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Boost Your Game Like a Classical Musician

October 24, 2013, 12:34 PM

If you think the industry you work in is tough, try being a classical musician. 

Despite the fact that 77 percent of Americans have a favorable view of classical music (yes, pollsters actually track these sorts of things), Americans don't tend to vote with their wallets for classical. There is no classical equivalent, for instance, to the so-called "BieberArmy," groups of fanatical fans who show up at record stores and buy out all of Justin Bieber's albums

With the classical recording industry in a downward spiral and orchestras around the country hampered by budget cuts and labor disputes, you really have to love what you do to pursue a career in this field. So how does one make it work? And for those of us who put the trombone down in high school, what lessons can we learn from successful musicians that might be applicable to our own industries?

These questions are tackled in a lesson on Big Think Edge, the only forum on YouTube designed to help you get the skills you need to be successful in a rapidly changing world. According to Roberto Diaz, a violinist and president of the Curtis Institute of Music, the key to a successful career in music begins with a sense of awareness about the world of music in general and how it is rapidly changing.  

"Musicians now depend less and less on someone else," Diaz points out, like a "major recording company or a PR firm to do the things that they used to do."  Musicians are starting to self-produce CD’s and distribute content on the Internet. "They’re doing many things that are really brand new in many ways, especially in classical music," Diaz says. 

In this sense, a classical musician today needs to take the initiative to invent his or her career. But it can no longer be a one-dimensional career. 

"To just play in a symphony orchestra or to just be a member of an opera company or to just play in a string quartet is a fine thing to do," Diaz says, but musicians need to use their position "as a platform to do many other things." That might involve starting a chamber music series, or teaching - "things that are different than what they do in the orchestra, and yet are representing the institution, the orchestra and themselves in a much more varied way."

For instance, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma founded the Silk Road Project, a non-profit that aims to connect the world's neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe. Diaz says that this project is not only indicative of Ma's multifaceted career, it is also a testament to the passion he has for music, a passion that is an absolute necessity if you want to succeed in this industry. 

"You don’t go through all of this work and suffering that we have to do as artists because your mother said so," Diaz says. "At some point, you have to have it inside."

Sign up for a free trial and watch Roberto Diaz's lesson Big Think Edge here

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