I was fortunate to grow up in a professionally oriented youth orchestra. In fact, the Portland Youth Philharmonic was no extracurricular orchestra for high school students. It was an orchestra that rehearsed four times a week, included young people up to 21 years of age, and taught dedication, commitment, discipline, and hard work. Winds, brass, and percussion met on Thursday nights, strings on Saturday mornings, and everyone came together on Wednesday and Saturday nights. With a schedule like that you had to be dedicated. You could not take time off for the state solo and ensemble contest or skip a Saturday for the high school prom. If you made it into this orchestra, you were expected to treat it as a professional obligation. Alums of this organization went on to play in the Boston Symphony, the Juilliard String Quartet, the American String Quartet, and many others.
That background taught me to treat most of my life’s endeavors as a professional rather than an amateur. That applied to music, of course, but also to other pursuits that many would consider hobbies, such as knitting and quilting. It was not enough for me to learn to knit; I had to take a three-year course for certification as a Master Hand Knitter by The National Knitting Association. In other words, I learned to aspire to be the best at whatever I did.
The Artistic Aspects
So what is the difference between being a professional and an amateur? I think it comes down to commitment and staying power. Professionals master the tools of their trade, whether those tools are a musical instrument, a paint brush, or knitting needles. They show up every day, prepared, and ready to do the best job they know how to do, whether they feel like it or not. Not only that, they arrive on time, if not early, and appropriately dressed, so that there are no distractions from their tasks at hand. I had a student many years ago at DePaul University who was a good musician; unfortunately she arrived late for every lesson she ever took. That communicated to me a lack of respect for me and my time, and I never recommended her for a single gig. I could not depend upon her ability to arrive on time for a job. Punctuality is important; time is money, as they say in the recording industry.
Included in the artistic aspect is staying informed academically as well. It is crucial to remain educated and well-read on the latest musical research, history, and pedagogical techniques. It is not acceptable simply to teach as you were taught, because improvements are always being made. Wouldn’t you like to know about them? Sure you would, because growth comes through education. Hopefully, we are not done learning when we graduate.
The Business Aspects
There is also a business component to being a professional. It is not enough to have mastered your instrument of choice; you also have to know how to market yourself. The world will not beat a path to your door if they do not know you exist.
There are flutists today promoting themselves with alluring photos in tight-fitting dresses. While an advertising hook, something that sets you apart from the rest of the flute world, is a good idea, choosing sexuality instead of musical expertise is not recommended. In the end, you have to deliver the musical goods, or no one will come back for a second hearing anyway, so why not focus on your art rather than your body?
Other appropriate promotional tools include well-written long and short biographies that are updated at least once a year. Good professional photographs are essential for any musician who wants to establish a professional presence. I cannot tell you how many interviews of flutists never made it into print in Flute Talk because those flutists could not provide adequate photographs for the article. Having these things prepared and ready to go allows you to shoot them off to a presenter at a moment’s notice via email. It does not get simpler than that.
A webpage is another valuable promotional tool. There are several excellent examples of flutists’ webpages online that can provide ideas. (http://www.jimwalkerflute.com/, http://www.iflute.com/, http://davidshostac.com/) YouTube is another place that promotes the work you are doing. You can post videos of your performances such as Greg Pattillo’s Mario Brother’s theme, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfrKqFp0Zg or Emmanuel Pahud’s Entr’acte from Bizet’s Carmen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eChLCFAGyx0.
Establish an email for professional use (with an appropriate address) and monitor that account on a daily basis. Reply to emails in a timely fashion; there is nothing worse than sending an artist an email that they do not bother to answer for weeks. We are living in the digital age, so get with the times and be ready to do business in that environment.
The Networking Aspects
You cannot excel in a vacuum. Progress increases exponentially as you work with others in a positive way. Join the National Flute Association and attend their yearly convention, where you will interact with hundreds of other flutists from around the world. Join a local flute club to get to know other flutists in your area. These groups often have monthly programs, teachers’ exchanges, and flute choirs – all worthy endeavors for those wishing to establish a professional presence in the community.
When I applied for the editor’s position at Flute Talk back in 2001, the publisher contacted Walfrid Kujala and asked for a recommendation. I knew Wally well, and happily, he spoke well of me. After accepting the position I contacted the players I knew to write articles. They did, and they recommended others who could write as well. Are you seeing a pattern here? I may not have consciously thought, “Hmm, I’m going to network here,” but all of the contacts I had made prior to 2001 were useful when I took that job.
I urge you to ask yourself some serious questions. Is my commitment level high enough to sustain a professional career in music? Am I prepared to do the hard work? All of it? Am I a professional or an amateur?