What is the make up of a successful orchestral musician? As a teacher and youth orchestra director, that’s a question I get asked over and over again. With the success rate of becoming a professional musician a scary 3%, it’s a daunting prospect. First and foremost, you have to want it bad enough to do what it takes to land that ever elusive professional job. It takes hours and hours of practice -- talent without the drive leaves many a musician behind in the dust.
At all age levels, I can tell almost immediately who my serious musicians are. They are always the first ones to arrive to warm up before rehearsal begins, they come prepared, remain focused, and miss few rehearsals. Above all, their great attitudes leave them open to learn and progress. Nothing shuts down the progress of a musician faster than a bad attitude letting him or her believe they are better than everyone else and too good to learn from others.
Serious musicians practice wisely! Students seem to be busier than ever these days, as schools make more and more demands on their time. The quality of the practice time is as important if not more important as the quantity. If you don’t have enough time to practice everything on your plate, make sure you work on your technique. All musicians hate scales, but they do wonders for your intonation, sound and articulation.
Nothing takes the place of experience! Musicians need to get as much repertoire under their belts as possible before taking professional auditions. It is the root of why I founded Chicago Orchestral Academy's Classical Symphony Orchestra 39 years ago and then Protégé Philharmonic, 2 very fine youth orchestras, and I still believe in it as strongly today as I did back then.
Music is a very rewarding profession! It brings pleasure to the audiences attending the performances, and it builds self-esteem in the performers as they bring the most beautiful music in the world to life. Above all else, it should be fun! When you are sitting in an orchestra, you should feel as if there is no place else you’d rather be.