I remember when I was younger, and had yet to attend any national music festivals, I had a naive perspective on the tuba world. I bought my first tuba CD in 1997 as a sophomore in high school. It was a recording of Roger Bobo. I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world to hear someone playing solos on the tuba. He seemed like a rock star that happened to play my instrument. And, clearly he must be living a completely different life than me because he has a CD. From my perspective as a high school musician, he was on a similar plane to a sports or TV celebrity (surely he was rich and lived in a beachfront mansion with four yachts, right?).
Now that I am on the professional side of things, I have a different perspective. Over the past decade and a half I have had the opportunity to meet many of the musicians that I grew up listening to and admiring (in fact, I am now peers with many of the musicians I listened to as a high school and college student). I almost always come away from these encounters struck by the fact that these musicians that I have known only through recordings and reputation are real people. These encounters also serve to remind me how small the tuba and euphonium world is. In our profession, we could easily play 6 degrees of Arnold Jacobs, although we would really only need 2 or 3 degrees. Everyone knows everyone.
I finally did see Roger Bobo in the flesh in 2002 when I was a college junior. He was at ITEC in North Carolina. But, I was so awed that I couldn't pluck up the courage to introduce myself.
I could be wrong, but I think that the perspective I had as a high schooler is not generally shared by young musicians today. I think that the internet has broken down many of the facades that I perceived. In 1997 the internet was still somewhat in its infancy. My only connection to Roger Bobo was his CD, and obviously anyone who could make a CD must really be somebody. If he had walked into my high school band room I probably would have frozen in fear (since five years later I still couldn't bring myself to say "hi"). Nowadays, students can interact with professional musicians through Facebook and Twitter. I think this has positive and negative results.
The good thing about this availability of information is that students hopefully realize that the great musicians of today are, by and large, regular people. They started in the same way that the students now find themselves and they continue to work hard. They weren't born as professional musicians, and they don't maintain professional lives without continued hard work. The down side is familiarity that leads to forwardness and informality. This is generally true as technology leads to a more convenient openness of information. Every professor has had to deal with emails from students that say something like: "sry i missed class did we do anything 2day?" I'm not a demanding person. I'm pretty laid back, but I expect students to be a bit more thoughtful when they email me (particularly after skipping class to nurse their hangover).
So, where am I going with all this? I am glad that my students have the conveniences that we have today. I am glad they are able to read about Sotto Voce touring. I'm glad they can see pictures of Sergio Carolino in the recording studio. I'm glad that they can easily contact a musician if they have a pedagogical question. But, I don't want this accessibility and familiarity that technology affords us to lead to disrespect when interacting with professional musicians.
A few rules to follow when talking to musicians (i.e. your future colleagues and employers):
- If you wish to contact a musician, do so in a formal way. Email is preferable to facebook. This will probably change in the next few years, but use email for now. When you write an email, start it with a salutation to the person - not "Hey." If you have a request, acknowledge the time that the individual will spend in answering your request and thank them in advance.
- The tuba and euphonium world is a small world. If you make a ridiculous comment on Facebook/Twitter/email/TubeNet you will be remembered as that guy/girl that said "...." My education students have had this point - that their actions will follow them into employment - drilled into them (especially concerning alcohol and drugs) but, the same should be true of words.
- If you request a lesson from a professional musician, don't ask "do you charge for lessons?" Assume that there will be a charge. Their time is valuable. It has a price. As much as you might think that the time spent listening to you play your horn (instead of spent practicing, working, or with family) is reward enough, the appropriate thing to do in ALL situations is to offer to pay. If it is unclear whether there will be a charge for a lesson, assume there there will be. Bring your checkbook to the lesson.
- Don't tell a professional musician that you know they sounded good because they play on X instrument or X mouthpiece. They may play on expensive or custom equipment, but in the end they just put in hours and hours of practice time over many years. They would probably sound just as good on your horn (trust me, I have heard Gene Pokorny play my horn and I have never been able to recreate that sound).
I want to be clear that I am not discouraging my students from interacting with professional musicians. I wish I had the courage when I had the chance to introduce myself to Roger Bobo. I have been fortunate in my position at IUP to have university support to take students to conferences and to bring guest artists to campus every year. I want them to interact and ask questions. But, I want them to interact in a manner that shows respect for the individual's status. Musicians are busy. Most are very kind people that are willing to share their time with students - particularly students that are respectful - but, their kindness is not an open door to disrespect.
So, students, be thoughtful in your conversations with professional musicians. They just may be your future employers and colleagues.