• Evan Clifton

Authenticity + Risk = Success

Hi friends,


This month I’ll turn another year older, and with that comes the opportunity to reflect and take stock of where I’m at in my life and career. This has been something I’ve struggled with since I began studying music in college because it’s so easy to succumb to the pressure that comes with most music schools. I mean, most see careers in music as a two pronged road; take auditions for professional orchestras until you eventually win one, or pursue advanced degrees and apply for university teaching positions. Since I’ve never felt entirely comfortable or committed to either of those, one of my main points of focus during this year of my life has been truly getting to the root of what drives me as a musician and how to transform that into a career.


In recent months, it’s become clear that there are two areas of music that truly get me going; performing and commissioning new solo and chamber pieces for trombone, and teaching the healthy and most natural brass playing techniques that I learned through the process of recovering from symptoms of Focal Dystonia in the summer of 2016. It’s been a long road to get to this point, but now that I’m here, I see endless possibilities for my career by continuing to explore these areas. The most important part of this stage is for me to develop a complete understanding of these healthy playing habits as possible, which I have been doing for the last six months or so. There are many components to this, including studying the most effective way to teach this to students, all the way to researching how the brain processes and learns motor skills, which at its most basic, is all that playing an instrument is. Through my own recovery process I learned how to play the horn in this way with the guidance of the incredible Jan Kagarice, but in order to teach this to other students, a much more complete understanding is necessary.


Now that I know the direction that I want my career to go (at least for the time being), the next step is the actual doing. The planning stage is over, now the name of the game is sending emails, booking recitals and masterclasses, finding composers to commission pieces from, and collaborating with other musicians who I admire. In a nutshell… taking risks.

Taking risks is hard. It’s uncomfortable, it can be anxiety inducing, and sometimes it’s downright terrifying. But breaking out of your comfort zone is the only way to move forward. Staying comfortable and doing the same thing over and over again will only get you the same thing in return. Especially as musicians, a big part of why it can be tough to take certain risks is feeling like you’re not ready or not qualified for something. But most of the time it’s not up to us to decide if we’re ready for something. The only decision that’s entirely within our control is to submit that application, send that email, or propose that collaboration, the rest isn’t up to us. Even if the result doesn’t end up being what we hoped for, simply the act of taking the initial risk on our end makes it much easier for the next time. And there will always be a next time.


Since Easter fell on the first of the month this year, it reminded me of the incredible recording of the Bach – St. Matthew Passion by the Berlin Philharmonic with Simon Rattle conducting and legendary theatre director Peter Sellars doing the staging. Without a doubt, this is some of the most moving music that I’ve ever experienced. Do yourself a favor and take a listen.


MUSIC. It’s good for ya.




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© Evan Clifton 2020