really interesting discussion. Thank you for bringing it up.

Forgive me for being long-winded and saying what you already know, but there are people who do not know the nature of your problem and it deserves to see the light of day.

Being in a major symphony is a great thing, very visible, good stable money, that's all true. But man is getting there tough. There are really only two-three schools that are consistently putting people on that track, and it is an intense experience. And even if you go to one of them, boy you better believe nothing is guaranteed.

For those that do not know, auditions have a lot more in common with an acting audition than really anything else. It takes a great actor to have a great audition, but great actors do not always have great auditions, nor are they always the right choice for the role in question. And on the same token you do not have to be the best player to win (of course it helps), just the most appropriate/prepared/etc. One of my teachers said "separation in the preparation." There are lots of phenomenal trumpet players for whom the stars never line up.

I think this is a really hard lesson and I wish the schools that were not one of the two or three would do a better job of teaching the test (one alternative might be to funnel would-be performance majors into the Bachelor of Arts degree, to give them more options down the road). But I prefer to rail against that narrative and encourage you that there are lot of great careers on the trumpet and in the arts that have nothing to do with playing in orchestra. They may not be "sustainable" financially, and require a day gig like the one you have, but that does not mean you are not good, or not valid, etc. You seem happy in your job but also love the trumpet and I see nothing wrong with either of those things.

I hope this was encouraging for you and informative for others.
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Dale Proctor
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am a somewhat-decent player, and have played with a local semi-pro symphony orchestra, subbed for another one, played in a brass quintet, a 1920s-style society band, a Civil War brass band, a contesting British-style brass band, numerous big bands, a large church orchestra, a small church orchestra, many travelling Broadway productions, community bands, and a little with a mariachi band. Been playing a little over 50 years, have a good day job, and over the past couple years, really tired of all the rehearsing, practice, and performances involved with playing trumpet at that level.

My last three concurrent playing commitments were the Civil War band, Brass band, and church orchestra. About 18 months ago, it finally hit me that I was playing more and enjoying it less...actually dreading rehearsals and resenting the intrusion of too much music in my life. The Civil War band has been together for over 20 years, and I think we're all tired of each other and the road (numerous weekends away form home). The brass band plays mostly junk - movie themes, pop music, show tunes, etc. Occasionally, we did play some good stuff, though, which kept me hanging on. My wife and I attend the church with the orchestra, so I feel like I need to contribute there.

So, we in the Civil War band decided to go into semi-retirement, not actively seeking gigs, but taking one if it was interesting and paid well. I finally quit the brass band last fall, after seeing the themed-concert lineup for this season. I haven't played a paying Easter gig in about 5 years, and turned down all Christmas gigs in 2014. I completely stopped playing (and practicing very much) for about 7 months in 2014. Picked the horn back up last year, and have played a couple Civil War gigs, one orchestra gig last Christmas, and returned to the church orchestra.

Life is much less hectic now, my wife and I can enjoy the holidays like normal people, and most every weekend is free to have fun together. Our house and cars are paid for, so I don't really need the gig money. I'm playing better than ever now (I think the layoff did me good), and am free of the trumpet rat race. I have a church orchestra rehearsal tonight, and I'm actually looking forward to it...
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Turkle
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am the only member of my family for generations (literally) that isn't a professional full-time musician. I've never regretted picking a career outside music. Playing trumpet remains a huge part of my life and I am lucky enough to have a great job that pays well and supports my irresponsible trumpet and whiskey habits.

But I play all styles of music. If what you're hankering for is playing in the symphony, then there really isn't any other opportunity. I get to play the occasional classical chamber piece and that's enough for me. But if I really wanted to play symphony then I don't know what I'd do.

I primarily play jazz now, with some rock, theater, and singer-songwriter gigs that interest me. No wedding or cover bands, no boring church gigs, etc. I love being able to say no to gigs I don't want, and being able to say yes to anything that's interesting to me. And boy howdy, living in NYC you never know what you'll be asked to do next!

Anyway, good luck. As long as you keep working at it, and keep those chops in ready-to-fire shape, then you'll be ready to pounce on a great opportunity if it happens your way. You never know...
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cantusemyrealname
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

andybharms wrote:
I mean... you are comfortable, so why quit?

This is a really interesting discussion. Thank you for bringing it up.

Forgive me for being long-winded and saying what you already know, but there are people who do not know the nature of your problem and it deserves to see the light of day.

Being in a major symphony is a great thing, very visible, good stable money, that's all true. But man is getting there tough. There are really only two-three schools that are consistently putting people on that track, and it is an intense experience. And even if you go to one of them, boy you better believe nothing is guaranteed.

For those that do not know, auditions have a lot more in common with an acting audition than really anything else. It takes a great actor to have a great audition, but great actors do not always have great auditions, nor are they always the right choice for the role in question. And on the same token you do not have to be the best player to win (of course it helps), just the most appropriate/prepared/etc. One of my teachers said "separation in the preparation." There are lots of phenomenal trumpet players for whom the stars never line up.

I think this is a really hard lesson and I wish the schools that were not one of the two or three would do a better job of teaching the test (one alternative might be to funnel would-be performance majors into the Bachelor of Arts degree, to give them more options down the road). But I prefer to rail against that narrative and encourage you that there are lot of great careers on the trumpet and in the arts that have nothing to do with playing in orchestra. They may not be "sustainable" financially, and require a day gig like the one you have, but that does not mean you are not good, or not valid, etc. You seem happy in your job but also love the trumpet and I see nothing wrong with either of those things.

I hope this was encouraging for you and informative for others.


Just to clarify: I'm fine financially, but I could do a lot better in my other job if I weren't using 2-3 hours per day practicing. I could also do better if I weren't traveling to earn a few hundred bucks playing with regional orchestras. I'm also finding myself bored during concerts. I don't get nervous anymore because I've stopped caring about the music I'm playing. I keep thinking if I have a chance to play some better repertoire with great musicians I won't be bored and/or burnt-out.

I can't give more info about my background because it would "out" me, but I personally know many recent audition winners from school and/or festivals. Some of my classmates are playing in pro ensembles or the military. Some of my classmates are in a similar situation. Others are out of music altogether or teaching primarily.

Thanks for your input, I appreciate it.


Last edited by cantusemyrealname on Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:03 pm; edited 1 time in total
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jhatpro
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've found that a good way for me to make life-changing decisions is to reflect on how I feel about it as soon as I wake up in the morning. If I'm excited about something and looking forward to whatever it is then I stick with it no matter what the challenge.

If I awake with a feeling of dread, I take steps to change whatever it is. This has worked well for me in music and life in general including which woman to marry.
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starkadder
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are in good company. My stock broker quit when he realized his kids qualified for free lunch at school. He was in a 'great' job teaching voice in one of the best public universities for music in the country. One of his sons, an orchestral f-horn player, now practices law.

You might wish to consider your musical career as your first career. Clearly, you had satisfaction and success. But, it is time for you to make a change. You have pursued the dream farther than most were able to. You are lucky that you can still enjoy music, without needing to make a living from it.

Many people, myself included, have won their dream job, but for one reason or another later made a significant career change. I've found my second career amazingly, surprisingly rewarding. I started in chemical engineering; at times I miss it, but now I'm doing things that were not even imagined when I was a student in college.

You have my permission to move on. Continue to be thankful for the run you've had, and that you have the joy of making music any time you want. You don't have to devote your entire life to being a trumpet professional.
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BStrad43
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What do you do that is not Trumpet/Music? Like a hobby/sport/activity/community.

Music/Trumpet for me is a job, yes I still love it, but it is still a job. I wake and go to the salt mines (practice/rehearsals, shows, teach) and then come home.

I started brewing beer about 13 years ago to clear my mind from work. It has allowed me to leave the salt mines and just be me. No judgements, no pressures, just me and my hands. And eventually a great tasting beer!

And recently I picked up yoga to help with my physical and mental health.

Happiness matters first!

Good luck figuring out your version of what life should be like.
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tpter1
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think perspective is a powerful, powerful thing.

Sounds to me like you are finding that the job you have now is the one that is the right fit for you, and maybe that's a bit disappointing to you.

A failure is not necessarily a bad thing- especially in your case. I think you are simply discovering that you are more successful elsewhere. That doesn't necessarily indicate failure on your part as a musician. It's ok to enjoy being something else.

Ask yourself: why do I play trumpet? What would life be like if I didn't? And really imagine life without playing. That should answer your question about weather to quit or not.
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lakejw
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think everybody has these thoughts from time to time. What's revealing about your post is that you clearly have a passion not only for instrumental music, but also for playing the trumpet everyday. To me, that's really all that matters.

Too much thought about the ethics of whether to take a gig can be paralyzing. Take the gig if it sounds like fun, or you could use the money. If you're not interested and don't need it, stay home. No one will know (or care) about your internal workings except for you, and the market-wide implications of one gig are infinitesimally small.

Of course there is a never-ending list of reasons to get dark about the music industry, and particularly about the fading of instrumental music, but I've been through that train of thought enough to realize that this music will be around for as long as people want to play it. We're certainly past the golden age of salaries and repertoire schedules, but if you love playing that music then find a way to do it that makes you happy. Maybe that means putting your own thing together.
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jaysonr
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

tldr; have fun, man. and don't quit.


I don't think you should *quit*. I think you should do what makes you happy. Play the types of gigs you enjoy playing. It sounds like you have a good day job, that you like. Play for fun -- it's more fun that way.

Once upon a time I wanted to be a trumpet performance major. I had some family situations that kept me from being able to go away to school, so I "settled" at a local university that didn't even have a BA in music -- they had a minor though. I did a History major with a Music minor, and ended up dropping out after I finished all of the music stuff. I have had a nice career in IT, however and I'm now back in school again -- finishing my B.A. in Worship at a seminary, and I plan to do Master's work in Old Testament, hopefully I can do my thesis on the use of the Trumpet in Old Testament worship...I'll follow that up with a PhD. I love to teach. I love to teach many different things -- trumpet, Hebrew, teaching kids how to program and write apps...and I love to play the trumpet.

I work at my school in IT, and I go to school. I play in the orchestra at my church. We have fun. I have a weekly performance and rehearsal for that, and it helps me stay up on my sight-reading (and sight-transposing, since I often use my C). I plan to start in a community concert band soon. I teach a few (Jr. High and High School) kids trumpet. I've had a few freelance gigs come my way since I've been in the new-to-me area, and I've been taking lessons from one of the local pros in the NC Symphony. I know I'll never bee a full time pro, but I'd like the chance to sub in some orchestras at some point, and there are a few community type orchestras in my area as well. I'm working on my excerpts now. It's fun. No pressure.

I will say this, when I was attempting my undergrad the first time -- 14 years ago -- I was playing in a small community symphony, a community big band, a community concert band, I was playing Jazz gigs with one of my profs at some local clubs, I was playing at a church, and I was playing guitar in a bluegrass band. For a while there I had overextended myself and music became somewhat of a grind, but I was playing a lot. Like Dale Proctor mentioned, I started to resent some of the rehearsals for some of the "less fun" groups, and playing music (and trumpet) became less fun overall as a result. I didn't touch a trumpet for almost 10 years.

Now? I've never been happier playing. Like you, I play and practice every day. Also, I guess as I'm older, I take playing more seriously and I've improved far more over the last few months I've been studying with my current teacher than I ever have before...and it's fun. That's what matters. It's fun just like translating Hebrew is fun and just like writing some computer code is fun. I have many things I enjoy -- some make money, some make more money than others, but I'm happy doing all of them.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've never been a place to consider music as a vocation but I have been a few groups that felt to me like they had run their course. Uninteresting repertoire, poor musicianship, and petty politics can be utterly deflating. I've been lucky enough to have stumbled into new opportunities that have kept me on my toes and engaged. In my particular case, I've found that my principle motivations are service, I like to feel like I'm helping people, and social, I like spending time with like minded people. Community colleges and community theater are my biggest commitments. And I really like mixing it up with the periodic chamber group, orchestra gig, rock band, and Easter gig. I think I have about as good a satisfaction-to-effort ratio as anyone could want.
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Steve A
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:44 pm    Post subject: Re: Is it time for me to quit? Reply with quote

cantusemyrealname wrote:

So, what should I do? Should I just quit and let others have my gigs? Should I keep on keepin' on until I actually stop caring? Should I cut my losses and move on? Looking for input especially from people who have been down this path. Thanks for your time.


If these are intended as ventings/musings, fair enough. If you actually want input, well, I think this is a bit like asking, "what will make me happy?" (Or, "how can I be less unhappy?")

But, as far as my input would go - I'm a freelancer, and I've been out of school for 7-8 years. I like what I'm doing now, but there's no escaping the fact that it's quite different than what I did while I was in school/summer programs. (IE - inspiring repertoire, with motivated colleagues, good facilities, lots of rehearsal time, and abundant helpful feedback.) Really, there's no way to know if you're going to like the actual life of an ordinary working musician until you've done it for a while. From what you've described, it sounds like you're looking to be inspired by the music you're playing and situations you're in, which isn't the reality of a lot of work for an awful lot of musicians, much of the time. If finding a way to play your best and make the most of what's happening isn't something you're finding fulfilling, it sounds like you need to consider other options - playing only what you like, or doing something else would be the obvious choices.
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John Mohan
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 3:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

cantusemyrealname wrote:
I'm also finding myself bored during concerts. I don't get nervous anymore because I've stopped caring about the music I'm playing.


I think you can find your answer in the above. There have been two times over the years I've semi-retired from playing. Each time it was the right thing to do. The first time, I was burnt out (after three years of Circus touring, triple show days, and sometimes no days off for weeks at a time). The second time, I was making enough money with a business I had started and was interested in studying to become a Physician, so I stopped seeking freelance work. But I've got to mention, neither of those times did I reach the point of not carrying about the music when playing it. Whether it's permanent or temporary, I think you need to give yourself a break. That's doesn't mean you have to stop practicing, though!

Best wishes,

John Mohan
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HCarlHess
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 5:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Is it time for me to quit?"

If you have to ask us that question the answer is no.

FWIW...
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jojocat
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 5:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have only one question:

are you happy in your life in general, I mean outside the trumpet thing?

I always have the alarm that lightens up when a guy call himself a looser.

Take care of yourself, no matter if it is with or without the trumpet. Make all that's possible to be happy.
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cantusemyrealname
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 5:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

jojocat wrote:
I have only one question:

are you happy in your life in general, I mean outside the trumpet thing?

I always have the alarm that lightens up when a guy call himself a looser.

Take care of yourself, no matter if it is with or without the trumpet. Make all that's possible to be happy.


Don't worry man it's all good, I'm just being dramatic. I mean, I do feel like I've failed in some ways especially since I've been given every advantage and worked as hard as I could for a long time and still couldn't quite get to my goal with the horn. But, I know that doesn't make me a loser in general. Continuing to chase after and make sacrifices for a goal that I just can't achieve would make me feel pretty dumb though.
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