The Oxford English Dictionary defines a musician as “A person who plays a musical instrument, especially as a profession, or is musically talented.” Dictionary.com includes the same statement as Oxford, but adds “music.” Wikipedia delves a little deeper with its definition: “a person who is talented in making music or performing music creatively, or one who composes, conducts, or performs music. Musicians can specialize in any musical style, and some musicians play in a variety of different styles.” Just like music itself, these definitions leave much open to interpretation. Who gets to define talent or skill when it comes to such a subjective field? That’s a topic for another day.
Instead, I’d like to know how musicians define themselves. Everyday, musicians get labeled. There are good and talented musicians, there are bad musicians, there are amateur and professional musicians. There are musicians who perform cultural rituals (such as those who sing the national anthem at the start of a baseball game or perform at a halftime show), and there are muscians who try to redefine culture. Some musicians lead amateur performances (cantors and other church musicians), and other musicians help pass the time (background music for social events). Some musicians study the effects of their art, and some work always to enhance it. Some musicians perpetuate their skills through instructing students, and some seek to learn in every situation.
If you are a musician, can you choose one of the following statements that defines you? Probably not. Can you sum up what your musicianship means in one statement? What kind of musician do you aspire to be? Who are your role models, and what statement do you think best defines them?
Here is my comprehensive list of self-defining statements:
- I am an entertainer. My performances are primarily to entertain audiences.
- I am a curator. My work is to present music in a way that helps audiences understand its artistic, cultural, and historic significance.
- I am a historian. My job is to create music that sounds as close as possible to what the composer intended in their era.
- I am an artist. My job is to use my creativity to find new and different ways to perform familiar works and to help create new music.
- I am a facilitator. My job is to follow guidelines of sound, style, and technique put forth by my professional peers and superiors.
- I am a student. I am constantly seeking new knowledge and innovative solutions to everyday challenges.
- I am a master. I have completed my training and am the best musician I can be.
- I am an entrepreneur. I value the career flexibility of ensemble, repertoire, and schedule that allows me to participate in performances that appeal to my various interests.