On Working Hard for "Nothing"

    In my short life as a musician, I have had many wonderful musical experiences, from playing my first gigs in high school assemblies, to recently performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Boise Philharmonic, and everything in between. However, until recently, I’ve had internal struggles with how much work I need to do for any given group. Certain groups give me joy in doing a lot of work, while others don’t give me very much inspiration to do more than the bare minimum. Regardless of these situations, however, I have recently come to the conclusion that in any band or ensemble, if I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem; by this, I mean doing my part to make the ensemble the best it can be is being respectful to my friends, directors, and/or my fellow musicians.
    I can hear it in my head already; my inner voice saying, “but what about ‘ensemble X’? They never do anything, so why should you?”. This voice is and has been crucial for me to come to my conclusion here, and the scenario I gave myself is that if any person or musician came and watched me as ‘ensemble X’ rehearsed or performed, would they be able to say that I prepared or not?; would they be able to say that I contributed to achieving a higher artistic standard? If not, then I am not doing my best, because only when one does their best, does music have a chance of being made.
    This naturally raises some good points, which I think many share:
  • The music is way too difficult for me to be able to play it well enough. 
  • I don’t have the time to prepare this well. 
  • I have to play in this ensemble, so I don’t feel like I need to do all of this work. 
  • We’re going to rehearse this every day for six weeks, I don’t need to practice it. 
    These points, and in particular the last one, I have faced since middle school; originally because I would rather play video games or use the computer, but now because I would rather prepare for other performances. But problems of these kinds, no matter what they are, give me only two plans of action: take the gig and do the best I can; or don’t take the gig, because I can’t do the best I can. There are obvious exceptions to the rule, particularly rare opportunities, but generally, I feel that I need to stick to the above plan.
    For somebody like me, who insists on taking every gig that is offered to him, this is a hard pill to swallow. I believe that I should be taking every possible opportunity (within reason) I am offered and make it work, because often times, those small gigs turned into big gigs or those random musicians turned into prolific partners. However, there is nothing that makes me feel quite as bad, or makes my peers or directors more frustrated, like going into rehearsals unprepared, because any talk of musicianship or gesture, the real reason why we get excited about music, is lost because I don’t know what the notes are, or the fingerings, or whatever. It truly is a matter of respect; if I don’t respect my work or my colleagues, I have nothing, and it is unacceptable for me to not respect others' time as I would my own.
    What makes this particularly difficult for me to grasp is playing in a school ensemble. Because of it being a requirement for my degree and being speckled with people who seem to have no initiative to prepare or make the group better, I have felt like I was working hard for nothing and felt no obligation towards making it the best it could be. But I realize now that doing so has made me the problem, the exact thing that I despised; I was the person with no initiative, no preparation, no focus, and no respect for anybody else, and that is unacceptable. 

    No matter the situation, if I am part of a musical group, I need to commit fully. If I can’t commit, then there is no reason for me to waste everybody’s time. If I have no choice but to be where I am, then I will do what I can to make it better. If I have a choice and I can't do my best, there is no reason to continue wasting my and others' time. Then I can really make the hard work I do effective.