We are truly fortunate to have members of the Double Reed community who care enough about the progress of all to ask hard questions, share the tough moments, and take an honest look at the challenges we all face in a thoughtful, nurturing, and positive forum.
This post will share my reflections inspired by the Benjamin Kamins episode of Double Reed Dish which exposed several crucial points for professional reflection.
We all know exactly who Benjamin Kamins is and, while there are many ways to describe his contributions and legacy to our community, I would personally describe him as the gentle force behind one of the winning-est studios in the country currently.* National auditions, competitions – his students win with a stunning amount of frequency.
*Completely anecdotal statement, no actual footwork completed to prove this statement.
I have observed masterclasses led by Mr. Kamins, reed making workshops, even auditioned for his studio way back in 1999. I've seen him perform, listened to his albums, and took advantage of an opportunity to pick his brain about DMA programs when he randomly sat next to me at a MQVC concert He’s unfailingly kind, indefatigably positive, and intimately aware and wise regarding every aspect of this crazy bassoon career.
There were many moments in his recent interview with the Double Reed Dish that were worthy of cross-stitch and framing. Such as this Zen proverb:
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
I want to focus on a few as they relate to my own much needed, mid-career catharsis.
1 - Regarding winning his first job at the age of 19, he said, “I got lucky.”
2 - Regarding his career moving forward from that point, summarizing audition wins and losses, “I still felt like a failure in my career into my mid-40’s.”
3 – Trying to win the principal bassoon spot in the "God Philharmonic” – which he didn’t achieve – and learning instead to bloom where he had been planted in Houston.
The honesty and perspective with which Mr. Kamins speaks is a salve to the mid-career musician soul. It sparks reflection on subjects we don’t talk about nearly enough and no amount of mentoring ever makes easier. The idea that you can work your entire professional life as a musician and still feel like you haven’t accomplished your dream, you haven’t gotten “there,” which Mr. Kamins was quick to declare, it doesn’t exist.
We spend so much of our energy looking at the careers of a few great performers/pedagogues and think, I want to get “there.” In pursuit of “there” we push ourselves through auditions, jobs, moves, endless hours of practice, reed-making, networking. For those who “Do The Work” with discipline and consistency, a career is built along the way which, for many, may not look anything like the “there” they had imagined for themselves.
I have been really fortunate as a working musician my entire adult life even with a two year mom-sabbatical. I have been a military musician, a salaried orchestral musician, touring chamber musician, founder and board member of a non-profit, adjunct/visiting/tenure-track professor, and, and, and…
…but I still fight that little voice that pokes at me, “Too bad you never won principal bassoon of the God Philharmonic.”
Which is one of the reasons I found myself at the Seattle Symphony associate principal audition in March. I was sent on my way after five excerpts in the prelim round. I haven’t advanced out of prelims since the Naples audition...whenever that was...maybe c. 2014...I mean, YEARS AGO. My career success rate for auditions hovers around 10%. Despite this, my transition into higher education has placed me in a position that easily provides the final resting place for me professionally.
Except, this year, ensconced in my tenure process, my mind keeps running the following script over and over:
This is it!
This is it!
This is it!
THIS IS IT!
This is it?
I’m here for how many more years?
I am going to be here for basically the next 30 years of my life?
Wait a second.
This is new.
Never done this before.
ENTER: doubt, second-guessing, but “what if” mind-set, plans to keep taking auditions.
4 – "While you still have the fire in the belly...and you still have the dream...you should keep going and working toward that dream." How long do you push, when do you settle down? We really do have permission to do both, my friends! Imagine that!
5 - "Just do the work! It's the only thing we have!" and I would add, find a way to have joy in that work. You have to love the process of discovery and improvement and you absolutely have to love reed making.
It steels the heart to hear a masterful player and teacher like Benjamin Kamins share his experiences with the doubts we all feel and the hopes to which we all hold.
The work of learning how to live in peace and gratitude while simultaneously pushing forward to be your best self, your best bassoonist is not easy! Many of us get folded up into the dark corners of our brains and take time away from seeing the beauty of the lives we have created.
We have been taught, explicitly and passively, that some jobs, some careers, are just better or more impressive than others. I'm not sure this has come from a point of malice but we have all listened to bitter, cynical musicians deplore lost auditions and missed opportunities - holding to the thought that to be “there” is better than to be “here.” But let's follow Mr. Kamin's lead to teach and share a new message: celebration of the careers we DO achieve.
Thanks Double Reed Dish for creating a space for a new conversation among musicians!
Cheers for celebrating the many professional bassoonists who wake up each day to perform and teach in their communities, the local Master Bassoonists! How fortunate we all are! May we never diminish our achievements by calling a career a failure because it looks different from the careers of others or different from what we set out to do at the inception of this journey!
Cheers for bassoon gratitude and a community that is working to tell the story of success and abundance in every corner of our bassoon world.