Unlike many other career paths that require considerable skill, gained through training and experience, the successful practice of music is almost unanimously considered to stem from a divinely-bestowed talent; one that, in equally biblical terms, must therefore be shared, whenever and wherever, without due compensation. It also follows that a change in career focus is a crime against humanity. This blog entry presents a number of scenarios, very loosely based on real events (my own as well as those of colleagues and friends), followed by brutally honest responses that were never given.
[at a family event]
Go and play something on the piano! Play [insert name of 1950s crooner hit].
I don’t know it.
It goes like this: hmm hmm hmm [hums tune]. Ok, now play it.
[pianist plays something she knows; everyone starts talking; pianist stops playing]
[everyone starts talking again; pianists stops playing]
No, keep going!
I don’t know anything else.
[pianist rummages through piano stool, looking for something resembling a score]
You don’t need that! Aunty Pam from Carnarvon’s son can play ANYTHING by ear and he hasn’t had one lesson! He plays five different instruments, including panpipes, in the band for ‘Margate’s Got Talent’ – you should do something like that.
Reading fluently from sheet music took years of lessons and devoted practise. It is a necessary requirement for studying classical music, and doesn’t make you a lesser musician than those who only play by ear. One instrument can take a lifetime to master. Talent shows make me not want to live.
[Ring ring, ring ring; singer picks up phone]
Hello, this is so-and-so from [insert name of mediocre restaurant].
We provide opportunities for musicians to perform in our restaurant on Sunday afternoons. We can only pay you petrol money, but you can get a free meal, and will get lots of exposure.
Last year I won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. If I need more exposure I will take up a Sunday afternoon shift at Hooters. Also, can you ask your chef to come and cook at my dinner party? I can only pay petrol money, but he can get a copy of my latest album and will get lots of exposure.
[mother phones prospective teacher]
Hi! My uber-talented daughter needs to take music theory lessons. Can you take her? How much do you charge?
R 350 an hour.
Oh, that’s very expensive! Can you make it R 250?
Well then we’ll just have to go elsewhere.
My four years of undergraduate training cost as much as a medical degree. Your daughter’s synchronized dolphin-jumping lessons cost R 700 an hour. I have a waiting list. Also, perhaps you should find a teacher worthy of her exceptional talent.
[conversation with long-lost family friend]
So what are you doing these days?
I’m about to finish my PhD. I just accepted an appointment at a university.
Oh, what will you teach there?
Oh, so not French Horn?
[family friend tilts head and presses lips together as though to sympathize with a disappointment]
My career as a French Horn player ended before I got my first degree, around the time I became immune to the cardiac medicine I had to take in order to sustain it. Even before that I started becoming more interested in composition and music theory. It suits my personality better. It’s not a failure and I’m not sad about it.
[musician lies open-mouthed on dentail hygienist’s chair]
Oh, have you heard of that little girl from Belgium, Amoeba Katzenellenbogen, the singer? Yes? No?
Kgggggggh [saliva sucking device in action].
She’s only just teethed, yet she has the voice of an adult. Isn’t that unbelievable?
She sings ‘Nessun Dorma’, ‘O mio babbino caro’ and ‘Sempre libera’ to sell-out crowds all over the world.
[Nunc est Bibendum]