Successful musicians at at risk of becoming narcissistic, egotistical, ambitious and competitive. Frustrated, struggling, unsuccessful musicians are at risk of becoming depressed and somewhat autistic.
In all cases, musicians are at serious risk for becoming self-centered and self-absorbed, where elements of both narcissism and autism are combined in different proportions.
There are, I believe, several reasons for this.
For some parents whose children are studying an instrument, the childs’ musical success becomes more important than anything else in those childrens lives. This excessive enthusiasm from the parents leads the child to be at the same time spoiled (no dishwashing, no “dangerous” sports, no hard labour except at the instrument) and pressured (no free time, no “play” time, no “wasted” time, reduced social-life, obligation to achieve).
As an example, Ernest Hemingway’s mother built a concert hall into her house and took poor Ernest out of school to turn him into a cellist (against his will). Fortunately for humanity, literature, music and Ernest, he had the willpower to refuse such “kindness”. His mother was not however impressed with his refusal and later made a gift to him of the gun with which his father (her husband) had committed suicide !!
2: PRACTICE AND PERFORMANCE:
The unhealthy combination of huge amounts of time spent in intense solitary activity in order to achieve instrumental mastery (autism) followed by very brief moments of being intensely in the public eye on stage (narcissism) can be an explosive, toxic mix. The only common characteristic of these two unlike activities (which constitute the basis of many musicians’ lives), is their lack of relaxed, easy-going, friendly human contact. Is it any wonder that being a “soloist” – or even an orchestral tutti player – can be emotionally risky, whereas playing chamber music is positively therapeutic?!
3: STAGE FRIGHT
As a protection against emotional insecurity and stage fright, both narcissism and autism have some positive attributes:
The (apparently) unshakable self-confidence of the narcissist is undoubtedly a great help to a performer. Without self-doubt (and consequently without stage fright), the career of a musician becomes infinitely easier. Offstage however this same narcissism can make that same successful musician insupportably egocentric and obnoxious.
An autistic lack of empathy – being immune to (or uninterested in) what is going on around you – can also be a great help on stage, as it means the musician is not affected by other peoples feelings or actions. Being a completely autonomous, perfectly functioning machine under any circumstances gives a enviable security to which many musicians justifiably aspire. Unfortunately the human price is very high.
How to avoid being swept into the turbulence of narcissism and autism ?? Play chamber music …… and the more difficult or boring you find it, the more you need it.!