Shortly after I was hired at the age of 25 to work in the Music Department at State University College at Oneonta, I played a concert for members of this community. At the end of the concert, a young audience member said to me, “How many years have you been playing the cello and do you still have to practice?”
I answered, “I’ve been playing ten years, and I still have to practice.” The young person’s response was quick and to the point. “Gee — haven’t you learned it yet?”
His question was sincere and a bit discouraged. I suspect he had to practice an instrument at home and was waiting for the day when he had “learned” the instrument well enough so he no longer had to practice. My answer was not the one he had hoped to hear.
Music is, of course, can be a wonderfully satisfying activity for everyone. It’s great to listen to music and it’s a unique means of self-expression for anyone who plays an instrument or sings. Many musicians, both amateur and professional, can “say” things with music that they might not be able to say with words, and that can be a welcome means of communication.
People who play music professionally, whether it’s classical music, jazz or rock ‘n’ roll, have made a decision to spend years of their lives dedicated to improving their musical understanding and their performance abilities.
Of course, every professional in every kind of work continues to improve skills and to accept absolute responsibility if the job he does could have been done better. Musicians, however, have the added pleasure of playing their music and doing their jobs for an audience. We need to perform well for ourselves, but we also need to make the experience enjoyable and accessible for our audiences.