The Professionalism Conundrum


When does an amateur become a professional? Webster would say it is when one is paid for a performance.

Is it possible to be both a professional and an amateur at the same time? I say yes, and that is the professionalism conundrum for a band such as ours.

While some of us may have been professionals in the past (I surrendered my AFofM card in 1976 though I hadn't worked professionally since 1967 when I left home for the Naval Academy), most of us take pride in our status as amateur musicians. The real strength of Community Music is that the musicians are primarily amateurs, and are drawn from the community at large. Community music rises from within the community rather than being imported into the community, and as such it is an integral part of the community. The community can see that making good music does not belong exclusively to some elite "arts and croissant" class, but belongs instead to welders, secretaries, housewives, bankers, engineers, and accountants. Look around any of our parties at Joe's place or elsewhere -- you will see a lot more beer and salami than champagne and caviar!

On the other hand, though, we must acknowledge that the Montgomery Village Community Band is a professional organization. As a band, we offer our services and performances for a fee in many cases. As such our clients have a right to expect a professional approach to our performances. They may not expect a National Philharmonic-grade performance (after all, they get what they pay for, and there are many gradations of performance quality among professional organizations). They should expect, however, an attitude and an approach which acknowledges that in those cases we are not playing for our own enjoyment, but are playing to satisfy a contract.

That is the conundrum -- we are amateur musicians within a professional organization. As amateurs we play for our own enjoyment and to share our music with the community. As an organization the band is often playing for hire. Our challenge as individuals and as an organization is to reconcile these two sometimes conflicting mindsets.

We can reinforce our amateurism by ensuring that we are having fun, for that is our compensation. Fun can be defined very broadly. For me it includes the satisfaction of a good audience-pleasing performance, the challenge of complicated rhythms and tones, challenge lf blending my percussion into an overall ensemble, and the opportunity to let loose with an . passage now and again. It also rises from the comradeship and friendship of fellow musicians from all walks of life and all degrees of musical experience.

Participation in a band which plays for hire carries obligations. These obligations include:

·        Providing the best performance within our individual and collective abilities, every time;

·        Arriving on time (early would be better), ready to perform;

·        Practicing occasionally, to work through those rough spots;

·        Being aware of and maintaining the visual experience of our music, including uniform dress, minimal on-stage clutter (no instrument cases, coats, non-essential items, etc.);

·        Committing to work or play for the good of the band, even if the part for that concert may not be the most exciting or challenging; and

·        Maintaining a performance- and rehearsal-discipline which shows that we are serious about our music.

This last item may be at the heart of the conundrum, because the amateur attitude says that we must have fun. I interpret that as saying that we should project an atmosphere is being serious about having fun. When we are in front of an audience (particularly a paying audience) our fun should derive from pleasing that audience. But if we go home grumpy every Wednesday night, that is not fun either.

The bottom line, in my view, is to maintain a perspective and a balance between professionalism and amateurism. Our public impression (i.e. performance) should project professionalism, even if that implies some serious rehearsals. In private, the time to let our hair down (speaking metaphorically in my case) is before and after rehearsal, or when Gordon is not on the podium. In public, we should only do so within the context of the music. Anything else would be unprofessional.

Offered in my (not always) humble opinion.


Written for the February 2000 MVCB Newsletter