Written by Erin Hannigan, principal oboist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra
"If there is anything else in your life other than music that you enjoy, that is what you should pursue as a career."
Imagine my surprise when my high school oboe teacher (then Principal Oboist of the Baltimore Symphony) said that to me when I told him my plans to pursue music as a career. How could he say that? I had been Principal oboe of my youth orchestra for years, I had been making All-State since the ninth grade, I was a real hotshot in my high school, and knew that I wanted to play the oboe as a career since I was 12...surely he didn't mean to say such a thing to ME, right? While it hurt to hear those words at that time of my life, years later I realized the depth of his statement (and I also realized the gift that it really was). As time went on, I saw that he had issued a challenge; an inspiration. I sent him a letter thanking him for caring enough about me to prepare me for the road ahead with his honesty.
Music is a wonderful yet incredibly difficult pursuit. A few facts: thousands of young, highly talented, orchestrally trained musicians graduate from top music schools every single year. There are only, as a generous estimate, 10 orchestral positions open for any given instrument across the country every year. College teaching positions are also at a premium, as the number of musicians holding doctorate degrees are at an all-time high. In the recent economic downturn, orchestras of all "calibers" are struggling to keep unavoidable deficits to a minimum.
Therefore, my questions to those of you wishing to pursue a career in music, (and a rewording of the statement my teacher made to me many years ago): do you love music enough to weather the storms ahead? Will the love of it continue to pull you back to the practice room if you (like many) have multiple unsuccessful auditions? Will you work tirelessly on your art until you reach your goals?
If a career in music is truly in your heart and soul, go after those dreams with all the strength that you possess. Where you go to college, who you study with, and even your degree of natural talent are all secondary to the level of hard work and commitment you maintain. Having a degree from the most elite college/conservatory in the world does not guarantee a successful career in music. This is your dream...you are the driver, and everything else is simply a navigational tool. There is nothing owed to you in this business.
I love what I do as Principal Oboe of the Dallas Symphony and Adjunct Professor at Southern Methodist University. If I had it to do over again, I would make the exact same choices. The road has not been easy, but I was prepared through those words of my teacher for it to be tough. With those seemingly discouraging words, he lit a fire within me that refused take "no" for an answer. I sincerely hope to do the same for any students I come in contact with. I am thankful every single day of my life for this opportunity to have a career doing what I love. A career in music is a gift not to be taken for granted, and perhaps the fact that it is hard-won makes it even sweeter.