Alexander Borodin, who wrote the beautiful Polovtsian Dances, was a successful organic chemist and wrote music on the side. In fact he called himself a "Sunday Composer." Tomaso Albinoni, known for his masterful Adagio in G minor, was the son of a wealthy paper merchant and never had to compose for money. He called himself a "dilettante," a word that had a far less derogatory meaning in those days than it does today. Webster's says non-professionals "take up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, especially in a desultory or superficial way." They are merely dabblers.
Last week, John von Rhein, the Music Critic of the Chicago Tribune questioned the meaning in our day-and-age of an amateur or dilettante in classical music. He mourns the fact that an amateur is no longer seen as one who delights in the arts, but one who lacks skill. But he goes on to ask the hard question if those who've got the skills - the music professionals - have been able to preserve their delight in music-making. With some of the ugly stories coming out of the news, one can really begin to wonder if making music is making these musicians happy. Buffalo Philharmonic Oboist Sues Orchestra for Anti-Gay Bias, The Honeymoon is over for the Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director, or this shocker: A Case of Orchestral Terrorism at the Seattle Symphony.
I can say from my own experience it can be difficult to hang on to the original reason for becoming a professional musician - the sheer joy of making music - in the midst of politics, back-stabbing, seemingly endlessly repeated performances and the daily grind of always staying in top form. Chanticleer was in town this past week, and one of the members told me after the concert that any personal issues or irritations get checked at the stage door and great singing always comes first. Whether every moment is one of ecstatic bliss is depatable. Who can say they're ecstatic every moment that they're with their lover or traveling on an exotic vacation? But maybe the pro is able to tap into their reserve of joy and bring it to the fore as needed. At least as an audience member of professional ensembles, they've got me fooled!