Last week I was invited by the Mott College Music Department in Flint, Michigan, in conjunction with the Flint Concert Band, to be an Artist in Residence for the week. I gave masterclasses to students from the trombone studio of Mott College and the University of Michigan-Flint, and I was the soloist for Steven Rosenhaus' 9 Feet of Brass, a Concerto for Trombone and Band, a piece I commissioned, and gave the world premier performance of last year with the Sacred Heart Band, with the composer conducting.
In the masterclasses the trombone players were all eager and enthusiastic. Some wanted to be music teachers, others were performance majors with interests that ranged from popular/jazz styles, to wanting to have a career as an orchestral trombonist.
The Mott College band is made up of a combination of music majors and non-majors. The Flint Cncert Band is made up of community members, some of whom are music teachers, but most are amateurs who love performing.
The word "amateur" gets a bad rap at times. People often use that word to express frustration with an individual, or individuals, who fail to perform up to expectations. Have you ever heard th expression "What is this!? Amateur hour!?"
The word amateur comes from the French and means "lover of", this can be traced back to the Latin amator which means "lover". To say that someone is an amateur musician is to simply say that they are a lover of music. My goal as a music educator is to help my students reach their full potential as individuals. Music is my vehicle to achieve that goal. One of the things that gives me great joy is to see musicians pick up their instruments years after they've left school, or in some cases still playing years after they've left school. Community bands and orchestras are made up of amateurs, those who truly love music and perform even without getting paid to play it.
Every time I hear a community ensemble I know that somewhere they have a HS or college band director who is beaming with pride, myself included, knowing that their love and passion for music-making is being carried on by a former student.
Ive conducted a lot of community ensembles over the years. Bands, orchestras, even an opera company. One of the first ensembles I conducted was a string orchestra in Pittsburgh called the Tuesday Musical Club String Ensemble. They were made up of about 30 amateur musicians, most of whom were well past 65 years of age. The oldest member, a violinist named Izzy, was 104! And he could still play.
As I listened to the Flint Concert Band last week I was reminded again of the power of music to bring people together, and to bridge divides. The energy, joy, and raw emotion of music is sometimes more easily expressed by those who carry the flame with them throughout their entire life than by those who have made a career of it who's livelihood depends on perfection every single time. Perfection is a goal to strive for, so long as in the process of striving for it a musician hasn't lost his soul, his ability to move someone with their music.
If you are a musician I encourage you to dust off your instrument, practice a little bit, maybe find a teacher to help you get back into shape, and then find a band or orchestra in your community and start sharing your passion of making music with others. Be one who loves making music. Be an amateur!