At the end of each recital or performance, musicians are used to hearing people emphatically telling them how gifted they are. These compliments are well-deserved, as there is a talent, passion, and dedication needed to warrant these compliments.
It strokes the ego of the compliment’s recipient. The recipient might consider such compliments superficial, but in reality, these words, no matter how trite, are often the support needed to go on. The idea of a divine gift or talent is a powerful one. And to a degree, this gift is true.
Musicians, like all artists, have creative idiosyncrasies in order to do what they do. And anyone who’s ever spoken to a musician can attest to this fact.
This makes it especially painful and confusing to consider the issues of gender, race and income inequality represented in the ecosystem that is conservatory-level music.
To do so, one has to question not just their own degree of privilege, but also the legitimacy of their talent, which is typically ascribed to their diligence.
Playing music is expensive, and getting good at music is more expensive. Instruments are expensive, lessons are expensive, and living in a school district with a good music program or participating in good extracurricular music programs is – guess what – expensive.
In order to get their foot in the door of music schools, an increasing number of students feel the need to participate in camps and intensives, or to pay for “trial” lessons with the private teacher of a music school. If it sounds like this is a pay-to-play system, that’s because in many ways, it is.
Sure, music schools give out nice scholarship packages occasionally. But what goes into earning that scholarship? Money is a huge factor in getting the training and opportunity to be even considered.
I’m an example of one of these privileged individuals. My family could afford private teachers, I attended a private school with a very strong music program, and I participated in extracurricular programs that allowed me to be the musician I am.
There are a lot of people out there more talented than I am who didn’t have the same opportunities to grow as I did. As nice as it would be to believe that I was more talented or that I worked harder than the other kids, it’s not the truth. The truth is that I had an advantage.