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Timeless Lessons from Larry Williams

Being a musician is more than playing well. You also need to be respectful and entrepreneurial.

“Being a 21st century artist is different than when I went to school,” says Larry Williams, a French horn performer and teacher.

“Being focused on one thing was pretty much demanded to be successful. Now [musicians] are expected to do multiple things and do them well.”

Williams encourages students to be entrepreneurial. “You need to know how to create opportunities for yourself,” he says. “We have so many good French horn players. … It’s a ‘who-you-know’ world. Isolating yourself in a practice room isn’t a good way to make people know you exist and want to work with you.”

Williams also cites personality, along with performance, as a factor for how students can make themselves more marketable. “Do people like sitting next to you in a section?” he asks. “What else do you bring to the table?”

However, Williams reminds students that sharing all the details of their lives in today’s social media era can work against them. “I warn students to take care when using social media,” he says. “I don’t tell them what to post, but I do tell them to be aware. I say, ‘You’re going to come across someone you want to impress someday, and you have to be cognizant of that. If you’re ranting about a peanut butter sandwich for 15 days straight and come to me interviewing for a position, I don’t know if I can deal with that every day.’”

Williams teaches another timeless lesson: Be respectful. For example, he encourages students to do some basic research on people and culture if they have the opportunity to tour abroad. “You’re not just representing yourself,” he says. “You’re representing your ensemble, your country and your culture, so it’s really important to be aware of that. You don’t need to be a scholar, but learn what people value, how they are similar and different from you. That shows respect, which has opened some doors really quickly for me.”

Williams experienced that concept firsthand when he participated in a cultural exchange while performing with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Russia after the Cold War. “We ran into some people who clearly didn’t want us there,” he remembers. “They didn’t know about Peabody or our orchestra. They just knew we were Americans. Showing them respect goes a long way to get people to trust you. Then when you get to the music, it’s business as usual.”


SupportED 2020v5n2 cover with Larry WilliamsThis article originally appeared in the 2020N2 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here

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