Now that the 2014 playoffs are in the throes of their dramatic conclusion in Kansas City and San Francisco, I have been reminded of something. A few years ago a mentor of mine took me to his office, and after a fairly lengthy conversation, asked “What is it that makes baseball players different from us?”
Those of you who know me know that I am a rather enthusiastic fan of the Atlanta Braves and baseball as a whole. I have been to games with my father every year for as long as I can remember, I grew up idolizing Chipper Jones, I played in little league under my dad’s coaching for about seven years. Needless to say, baseball has been a large part of my life for a very long time. To this day, talking about the game with my dad is one of my absolute favorite things to do.
Middle school marked the beginning of a new passion for me as I began playing the trumpet, once again following the example of my father. Through middle and high school I participated in a number of activities, but with each year my passion for music grew. I devoted more and more of my life to music. I took private lessons, composed, arranged, I began finding ways to perform outside of high school band, and took auditions. By the time I graduated, I had committed myself to making a career out of my craft.
What drove me to this decision? I found that no matter what I did and enjoyed, I quickly went back to music in one way or another. I had found what I felt to be my purpose. What I am here to do.
Back to the baseball example: why do baseball players continue to play a sport with extreme levels of competition, with odds stacked so high against them to “make it” professionally, with incredibly high risk for career-ending injury? Why do I continue to play with the extreme levels of competition I face? Why do I keep playing when there is not a tangible, definitive mark of “making it” as a musician? Alright, so my chances at a career ending injury from a 95mph tuba mouthpiece or a headfirst slide into the conductor’s podium are slim to none. I’ll give you that one, ball players.
Take, for example, Atlanta Braves pitcher Ervin Santana. His catchphrase “smellbaseball” is his simple way of telling us what the game means to him. “It’s simple. To smell baseball is to love baseball”. Every aspect of the game from the smell of the outfield grass to the way a rosin bag feels in his hand means everything to him and gives him the passion to play his game and leave his mark on the field for years to come.
To leave your mark on the field, on the stage, on the world, or even on the mind of a young child bored out of his wits at his parents’ dinner party. If we inspire anybody, no matter how small, to explore our world then we have done our job. I have spent countless nights pondering that question of the difference between two of my absolute favorite pastimes. Between my idols: Chipper Jones and Thomas Hooten. Between the coaches and the conductors. The batting practice and the scales. The passion and inspiration that our painstakingly cultivated product can bring to even one person is why we do what we do, regardless of what that may be.
I have found a few simple answers to the question I was given. Answers that serve no purpose other than my late-night amusement. I haven’t seen many stages filled with two orchestras competing for the pennant in the bottom of the Beethoven’s Ninth, just as I have never seen a pitcher take signs and hurl a 95mph fastball down the stage for the conductor to hit with his baton (though I would find that wildly entertaining).
So often do we look at others and what they do as inferior in comparison to what we do. Our coursework in school was more difficult than theirs. Their job prospects after school are more sparse than ours! They make less money than we do! We have more culture than him! These ideas serve no purpose but to hide the forest in the trees. To hide the value of our peers in other fields and what they bring to the world.
This brings us back to the initial question one last time. Why are we, the musicians, any different from baseball players? How is a game of baseball different than a chamber concert? How do we differ from anybody following their passion for anything? Simply put, there are no intrinsic or extrinsic differences between any of us. The passion that drives us is what makes our product, our sport, our craft, our art more wonderful and fulfilling.
It is the passion that will inspire those who follow us to explore what we do and bring their influence to our craft. To cultivate and evolve our product as we move ahead into the unknown.