With Our Powers Combined...

Today will be about kindergarten. Remember that? Remember how your teacher was always like, "Make sure you share your toy, Billy. Sally, don't hog all the crayons." and the like? That's what today's article is about. It's about sharing.

As musicians, we have a tricky line to tow. Our business is collaborative by nature. But it is also competitive. Symphonies are by definition groups of musicians playing together. But when a chair becomes vacant and the symphony holds open auditions, well... it's blood in the water. Fair is foul and foul is fair. Love and war and all that. The point is, our business is odd.

What I think has happened in recent years, though, is we musicians have learned to view each other almost exclusively as competition. Now, I am happy the musicians I know aren't like this, but I have met my fair share of musicians who need to take some happy pills and stop acting like a cornered ferret all the time. To be sure, I am not arguing to end competition between musicians. That competition can be healthy and useful. It's just about balance. We must collaborate if we are to succeed in our field.

The Feud Fugue

Before I continue, a short note about competition. Brahms and Wagner, for instance. Two of the great musical minds during the late 19th century. Also centers of some of the most vitriolic competition between fans as we are ever likely to see again. I'd hardly wish for those times to recur. However, there is something to be said about the... enthusiasm which permeated the scene. It wasn't just an argument of music. It rarely is. It was an argument of values. And what is this blog but an attempt to convince others that classical music is something worth valuing?

Disagreements in and of themselves are not a bad thing. They can certainly get out of hand. But a disagreement is a sign that people care about the issue at hand. If people don't value something, they won't take the time to argue about it. However, disagreements can escalate to the point they stifle innovation, destroy competition, and otherwise make a scene so insufferable that it actively repels potential fans. That is the competition we must strive to avoid. In short, we must avoid becoming Congress.


The important thing to note is, our current supply of classically trained musicians far exceeds the demand for them. Hundreds of musicians will show up to the first cut of a major symphony audition. All but one will be turned away, where players will either suck it up and try, try again, or fall into the Wastebasket of Disappointing Reality.

But there is hope! A recent survey by the Philharmonia Orchestra found some 8/10 people listen to classical music with some regularity at home and in the car. The usual skepticism applies: lies, damn lies, and statistics, you know. But if there is any grain of truth to this, it is a sign that while the symphony market is over saturated with musicians, the audience market is not. And here is where sharing comes into play.

In order to find success, we must be able to tolerate each other to a point where we help each other promote each other's works and concerts and services. Think of it like this: if you're available to play a wedding on a Saturday night, but there are three weddings happening that night, you can't fill that demand. But if you pay the favor to another group and say "Yeah, those guys are awesome, too, you should talk to them," then, unless you are dealing with total assholes, the favor will come around back to you. Pay it forward, and all.

Similarly, there is very little to lose in helping promote the work of people who are not in your market. Musicians, even classically trained ones, often know many people who play different genres. But though the musician's market is separate, the audience's favored listening will often be split among many different genres. While another musicians work may appear to have nothing in common with yours, you never know where the Venn Diagram of Musical Consumption will overlap. You also begin to reap the benefits of an extended circle of contacts, helping you eventually meet Kevin Bacon. And who wouldn't want to meet Kevin Bacon? Not anyone I want to know, that's for sure.