stereotypes

I'm letting myself blog this afternoon, despite the mess in the kitchen, because for the first time in weeks, I've succeeded in getting Daniel to nap without resorting to one of two things: 1) waiting until 5:00 when he's so tired he can't walk straight and letting him crash in front of Wallace and Gromit, or 2) packing him in the car with Anya and driving to Starbucks for a much-needed latté and not returning home until they're both asleep. I am a little ashamed of both of these things, but you gotta do whatcha gotta do. And both of those options prevents me from cracking open a bottle of wine at four in the afternoon (which I'll confess to having done a time or two), so there you go.

Anyway, I was watching the final round of a high school concerto competition with MSO (Madison Symphony Orchestra) on public TV the other night. I recognized probably half of the orchestra players on the screen because they are professors at the school of music or students or former students. I was getting a little nostalgic, and I also got to thinking about stereotypes. You've probably heard somebody say something like "Stereotypes exist for a reason; there's usually some truth to them." This statement can be maddeningly ignorant in some cases (like in conversations about racial stereotypes, but let's please not get onto that topic), but when it comes to musicians, there's some truth there.

Here are a few that come to mind:

1) Most tuba players are large males with a laid-back personality and jolly sense of humor.

2) Flute players fall into three categories: ditzy gay men, ditzy girly-girls, and jaded ex-players who leave the flute world for academic fields like musicology.

3) Conductors are assholes.

4) Singers, God love 'em, are high-strung, sensitive divas who always wear scarves because they are cold (even in summer) and who can tell you without missing a beat a half dozen methods of snot-removal in allergy season. They also can't count.

5) Percussionists are very, very cool. Nothing can faze a percussionist. It probably has something to do with all the Steve Reich they play.

6) Early music people have long hair and wear old sandals (except the singers.) They are also extremely nerdy.

7) Except for the scarves and the mucous, violinists are a lot like singers who practice more.

Of course, I could name you several exceptions to each one of these. I know female tuba players, I might know a nice conductor or two. I could probably find you a high-strung percussionist, a stylish early music specialist, and some down-to-earth flutists. But in my experience, a lot of musicians fit the stereotypes.

Including me. You probably notice that I didn't say anything about pianists up there. That's because I'm giving them (us) a whole list:
Pianists are straight-A students.
Pianists are obsessed with practicing.
Pianists who can't hack it as soloists decide to become accompanists because it's "easier."
Pianists who become piano teachers couldn't hack it as soloists, either.

There are some negative stereotypes about piano teachers and accompanists, and I fit a lot of them. Most of us are women. Most of us can't really make a good living teaching and accompanying, but that's okay because we find ourselves husbands with good jobs (and health insurance) so we don't have to worry about it. Most of us have some nurturing instinct that compels us to teach children and work with others to perform. Along with that comes a tendency to fail to assert oneself musically and just go along with the other performer, thus securing the accompanist's position as "second-tier" to the soloist. Lord knows I've done that many times, just to be nice, or because I'm afraid of offending someone or suggesting that my way might be better. That's no good, though, because it's a compromise of standards and in the end, the music suffers. It took me a lot of years of grad school to get over that tendency, and I'm still working on that. (Of course, there's an art to coaching and collaborating, especially with someone who is your musical equal, but that's a whole other blog entry.)

Even though I'm good at what I do, it kind of bugs me that I fit these stereotypes. I wish I didn't have to try so hard to stick up for myself (that goes for life in general, too.) I wish I could theoretically find a job in my field that would pay a decent wage AND come with health insurance so I didn't have to be dependent on Stuart for that (I say "theoretically" because with our kids so little, I'm not looking for a job at all right now and I don't know when I will.) I guess the best way to overcome it is to be the best musician I can be, work hard, play the kind of music that makes people sit up and listen, play it WELL so that people sit up and listen. And also, charge enough to be taken seriously...that's hard, deciding how much you're worth.

Uck, sorry about the rambling post here. I was hoping this would be funnier and more succinct. I guess it's all the sleep issues and sleep deprivation preventing me from being a better blogger.

Anyway, here's my pathetic plea for comments (!): what are the stereotypes you encounter? As musicians? As the people you are? Do you dispute any from the list I've got up there?

Comments

Steph said…
Heh. These are good.

The only one I might dispute is the violin one. Maybe the soloists, concertmasters and principals are divas, but overall I think if the average violinist were that much like the average solo singer the orchestra would implode. There are just too darn many of them to sustain lots of diva-tude. I don't really have a replacement stereotype, though, because I'm a (jaded, ex-, academic) flutist and we don't mingle with string players. I do remember noticing that a lot of violinists wear sensible shoes.

I hate the "can't hack it as soloists" thing. If that's true of accompanists and piano teachers, it's also true of the majority of working musicians. The majority of orchestral musicians can't "hack it" as soloists either--but that doesn't mean they're not incredibly skilled in ways that soloists perhaps aren't. Soloists are great, but they're just one piece of a very big pie. (I like the corny pie metaphor because it's not a ladder. Down with the hierarchy!)
The biggest stereotypes I encounter as a human being are all related to single motherhood:

I am a single mother; ergo, I must be a slut, ready to boink anything in sight.

I am a single mother who combined households with another single mother just so we could survive in this stinking economy; ergo, I must be a lesbian. (If you combine this with the previous stereotype, does this mean I'm a lebsian slut?!? Just asking. LOL. Not that I have anything against the LBGT community, I just don't happen to be one, that's all.)

I am a single mother of a little boy; ergo, I must be dying to land an adult male (regardless of personality or habits) to take my son and teach him how to be a "real" man. [snort!]

I am a single mother; ergo, when I do happen to go out with aforementioned roomate once every three months or so, I should fall over myself with gratitude when some staggeringly drunk SOB makes ham-handed passes at me and tries to cop a feel. I. Don't. Think. So.

Anyway, that's my contribution to the subject of stereo-types. Oh, and those flutists you mentioned? Some of us go for academic pursuits in Sociology, too. LOL!
canadahauntsme said…
Here are many I have heard regarding my kind:

Although intelligent, engineers are arrogant single misogynistic men who lack both social skills and the ability to aspire for anything more than the most expensive car we can afford.
Strangeite said…
Is the truth in musician stereotypes because (i) those specific personalties are drawn to those particular instruments or (ii)that when they were young and choosing instruments, adults pushed them towards specific instruments. For example, the middle school band teacher pushing the large boy towards to Tuba because he or she believes they will be better at supporting its weight and have the necessary lung capacity. Also, said middle school teacher may be subconsciously imposing their stereotypes upon their young charges.

The truth is probably a little of both.
Claire said…
Speaking of tuba stereotypes, I have a friend who teaches band in the Minneapolis area and come spring time, when new kids sign up for instruments, she has so many GREAT stories of the parents who come in and fight with her about which instrument their kid chose. The example she always has is the tuba. She said that parents complain that the tuba doesn't do much and is the (in a lower voice)"bum, bum, bum, bum" dude. They want their kids playing the trumpet, which, don't get me started on the trumpets!

Fun post!
Mrs. Allroro said…
I get really excited when I hear tuba licks in music. "Did you hear that tuba?" I remember the looks I got when I used to try popping in my tuba and euphonium cd's with mixed groups. Most people don't seem to appreciate it. My dad is a big, jolly, laid-back tubist. My brother is the same, except he's not a tubist anymore. I'm a girl, and didn't have the lung capacity for the tuba, though I played it anyway. I could've built up my lungs if I'd tried, though. There's (or was?) a female tuba professor at a college in our home state who was not much bigger than you, Suze. I had a euphonium prophessor who was a tubist who was big but neither jolly nor laid-back. Those are my two(ba) cents.
katie said…
there's always the stereotype that music therapist couldn't handle the performing world, and so opted out. i don't know how true this is, but i know i never had much desire for the life of a performer!
katie said…
i just thought of another one -- viola players are quirky, slightly off, and weird (maybe because they're not violinists!). as a former viola player, i would have been proud of this stereotype, and i found it to be true of my peers.

oh, and as a former trumpet player, i know most everyone thinks they are loud, arrogant, and obnoxious. i think i resisted this as hard as i could when i played the trumpet! I sure came across many who fit that stereotype, though!
Andre said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andre said…
I noticed that composers are decidedly absent from this list, so let me throw in my two cents.

On the positive side:
geniuses

On the negative side:
introspective, anti-social, self-absorbed, masochistic

I have to say I've seen composers who've matched all of these qualities. .

interesting times.
Animal said…
A few observations:

1) Women who play the trumpet are, as a general rule, sexy almost beyond belief. I have no idea why this is, but almost every female trumpeter I've known has been a paradigm of hottness.

2) Violinists aren't necessarily divas (or "divos," if you will), but they DO know more than you do. Maybe it's all the rep they play, but they always seem to have the musical answer for ANYTHING.

3) In your immediate vicinity, if you're the "best" player on your uncommon instrument (bass trombone, english horn, viola), you tend to talk crap about other musicians. This seems to be without regard of whether or not you might actually have to PLAY with them someday! Any time I run across a particularly back-stabbing gossiper, I always have to ask "You don't by any chance play the hecklephone, do you?"

This cool, unfazeable percussionist (and brilliant composer, thanks Andre!) enjoyed your insights a lot; but, I won't share with Tess that she's ditzy. ;-)

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