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This Difficult Path

I have always said that if I had it to do again I would play the oboe again, but if I had it to do AGAIN again, it would be the cello.  Or the trumpet.  But when reconsidering my options in this way, I never really think of a life outside music.

I was talking with my sister the other night, and the topic came to college students.  Both of us were concerned about the recent and future graduates in soft fields - like her Masters in History and my own oboe performance degree.  There’s a recession - maybe you’ve heard? And it’s proving to be incredibly difficult for young people to find jobs in all fields, especially those with no particular USEFUL experience or skills.

I have students right now who will graduate as oboe majors.  They are not strong enough players to move straight into orchestral jobs or even freelancing - at least not enough to make a living - and their degree doesn’t really qualify them for anything else.  I fear that I am doing them a disservice, and struggle every semester to convince them so.

This is not a growing field.  Especially this year, with labor disputes and drastic artistic cuts in some of the largest and finest ensembles in the country, we cannot deny that the way forward for Classical Music is a cloudy, murky path.  Yes, I am making a living, but it is not a great living, and I work harder than just about anyone I know, and I am awesome.  What possibilities are there for a recent graduate who can kind of play the oboe? 

But my sister then asked if I wished I hadn’t gone to music school, or if I would change that path if I could do it again knowing what I know. 

And I don’t know that I would have.  The experiences the oboe has given me have been tremendous.  And my career is not what I had imagined it would be, but all the myriad ways that  I self-identify now - educator, speaker, writer, business owner - all the things I do BESIDES performing - are things that have come to me since graduation, and as a result of striving to make the oboe my life.   I am much more now than my music degree, and I wouldn’t have gotten here if I had had the easy path directly into a major orchestra that I thought I wanted back in 1996. 

I love my niche.  I like doing what I do, and I didn’t need a business degree to start a reed business, or an education degree to be adjunct faculty at three colleges and teach privately and coach wind groups.  For that matter, I didn’t need a school with a PE program to become a runner as a grownup.  I am not on the path I had imagined, but I’m on a great journey that I love.  Who is to say that my students won’t find their own awesome niches as well?

So YES, I am troubled that I have oboe majors in the schools I teach at in 2012.  I will keep trying - gently, lovingly - to talk them out of it.  But like me, they will find their own paths, and anyone can be successful -somehow - if they set their minds to it.  


  1. First let me unrinkle and lower my eybrows after reading your capitalized phrase of “USEFULskills”. Are your students compelled to be oboe majors or they are of their own free will? And I didn’t know that the Mohs’ scale(measure of hardness) applies to fields of knowledge. You sister, the historian, surely knows that for civilizations to flourish as many of human resources and talents are needed as are available. From a pedagogical point of view your students will be getting a mixed signal if encouraged to practice on one hand with discipline and devotion, and look for a marketable alternative on the other.
    I do like your last paragraph. They’ll find their way, most of them. And there will those who will abandon the oboe and sell insurance or stocks and bonds. But some of those will remember you with fondness and nostalgia and they will love music, and that counts a lot.
    You, with perseverance, and a little luck have succeeded wonderfully in adapting your talents and abilities, harmoniously, to your ambitions and goals, and that should be very satisfying.
    What was that movie? “You know how to whistle. Just close your lips and blow” Keep doing the same with the oboe.(And continue writing the blog).

  2. Dimitri,

    Thank you. I always love to hear your take.

    It's interesting to me that all of the comments this post drew over on Facebook - from my friends and colleagues of my age and younger - were uniformly in agreement with my main point. There is a conflict between our desire to share the love of music and our wish to be responsible mentors to the next generation. I want nothing more than to be encouraging to my students, but I can't guarantee them success in this field and THEY NEED TO KNOW THAT. Ultimately of course the decision is theirs, but I remember being 19 and having not even the faintest idea what professional life would be like. If I can believe that I'm genuinely getting that across to my students once or twice a year I am happy to dig deeply into Barret etudes and Vivaldi concertos the rest of the time.

    You always keep me in check and make me think carefully about what I put out here and I appreciate that. Thanks for reading and writing!



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