You Will Not Win the Gig

As I’ve noted here before, I’m bad at math. Very bad, in fact. Despite the fact that many studies prove musicians are better at math than your average bear, I defy the odds. But at a very fundamental level I do understand some bits of mathematics. In this particular case, statistics.

I have, since I began playing the tuba in high school, always wanted to be a member of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. For whatever reason I am drawn to the wind band repertoire more strongly than orchestra repertoire (which is a different topic for a different blog) and I knew that band was the be-all-end-all. And in December of 2011, I got my chance. A position opened in the tuba section, and I was on a plane to Washington DC.

As I was preparing for that audition, I felt very confident about a few things. I knew I wanted the job. I knew I was qualified for the job. And I knew I would be great at the job once I had it.

It was the getting-the-job part that was the very large unknown. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my playing. I like who I am as a player. I just didn’t know if the Marines would. Long story short, I didn’t win the gig. Not even close.

And then I realized something. It really doesn’t have anything to do with being good or wanting the job so bad you can taste it. There were around two hundred tuba players auditioning for a single spot. The numbers were against me.

And they’re against you too.

I’ve watched a lot of friends and colleagues dedicate themselves to this idea that they can win that “great gig in the sky.” And they are all fantastic players. But so is everyone else. What’s worse about this is that the colleges and conservatories we all go to reinforce that ridiculous idea. They tell you If you work hard and spend X hours in the practice room, then you can win a job playing with your dream orchestra. Very rarely does a professor (much less a whole school) look at his or her students and tell them the real story: Look, you are all great players. But the chances of any of you winning a top-ten orchestra job is practically nonexistent. So let’s focus a little less on orchestra excerpts and a little more on how to market your self to convince high school students to take private lessons with you.

In all honesty, you wouldn’t shoot that straight with your students either, would you? Not exactly good business to tell the people who are paying to go to your school that the majority of their time will be spent preparing for a job they will never have. What other department on campus does that?

Don’t get me wrong. Someone has to win the job. There will be that one person out of the two hundred who walks out with a new job. And it very well could be you. I want it to be you.

But … it probably won’t be.

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