Long ago, when I was studying conducting as I gigged around the orchestra scene, fiddle in tow, my teacher, one of Manhattan's most honest, said something pretty brilliant that made me realize just what role music would play in my life.
I no longer wanted to perform solo violin recitals--I didn't really care to play for people, just for myself, and maybe for friends and family, and with groups. Playing music for me was and remains something I like to do with people, but not something I've ever wanted to do for people.
For all the hoops through which they make you jump at conservatory, they really should do some personality-testing, too. Just because someone's a good musician doesn't mean he's a good performer (doesn't mean he's someone who likes to perform), and vice versa.
At any rate, my conducting teacher put it all in perspective when he asked me why I wanted to learn to conduct.
I said, "Because I love music, love the repertoire, and want to get inside the scores."
He said: "Do you crave attention, to have people look at you, to perform as the leader of 100 other humans? Do you want to conduct for people?"
"No," I replied.
"Then don't be a conductor," he said.
"Really," I replied.
"Really. You want to be someone who knows how to conduct, you may even want to be someone who wants to actually conduct orchestras in rehearsals, but you don't want to be a conductor."
"In that case, I don't want to be a violinist either," I said.
Now, I write. Go figure.
(For a an old personal column about life as a violinist among the Juilliard mafia and Itzhak Perlman's debut as a teacher, click on this post's continuation...)