Listening to Your World, Listening to Your Future

String Visions wishes everyone a Happy New Year. This time of year is often full of reflection as we look back at the failures and successes of the past year and prepare for a new one.

When we first launched this website back in May, our very first post was about the incredible pace of change in today’s world, and the challenges that change is throwing at classical music and musicians every day.

To empower classical musicians in the modern world… that was and remains our passion and dedication at String Visions. Over the last seven months we’ve brought to you educational and inspirational pieces — from the importance of sleep and professional career coaching, to interviews with leading musical visionaries like Paul EllisonSebastian Ruth, and Lynn Harrell and Helen Nightengale.

Today we are sharing a powerful speech from Robert McDuffie which he gave at the Fall Convocation ceremony at the University of Denver Lamont School of Music. Mr. McDuffie is a truly remarkable musical innovator, educator, performer, and entrepreneur who we’ve featured a couple times in recent months.

This speech is perhaps one of the most impactful things we’ve posted on the site, and thus is fitting way to kick off the new year. As you read, think about all of the possibilities for the coming months. Let’s make 2012 a great year.

“Fiddler on the Run – Crafting a Career in Music”

Robert McDuffie, McDuffie Center for Strings
Fall Convocation Address, Lamont School of Music, University of Denver

This is how fast your life can change. I’m talking to you today because the great violinist Itzhak Perlman pulled me off the basketball court. Technically it was my mother who kept me out of a playoff game in high school, but it was to go hear Perlman play.

You can imagine that he didn’t come to Macon, Georgia very often. The night he happened to show up – was the same night my team was in the playoffs for the first time. But my mother wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I went to the concert. After hearing just a few notes, I knew right then and there that I would be a musician for the rest of my life.

I didn’t know how hard it would be, or how different my career would be from that of almost any violinist who came before. Several of us in my generation aren’t just violinists. We’re businesspeople. We’re salespeople. We’re entrepreneurs. And you’re going to have to be, too, You’ll need to be a self-promoter, a producer, a project manager and — most important of all — an effective communicator.

In the old days, the paths were steep but clearly marked. You practiced hard and studied with good people, and maybe you won a competition. If you did, it was big news. It made the newspapers and music magazines, and there were a lot more of those. Then you played or sang in recitals in small cities. Then medium-sized cities. Then big cities, where record producers came to hear you and offer you deals. You got on the radio, maybe even on TV once in a while. And if you had a different blessing from the career gods, you could still have a great time and make a good living in an orchestra or a chamber group. If you got one of those jobs, you had it for life — or until you couldn’t stand the rest of your quartet anymore.

But all that has changed. The big record labels, the music magazines, many of the classical radio stations — gone. Music critics — almost all gone. Where are you going to get that great review so your mother can brag about you? If you had told me early in my career a day would come when the Philadelphia Orchestra would declare bankruptcy, or the Colorado Symphony would have to suspend operations for a large chunk of their season, I would have thought you were crazy.

What we are dealing with is a time of unprecedented change in the music we love. Now, the career paths aren’t just unmarked — they’re on shifting sand. Good luck on that solo career or that orchestra job. You’re going to need luck AND a business-oriented education that prepares the entrepreneurial musician for the real world, because there are lots of people fighting for the same opportunities.

And it will be a great deal easier for you if you do three simple things: embrace the moment; prepare for the next; and, most important, take comfort in the fact that your career is YOUR career — one that you make yourself.

3 Responses to Listening to Your World, Listening to Your Future

  1. Tom Pinit January 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Hi Colin, thanks for posting this wonderful speech by Robert McDuffie. We are at an unprecedented crossroads thanks to the Internet, social media, and the global “flattening” that is occurring. I totally agree that the old ways of doing business, whether in music or elsewhere, have already succumbed to these new ways of “making it” in the world. It is exciting and refreshing to hear that Mercer University is preparing its music students for the future with these new tools. Thanks for your viewpoints!

    • Colin Cronin January 7, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      Hi Tom! Thanks for the comments and I’m glad that you found this article enjoyable and impactful.

      You are absolutely right when it comes to the crossroads we are at as musicians, and more broadly as people. It is fascinating to see what technological change and innovation in ideas are doing to our socioeconomic situations. Mr. McDuffie’s goals are very admirable. We will be looking forward to seeing what comes of their efforts at Mercer.

  2. Chris Davis June 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    I know that I’m a year late but thanks for this post. This encouragement had perfect timing for me. I am living the life that Mr. McDuffie was speaking of (I guess most serious musicians are these days).

    I have so many favorite quotes from his speech but one is, ” Things don’t always go your way but they have a better chance if they involve situations you create yourself.”


    Thanks Colin!

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