On Deciding To Part Ways
August 11, 2009
Sometimes an artist's relationship with his or her company or group can last a lifetime or decades. Sometimes it barely lasts a season. I've been curious lately about what it is about a long-term, largely positive collaborative situation that makes an artist decide to move on when there's no obvious reason at stake -- such as a lack of funds or a falling out with a collaborator -- driving the decision.
I've been in many situations in my life as a musician where a longstanding collaboration with an orchestra, wind ensemble or choral group has gone from fueling me to feeling like a millstone around my neck. What's interesting is that the change happens so insidiously that it's often hard to tell what's happened to alter my feelings about being involved with the group and make me want to quit.
I can look back once a collaboration has turned sour and still remember the excitement I felt over several years about going to rehearsals, the satisfaction of playing, singing, dancing or acting well, the challenges of getting a tricky passage perfect, the fun of meeting other artists involved with the group and becoming friends with them, and the high of performing in their company.
And yet, like a relationship that's run its course, I've sometimes arrived at a point where I absolutely have to move on. I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to call this a product of "artistic differences" at least in the traditional sense of the term. Then again, I suppose what happens is that I get bored with the way that things are being done and start to feel antsy for a different approach, which in a sense is another way of saying that I have developed artistic differences with the group.
This has happened to me twice since I moved to the Bay Area nearly 10 years ago. The first was with an orchestra, which I loved playing with for years until I started to get fed up with the music director's slipshod approach to conducting and the fact that we played Beethoven's 9th Symphony year after year after year and still never seemed to improve!
The second instance happened more recently, this time with a vocal ensemble. Singing with this group has been such an important part of my life for the last few years, but lately I've become very unsatisfied with our work. The director misses rehearsals to go on vacation and pays very little attention to detail -- including major issues like how to pronounce words. He's gotten very lazy. The repertoire is wonderful but we are constantly under-rehearsed. And projects sometimes don't reach fruition -- a recording we put together over several very late nights a couple of years ago still hasn't been edited or turned into a CD. I managed to drag myself through the last set with little enthusiasm despite loving the music we performed. And now I know it's time to call it quits and find some other musical outlet(s) that will hopefully better suit my temperament.
What's all this about? Are my standards getting higher? Am I developing more rigor and proficiency as an artist? Or am I just turning into a cantankerous, old fart? Maybe it's just a question of boredom. Falling in love and falling out of love is something we all experience. But we generally think of it in terms of romantic relationships rather than relationships we develop artistically over the course of our lives.