When you are a classical musician at a professional level there is no question about who or what you are. Your life automatically has a purpose.
Because I was a musician, I did not go to college. I attended a top-tier music conservatory, which, if you are unfamiliar, is basically a ferociously competitive vocational school for people with profound and highly specific talents and skills. The best conservatories don’t admit students on the basis of potential to attain professional caliber. By the time a classical musician is college aged she has to already be at that level or she’ll likely never acquire enough of an edge to succeed. Thus classical musicians are trained at classical music… and virtually nothing else. When you are a classical musician at a professional level there is no question about who or what you are, or what you do. Ever.
Except that sometimes, oftener than any classical musician I know has ever admitted, it does eventually become a question. Statistically, of course, it must be so. There are not enough places, in the great parlous game of musical chairs that is the world of classical music performance, for everyone to sit. In the end some people just don’t have the chops to make a go of it. Some people just don’t have the patience. Classical musicians, like other working artists, deal with preternatural amounts of penury and shit-shoveling in order to stay competitive. Sometimes shit just happens—a car crash or an addiction hitting bottom or the realization that someone’s got to put shoes on the baby. Sometimes the interest, the talent, and the opportunity just can’t all be made to happen at the same time. One’s ability to be that thing, a professional classical musician, gets lost, or given up. Or taken away. Or maybe all those things. And so does that sturdy, symbolic, insular but sometimes magical identity.