Well, It’s a Living

“My cousin hates listening to classical music,” says Marc.  “If someone turns on a classical station, he puts plugs in his ears.” 

This would not be remarkable, except that Marc’s cousin is a violinist in a symphony orchestra.

“He plays that kind of music all the time,” says Marc.  “So listening to it is too much like work.”

“I’m not surprised,” I tell him.  “I don’t like many classical concerts, especially by famous orchestras.  The players look bored, like they want to finish and go home.”

“They probably do,” says Marc.  “My cousin’s family is full of professional musicians. My aunt was first clarinet in a symphony.  Another one of her children plays French horn and teaches.

“At family get-togethers the talk is always about the music profession—who’s in, who’s out, who’s having an affair with whom.  They love to joke about the personalities of different players–trumpeters are show-offs, violists have low self-esteem, and so on.  After concerts it’s natural for us to go backstage to chat with the musicians.  No matter where we are, we’re bound to meet people we know, or people who trained with people we know, or competed with them.”

“Professional musicians have a lot in common with rabbis,” I say.

“They do?”

“Both professions have tough training and special skills that impress other people who don’t understand them,” I say.  “Plus, people in each profession have many colleagues in common, and tell similar stories–about celebrity teachers, and how brilliant they are, or famous, or hard to get along with.  Musicians gossip about auditions for jobs they didn’t get and about who made it or who got the boot.  Rabbis do the same, except it’s about pulpits instead of orchestras.  Musicians roll their eyes about incompetent or arrogant conductors.  Rabbis kvetch about impossible shul presidents.  And they have something else in common.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s important for other people to think that rabbis—and their families—live on a higher spiritual plane.  Of course nobody who lives with actual rabbis would say that, because we know that rabbis pull their pants on one leg at a time, same as anyone else.  Male ones anyway.  In the same way, non-musicians like to think that orchestra players spend their days communing with the celestial muses.  Stuffing in earplugs while the muses are musing doesn’t fit the image.”

Marc chuckles.  “Doctors too.  Yearning to heal, and all that.”

“And research scientists,” I agree, “striving to unlock the secrets of the universe for the betterment of humanity.  In between clawing for grants, exploiting post-docs, and angling for Nobel prizes.”

“Still,” says Marc, “professionals like those do have their higher moments.  Probably more often than, say, people who sell copy machines.”

“You’re right,” I say.  “You can’t stop other people from having high expectations, which can be flattering but also really irritating.  You can object, but they’ll think what they need to.  The lofty image comes with the job.

“Besides, it’s a living.”

About the Author
Avi Rockoff lives in Newton, Massachusetts