Why We Do What We Do

In early September, the 2014-15 Citizen Musician Fellows met for the first time. We had all been waiting for the beginning of the season and were eager to get started. It was clear to me that we were very excited to be there, and this led me to revisit a few questions I had been thinking about throughout the year: Why is it that I continue pursuing this tough and competitive career in classical music? Why does my desire to join an orchestra continue to grow, even when I hear about the financial troubles that orchestras are facing? Why do we do what we do?

I know that I am not alone in this feeling of passion for “classical music.” I can sense it in the other Citizen Musician Fellows, I have sensed it in many young musicians that I have played with in the Civic, in schools, summer festivals and in other freelance orchestras. I have also felt immense amounts of passion while performing with top professional groups. With them, it’s different, however; they don’t show as much outward eagerness, but they are all deeply committed to their job, and understand the responsibility that comes with it.

So, where is this coming from, the passion that motivates many people to seek a career in classical music when there are so few jobs and when there are other more lucrative careers? I am sure there are many reasons, but I have had two life events recently that have shed some light on these questions and have given me some ideas on why I do what I do.

During my Citizen Musician Fellowship interview last spring, one of the committee members—a percussionist of the CSO who knows me well—asked how I felt after being runner-up for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Principal Timpani audition. He wanted to know how I recovered after being so close to winning a position with a renowned American orchestra (around 100 people came to the audition).

I was notified just a few weeks before the fellowship interview that I had not won the job in Detroit. I had been one of two timpanists that played a trial week with the orchestra in January. I had prepared for this trial week for four months and the music I was playing was my life for that period of time. I listened to many recordings, I practiced, I studied scores, I thought about several ways to play certain passages, I imagined myself playing with the orchestra. This work prepared me for a great week of rehearsals and concerts with the DSO

When I heard I didn’t get the job, I was, of course, disappointed because I was so close to accomplishing something I always wanted. But, surprisingly, it was not too hard to get over the fact that I didn’t win. I believe I recovered quickly because I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to play with a really great ensemble and to play amazing music that I really enjoyed. The feeling of being on stage with one of the world’s great orchestras, playing incredible music that has moved people for over 200 years, was exhilarating, exciting and an honor. I wasn’t discouraged, but rather, became determined to create for myself more performing opportunities like what I had experienced in Detroit. It was clearer to me than ever that I really wanted to play in a major orchestra.

Amidst this newfound determination, another revealing event occurred earlier in the summer: I was involved in a bicycle accident while on vacation in Colorado. The accident was serious, and both my arms were badly injured along with several abrasions around my body. Worst of all, I had to have surgery for a broken thumb.

Simon with bike

Just a few weeks before this happened, I had the privilege of playing with the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago. I played a number of concerts at the gorgeous Pritzker Pavilion at Millenium Park and it was exhilarating to share amazing music with a wonderful audience that attends this free festival (sometimes over 10,000 people for a single event!). After GPMF concerts, I had a very positive outlook about life and my career, and was enjoying very much being able to “make a living” and pay my bills doing what I had learned after many years of school and hard work. Things seemed to be going great in many aspects in life until I had a bicycle accident.

I wasn’t discouraged, but rather, became determined to create for myself more performing opportunities like what I had experienced in Detroit. It was clearer to me than ever that I really wanted to play in a major orchestra.

The surgery was very delicate and it was uncertain whether my thumb would reach 100% recovery. I was scared I was not going to be able to grip my sticks the way I used to since the base of my thumb was broken to a few pieces. My desire to get back to playing was huge. Yet, despite the accident, there has been no doubt in my mind that I want to keep playing music. I want to continue fulfilling my life by playing and sharing this art with others.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend and I was telling her how much I missed my job and how much I was looking forward to playing again. She has a job at an office and she said “I wish I felt that way about my job; I wish I wanted to do it as much as you want to make music.”

It has been two months since I had surgery and my hands are slowly getting back in shape. I am thankful to be playing again. I performed with the Civic Orchestra in the Hallowed Haunts concerts and I am looking forward to many more concerts to come this season. After all the challenges I’ve had and all that has not yet come to pass, I remain grateful, determined and passionate about classical music.

By Simón Gómez