Why, Then, Do We Care About Success?

Yesterday, I touched on a really important point in my post on “Why Do We Grant So Many Trumpet Degrees?” I had the largest response and the most thoughtful and impassioned comments that I have ever had for a single posting, and I am so grateful for this.

Today, I would like to take the opposite tack. Equally pernicious in today’s trumpet world is a mindless acceptance of a corporate view of success. While we do need to earn money to get by with our daily expenses, who says that it has to be an orchestra job? Or a college teaching job. Or a military band job. Surely you’re not hoping for a full-time big band job? Or to be first-call in an L.A. studio? These are all great jobs, but good luck in getting one. Great jobs in orchestras can start with as many as 300 applicants, and some of those auditions allow any applicant to actually audition, thus making the first round incredibly competitive. Many established players will decline to audition for slightly better orchestral job if it involves doing a first round, because it’s so arcanely perfectionistic and impersonal.

The players who are now in some of these coveted jobs are amazing players. They get to play some of the most inspiring music available to humankind. I don’t know whether they are happy, but I can tell you that many orchestral musicians are not. One of my teachers, Bernard Adelstein, former principal trumpet of the Cleveland  Orchestra, told me that he thought the higher the pay in an orchestra, the more unhappy the musicians. Many trumpet players spend too much time practicing the music that others tell them to practice. We rarely think originally.

Alan Watts, British Philosopher
Alan Watts, British Philosopher


British Philosopher Alan Watts said, “it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on doing things you don’t like…. better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

So, what would you do, trumpet-wise, if money were no object? Would you stop playing trumpet?


Here are some of my ideas:

  1. I would play lecture recitals on history, symbolism, new music, and mixed media
  2. I would compose and record my own repertory
  3. I would travel the world taking lessons from all the great trumpeters
  4. I would immerse myself into jazz
  5. I would learn Renaissance ornamentation and performance to a high degree
  6. I would play historical music without compromise
  7. I would work with young trumpeters who are impassioned about music

Please let me know what YOU would do.

Here’s Watts’ wonderful little speech, “What if Money Was no Object”



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