Solo playing, chamber music, orchestra, teaching – I loved them all in college but at some point, we all must start to narrow our focus and work to establish a career that is dominated by one or two of these. I think the most often over-looked aspect of choosing what direction to take your musical talents (insert LeBron goes to Miami joke here), is thoughtful consideration of the daily life. Happiness in life and career is so often not determined by money or status but by how closely our lives conform to our personal ideals and individual quirks. Young cellists often ask me “Why did you choose to play in an orchestra?” This is my answer.
I’m a planner. I am happiest with a stable structured day with a decent amount of routine and lots of predictability – but with some variety. Our weeks at the Cleveland Orchestra are very often the same – rehearsals Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Concerts Thursday, Friday, Saturday, many Sundays and the odd Saturday morning or Friday afternoon rehearsal thrown in for good measure. We get our schedule up to a year in advance – I can tell you today what I’ll be playing and where I’ll be on a Wednesday morning in May 9 months in advance and that suits me.
I have a remarkably short attention span. No, I don’t mean I can’t concentrate for long periods (although some days that’s more true than others) but I LOVE the fact that every week we play a new and different program. If we are playing music I don’t enjoy I just have to wait a few days – next Tuesday it will be all different!
I love stability and predictability. (While these aren’t words currently associated with many American orchestras, I’m optimistic that orchestras will stabilize again and this will continue to be a benefit of our profession.) I’ve had years that were lean financially and years that were better – what works for me is knowing what’s coming. I like to know that I’ll have a steady paycheck and exactly how much will be in it– large or small, I can make it work so long as I can plan for it.
I love variety. I love that with my job I can teach and play some chamber music. I absolutely adore my students and I love that I can teach at the Cleveland Institute of Music right around the corner from the concert hall and that I can perform chamber music with my colleagues. I like getting to do a little bit of everything. It’s a privilege I feel grateful for every week.
I love to travel. Touring is both one of the best and worst parts of my job. I love traveling and I treasure the time I get to spend on the road with my colleagues playing in wonderful concert halls, exploring beautiful cities, bonding over late-night dinners. On the other hand, touring takes me away from my family which is sad and hard on us all sometimes. Luckily, with my job we are rarely away from home more than 9 or 10 weeks a year so it is manageable – the best of both worlds perhaps.
I love and admire my friends. Music has always been a social outlet for me and I’m lucky to get to go to work every day with my closest friends. We spend holidays together, travel together, play together – it’s a wonderfully warm and social life. I’m lucky – my fellow cellists in the section are remarkable players and musicians. I honestly feel challenged daily to strive for their level of excellence and they serve as a constant inspiration to me.
I have a baby. As a new mother I’m especially grateful for my mom-friendly schedule. Almost half my work (concerts) is in the evening after my little one is in bed already. I will be able to drop her off and pick her up from school, be there to help with homework, and still be able to work full time.
This is not to say that playing in an orchestra is the best job in the world, it’s just that it is the right job for me. Before you decide how and where you want to play your cello take a moment to consider the kind of life you want to live every day. There’s a way to fit your cello into it no matter what your answer is!