Sunday, March 30, 2008

On Envy

Something I have been wanting to do for a while on this blog is to make more substantive posts about my thoughts and feelings about music and conducting. The Weekend Concert Calendar updates have gotten me blogging more regularly, so that's good, but I am going to try to start blogging regularly about other things too, that might give insight into that most revered object, The Musician's Braaaaaiiins.

Today's post is on envy.

Namely, I haz it.

If someone says to me, "Oh, I know this conductor, they're about your age, blah, blah, blah, you should meet them," my immediate response is pretty much "No I shouldn't! I hate them already!"

I am just massively jealous of all other conductors in my peer group. I am jealous that they get gigs that I didn't, that they have training that I didn't, that they have ears that I don't, that they are cuter, that they are nerdier, that they are more charismatic, have better stick technique, get gigs in spite of the fact that they have worse stick technique, that they have more contacts, that they have cool mentors, that they have piano skills, that they can tap-dance, you name it. Obviously this all comes from the fact that I don't have the career I want right now - I want to be conducting and music-making full-time - and I am still quite insecure in my abilities. And of course, once I meet one of these other conductors in person, I often find them good to talk to, and easy to connect with, and both charming and skilled (JR of OperaHub comes to mind.)

It should be noted that age is the key envy trigger. Older conductors or people with respected careers never generate these feelings. It's only the people I feel threatened by, people who are my direct competitors. Also, they need to be fairly formless - my friends who are conductors also don't generate this knee-jerk response. (I will not deny that there is the occasional conductor my age that I do know personally, and just don't particularly get on with - those I remain envious of!)

So, if you say to me, "Oh, I just LOVE so-and-so," don't be surprised if my response is lukewarm. Inside, I am saying, "But, but, I can do that, too!" I may also merely grunt if you say, "Oh, you should meet so-and-so! They're a conductor, too!"

(I should note that this is not the same as saying, "Oh, you should meet so-and-so, because they're gay/Asian/freckled/have a Wainwright bank account just like you and you'll love them!" In those situations, it is insulting and thoughtless to assume that people with like characteristics will automatically click. However, it IS perfectly reasonable to assume that I might want to network with other conductors. It is, in fact, a good idea for me to do so. So I encourage you to keep plugging in the face of any arched eyebrows you may get.)

Usually this envy manifests in a sort of flame-like spurt at the mention of another conductor, which is immediately tamped down so that I can function like a mature and compassionate human being. And sadly for the purposes of story-telling, I don't have any huge feuds with anyone, and this has never led to the least bit of drama. But I do think it's valuable to share that hey, these ugly feelings are there. In a profession that is so competitive (and here I mean the music business in general) I suspect that lots of musicians are envious of each other's success. I'm here to tell you that it's OK. You can be envious, squash it down, and then move on to be supportive of each other. It's not having negative feelings, it's how you act on them (or refrain from acting/speaking/snarking) that counts. I mention this because I suspect at least one reader's response to this post will be "Well, you shouldn't feel that way!" Maybe I shouldn't. But that is a far cry from doesn't.

As always, there is a lolcat for everything. My feelings towards other conductors can pretty much be summed up thus:

Humorous Pictures


  1. I applaud your honesty here; I can pretty much guarantee that others share these feelings! Of course, what you're describing isn't limited to the music / conducting world, either.

    I like your conclusion at the end of this post, too. (Not the lolcat -- well, that too, but what I meant was your point that envy is natural and it's okay and one can experience it and then move on to a healthy relationship even with the person of whom one had been envious.) Rock on.

  2. I'll bet this is true in any profession; I know it is in mine. Early in grad school, I started thinking about what 'profession' means — the act of professing, of standing up and saying this is what I do. That's hard, and it's always scary thinking you can nerve yourself to do it and have the world answer yes, and?

    But you like the work, and you're doing it, so brava!

  3. To Katherine:

    Good point. It has taken me a while to feel comfortable saying "I am a musician" and "I am a conductor" when people say, "So, what do you do?" It's getting a little easier, but it's taking a while - it's tough to shake the feeling of being a fake. Hello, imposter syndrome? But that's a whole other post.