Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music - Blair Tindall

What a fabulous book! Brutally honest, Blair Tindall speaks about her life as a freelance musician living in New York City.

Look at the title. A recommendation from my friend, Alley, I began reading "Mozart in the Jungle" with some expectations. Scandal! While Tindall does discuss her sexual relationships with various musicians (including Keith Lockhart), I was pleasantly surprised to find much of the book was devoted elsewhere. More than just a memoir, Tindall presents a very well researched timeline of the availability of performance jobs, the NY Allendale
Apartments (home to many classical musicians), funding for the arts, and on the simple day-to-day life of a classical musician.

My degree is music education, not music performance. I love to play my instrument (the viola) and had always romanticized life as a professional performer. For me, reading "Mozart in the Jungle" was a constant surprise as to the realities of performan
ce life. The life of a freelance musician is not all it's cracked up to be. Music jobs are scarce, even in the world of music education. Only last year, we had a student teacher in our music department - we were amidst huge staffing cuts. We were all wondering if we will have jobs the next year, and if we will have any program at all come June. I kept looking at our student teacher thinking - "I can't imagine graduating in this market, in this field." Many of my music teacher friends are not using their music education degrees. Performance music as told by Blair Tindall is no different - in fact worse. Out of the thousands of people graduating with performance degrees, there are only a couple of hundred steady orchestra jobs out there. They are competing with each other, as well as with the thousands of musicians who have been scraping by on freelance and sub work. The pieced together life of a classical musician is no picnic.

I had not considered the monotony being a performer. The same pieces of music, over and over. And I had certainly not considered the life of a person performing in the Broadway pit. I have played at
a few shows (mostly assisting our high school staff and helping to fill out the viola section - coaching the high school musicians along the way), and always enjoyed myself. I had not done the math - 8 shows a week for years, and years, and years. Steady work, and steady boredom. As frustrating as my job can be at times, it is anything but boring.

This book was highly informative! Bravo to Blair Tindall! My lasting impression of her words is this - I'm glad I made the career choice I did. It was difficult to read and imagine going from audition to audition, competing against so many musicians for one seat. With each audition, the musician is paying for their air fare, hotel stays, etc. Debt grows each time you go for a job and d
o not succeed. I am thankful that I never made playing the viola a way of putting food on the table. When I practice, it's because I want to play. When I perform with the NH Philharmonic it is because I love to play. And that's all there is to it. The viola isn't my job. Teaching is, and I enjoy it immensely.

You will be inspired by the courage of Blair Tindall to begin a new career, and the path that she takes to get there. You will be impressed with the honesty in which she displays her feelings a
nd views. You will be educated about the history behind arts funding, and on the day-to-day life of the classical musician. And if "you" are a musician - this book is a must read. Besides all that you will learn, Blair Tindall will help you think about your life and the role that music plays in it.

For more information on Blair Tindall, check out this webpage, with links to her blogs and articles.

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