Currently the outlook for the aspiring musician and clarinetist is only somewhat similar to than 60 years ago, when I was starting in the business of playing the clarinet. The changes have been keenly felt because there are many fewer symphony orchestras, the aspiration of all of my colleagues at the New England Conservatory so many years past.
Symphony Orchestras are diminishing , almost weekly. Last week, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra cancelled the rest of its season, the Baltimore Orchestra is asking for pay cuts and a shorter season,and even the Philadelphia orchestra is suffering from lack of attendance,and the Board is not happy with the situation. And of course, the rumors are all over the place, spreading like a virus.
Adding to the above is the tremendous increase in the numbers of clarinetists who are desirous of a life in music, to play Principal in a large symphony Orchestra. I can tell you that,not only are there many more, but they play better to a large extent. They are not terribly interested in playing chamber music, perhaps the most musically interesting aspect of playing. Ones complete ability to play and to understand music is enriched and enhanced by performance of Chamber Music. But all orchestral parts are learned and can be played to dazzling effect by most. Fast, Faster, and fastest seem to be in vogue,as is loud, louder and loudest. Circular breathing is commonplace, staccato is faster than anyone can play, especially in the rehearsal room or in the practice room. What warmups we hear! Incredible!
But where are the positions? They are diminishing rapidly, as is mentioned above, and vicious competition is widespread. The creation of the Graduate School for the further achievement of the clarinetist has been added. They were always present, but now, there are more aspirants for admittance and fewer teachers of note, (those who have held Principal positions in Large Orchestras), to teach them.
As the numbers of clarinetists multiply , filling the Graduate Schools, the number of noted performers to teach them is diminishing.
One has to ask the question?Does attendance at a Graduate School for further clarinet achievement, get you anything more than a diminishing bank account, several expensive mouthpieces, that “better”set of clarinets, and that superb teacher of whom few have heard? Not really.
But of course, you have been told that it will bring you to the horn of clarinet plenty. Graduate School will not get you an audition, nor will it have you succeed at that audition, nor will it get you the job, the contract for which you have given a part of your life, that part which is so vital and important o us all!?
Will you be a better orchestral performer? No. So, what are you to do?How are you to proceed if the wonderful desire to be a clarinetists still burns within you?
So, you finally asked.
In 60 plus years of playing, having done it all: elementary school, University, Administration, Conductor of the University Symphony for 17 years, and Principal Clarinet of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Each one of the peviously mentioned positions has widened my breadth as a clarinetists, as a teacher, as a coach and administrator.
Was this career out of necessity? No, it was not, Not at all. I found enjoyrment in everything . And I must say,I kept my eyes open at all times.This is the most important recommendation I make humbly to all readers. Keep practicing and llstening to everybody. Find out how you play in comparison. And more than anything else, keep your eye on the ball, the business, market and all possibilities. Apply to every audition you can, as many as is possible. All will teach you many things. And you need them all.
Still, keep practicing.