Classical Burnout: Don’t Lose Your Love For Music

Music notes(Photo: iStock)
Music notes(Photo: iStock)

I was talking with a young friend recently who is a superb musician. This boy is a first class pianist, coach, linguist and singer, although a vocal injury sidelined his singing ability. His gifts at the piano and for music in general remain formidable. He was working on a doctorate in music and all seemed well.

Yesterday he told me he had left off all study of music, had withdrawn from school and was opening a home based business. No relation to music. He’d even submitted a business plan to Kickstarter and was fully funded.

Sometimes the study of music can interfere with the love for music. I said, please don’t tell me you no longer love music. This was a guy whose life seemed informed by this love.

No he said, I got out of it  because I was beginning to hate music. Now I make and sell cakes and pies. I’m doing very well. And I still love music.

Moral of the story? We’ve been hearing a great deal about depression and sadness these days. Music has always been an antidote for human suffering-suffering on a small-scale to be sure. Music for my young friend became more of a job and an obligation than a joy. He is right to get out. I’m sorry that such a fine talent might not come to fruition before the public.

I worry about young artists in all disciplines who live in practice rooms. They learn their own repertoire. They have scales and technique down cold, but it is rare to hear a young artist play or sing when  you can say S/he loves music. That young artist takes the audience with them. They can play imperfectly.

The occasional wrong notes makes them human.  They give radiant performances. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the hard-working, talented young artist  for whom Mozart and Beethoven turn into an albatross.

Too many students are admitted to the study of classical music and graduate often with six figure debt and nowhere to go. The music school model needs to be re-made. Only the astonishingly gifted should be admitted and there should be no tuition. The Curtis Institute has never charged tuition and admits only the very best talent. Likewise the Thornton School of Music at UCLA and the Opera department at Boston University.

For the rest, you graduate, get another degree, get yet another degree (loans!) and end up teaching earlier versions of yourself. I’ve often said I’m grateful that I have no talent. I can talk about music, but when I say I can barely find middle C on the piano I’m not kidding. I didn’t love study enough. Grunt study. I will always, please God love music.

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