Saturday, November 04, 2006

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Are you bored yet? No? Good.

Coming off a dinner with friends, what's a girl to do when her man's illin? She plays tunes blogs pedantic.

I've been wrestling a bit lately with why, out of all the music I've studied, played, and sung, it's bluegrass that has me wrapped around its finger at the end of the day. I've been giving this especially serious thought since I'm not getting any younger and sooner or later I'm going to have to make one final permanent career choice and I hope it's the next one and the last one I make.

The reason this is on my mind is that I've been dealing so much with professional orchestras, I'm mighty tempted to go a safer route and stick with that world, which is essentially where I started. But I don't have the same passion for that world as I once used to. I do have passion for the people in the business, particularly the musicians, who have spent most of their lives working for the chair they are sitting in, and for the privelege of getting paid to play the music they are playing.

I had a rather lively debate the other evening about why an orchestral musician might be "persnickety" or "fussy" about a particular venue. It's because it has to be right, the music just has to be right. You spend your life learning a piece of music, and so it does matter if the way a particular room is set up isn't optimal for performing it.

On the other hand, bluegrass sounds good anywhere you go. You don't really need to amplify. You don't need to politic about who sits in what chair (although I'm sure there is plenty of politicking in bluegrass). You don't even have to be very good, although most of us tend to admire a few professionals we consider above the bar and whose styles have over time captured students, as it were.

So I'm torn. I have all the admiration in the world for the professional orchestra musician, and they are making their contribution. On the other hand, another musician or student who may be equally proficient in his or her instrument doesn't carry the same weight. I guess I see that as good and bad.

Students of some of the world's best bluegrass performers who happen to teach at the university level can not get a credit for studying mandolin or banjo toward their music major. Doesn't that seem a bit outrageous? I think so. C'mon, if a kid at CMU can be America's Only Bagpipe Major, what is it about traditional, American stringed instruments that doesn't warrant the same credibility? It may fly at some universities, but not all -- even in areas where Bluegrass music is more traditional.

When I came home this evening I grabbed just any collection of cd's, threw them into the player, hit the randomizer, and played whatever came up in the queue. A year ago I probably couldn't have done that. Lessons helped some, but mostly I gained more proficiency up and down the neck of my instrument by playing it. The people I admire play ten times the hours I put in over the course of a week.

The people in the first chairs of the Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia Symphonies -- same diff.

One is not better than the other, they're just different from each other. That, I get. Really.

I just have to determine which different is the one for me.

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