Saturday, January 23, 2010

Psychology of an orchestral career

Dear Flutists,

I found a detailed article about the Psychology of Orchestral Musicians.

Also, some excellent articles very informative and helpful.

The Orchestral Musician

The Musician's Union (and how it works, in Orchestral settings).

Most fascinating. Do read and comment.

Other "what is it like to work in an orchestra?" articles here.

Best, Jen
Comments (2)
Anonymous Basia said...

what an interesting paper. I found the Somatron relaxation odd indeed. :-) However, the study seems to be very well set up.

I'm not sure that the result is very original, but it definitly gives a little perspective on orchestra playing. What really surprised me is that I can see that many of the comments are valid for how I reason as an adult beginner. Of course there is huge difference between when you play profesionally to support yourself, and when you play for fun.

Nevertheless, social reasons (enjoying beeing a part of a group with the same interests) and love for music are important incentives both for pros and amatures. And both pros and amatures seems to worry about not beeing good enough or not living up to the expectations. There was actually a student in the beginner ensemble I belong to who quit because he/she felt the pressure was to large. Amazing, since the ensemble i clearly aimed at beginners, we don't play in public, the student was actually pretty advanced compared to the others, and we were all very supportive of each other in general. And still this student felt the need to prove some kind of skill.

Pros forsake a lot of their "free" time" to reherse and practise, and amatures also say no to activities because we want to practise after work instead. And amature could also get bored if they just keep working through method books and repertoar without making sure they take the time to enjoy the journey.

To sum up, the risks mentioned in the papaer are a lot scarier if you are dependent on playing to make your living, but I still find it very amusing that you could find parallells to lower level playing.

The result also made me think about that at least in my country there are fewer and fewer full time proffesional orchestras. Maybe that is not such a bad thing after all? Maybe you should have some kind of other part time occupation in order to keep perspective, and to enjoy the music making in a more relaxed way? I wish that everyone who loves playing an instrument gets plenty of time developing their skills, but the best way is maybe not to be in the same full time orchestra for the most part of your carieer.

The conclusion I draw from the result in the paper is that what seems to create most preassure is the lack of freedom and options to influence working conditions. I believe it's possible to reduce the preassure by beeing a little creative, and I think many musicians do find ways to make the working life interesting and inspiring, and do overcome many of the risks mentioned.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 6:53:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Here is a good quote from the first source linked above:

The general public often view symphony players as individuals with strong innerdriven
working careers who are self-selected, and enjoying what many audiences romanticize as a glamorous life with opportunities for self-expression and selfactualization (Sternbach, 1995).

Ironically, even the musicians themselves who embark on a performance career expect to live out a rich and creative life. However, such promises almost always fall short, and these myths are never fulfilled as imagined.
Foremost, musicians are trained for solo playing, and hence, orchestral work is often perceived as a disappointment (Sternbach, 1993b).

Orchestra musicians often view themselves as artists who are paid only for what others want to buy, subsequently leading a high percentage to regard their playing as more of a ‘job’ than the fulfilment of their ‘passion’ (Atik, 1992).

They convey sentiments which reflect the ‘classic dilemma’
of creative individuals; that is, either seek public rewards that legitimize their work or pursue their own artistic growth (Smith & Murphy, 1984).

In fact, an orchestral contract
may be considered to be the ultimate trade off for debased artistic standards; a rank-andfile
position can represent a subordination of virtuoso assertiveness and the repression
of individual personality in the service of collective musical achievement. Second, it often comes as a shock to the musicians themselves that achievement of their career goal is at the expense of their own personal health. That is, players quickly learn that there is a connection between music performance and physical/psychological wellbeing.

While most people (including naı¨ve and amateur musicians) view music making as having many benefits including relaxation and the development of leisure-time
activity, music performance expertise on the professional level involves autonomic and
proprioceptive systems, which require an exceptionally high (almost superhuman) degree of training and skill, as well as the blending of emotion-intelligence, responsecontrol, and empathy-command (Dunsby, 2002).

Furthermore, concerting makes
painstaking demands on mental/cognitive abilities (involving attention, concentration
and memory) as well as on emotional requirements. It is unfortunate that players entering an orchestral career have not always been prepared for the costs of their chosen occupation.

an issue that was brought up by several players had to do with the way in which orchestra musicians
are appraised: orchestra members are not valued for the professional activities or services which represent 90% of their accumulative accomplishments within the work environment, but rather they are judged exclusively on the 10% which involves highly
stylized performances on the concert platform. This was considered unfair treatment.

The study highlights musicians’ perceptions about concerting; among them, an everpresent
feeling of having to justify themselves – night after night. They stated that unlike sportsmen whose value level is estimated based on the percentage of hits (while ignoring the number of missed trials), symphony orchestra players are expected to be note-perfect and are judged by estimating the number of errors in their performances.

That is, though on any given night a player might decode 20,000 to 200,000 graphic symbols on his/her instrument, it is always the one wrong note or entrance that is
embedded in the memories of adjudicators and audiences.

Therefore, concerting is both
risky and costly for performers. The question, then, is, Why do musicians want to perform on stage to begin with? The only answer is that the concert platform provides
an arena for the exhibition of technical mastery, and this public display of expertise influences each and every musician’s psychological equilibrium. They do it because they can, and for most musicians, there is no alternative.

Monday, November 08, 2010 10:01:00 PM


Post a Comment