These four primary career paths represent the most common professional avenues for the classical percussionist. Each comes with its own technical, social, financial, and presentational expectations.
Soloists, through years of intense practice, have acquired virtuosic, unique technique. Their careers are built on being able to out-play and out-perform the vast majority of others in the field. This is the most definable expectation of being a Soloist.
Socially, Soloists have much flexibility when it comes to an introverted or extroverted preference. Naturally, there is some expectation to be "on" after a performance to thank the audience and host, and though this may not be enjoyable to everyone, it can be seen as just part of the performance, not a separate interaction. Once the performance is over, a Soloist can recover energy in his or her own way, whether that is with or without other people.
Due to the social prestige of achieving the title of Soloist, there is a tendency to assume financial prestige as well. This may or may not be the case. Making a career out of only performing is not without challenges, and Soloists may find that they sacrifice time meant for income to instead practice: after all, this is what earned them the title of Soloist in the first place.
Along with social flexibility for the Soloist is flexibility in the realm of personality, presentation, and adherence to or denial of concert etiquette norms. There's expected knowledge due to training, experience, and artistic ideas, but in the end, the anticipated level of individualism of the Soloist wins out over certain professional and presentational expectations.
Orchestral Players have very specific technical facility alongside basic knowledge of all classical percussion. The discipline, attention, and discrete analysis required to focus on excerpts is key to the prospect of winning an audition. Players are able to make fine adjustments at the suggestion of a conductor, without much need for pause on the "how" of getting it done. (But, as Orchestral Players tend to be intellectually competitive, they may not agree with the request.)
Socially, Orchestral Players need to get along with members of their section as well as navigate potential political situations within the entire orchestra. They naturally express themselves verbally, particularly when it comes to intellectual ideas, whether about music or other topics.
Winning a spot in an established orchestra, and earning tenure there, is a financially stable position. Along with tenured professorship, it is the most stable musical employment. With this fact comes extreme competition for these coveted openings.
Orchestral Players must comply with concert etiquette as defined by convention and their own organization - this is a non-negotiable part of a contract. The seasonal calendar and rehearsal and concert schedules are planned, resulting in expected commitment and regular attendance.
Distinguished Teachers, particularly those who are in tenured professorships, are expected to have near-virtuosic technique. Whereas Soloists can have one area of expertise, Distinguished Teachers are expected to have knowledge in every area of percussion at more than simply a basic level. It is common for an administration to insist that a person in this position have earned a DMA or PhD.
Distinguished Teachers are socially malleable and served well to be observant of behavior of others: students, colleagues, and administrators. Navigating the variety of situations present on a day-to-day basis requires a high level of people skills; in the event someone in this position is not socially aware, it is usually compensated by reputation and Soloist-level technique.
Like winning an orchestral position, securing a full-time tenured position in Higher Education is one of the most financially stable avenues for a classical percussionist. Because of this, there is extreme competition for these positions.
Distinguished Teachers are expected to shift quickly from role to role: mentor to performer, advisor to committee member, etc. They are also expected to present themselves well in the realms of public speaking, academic writing, and high-level performance.
Those who can be described as Diverse Career/Entrepreneur percussionists have a myriad of technical skills that extend beyond playing. In addition to having a few areas of virtuosic-level playing, they are often proficient in basic levels of graphic design, website design, and videography. Those in this category are very much self-starters who take on all elements of the creation, promotion, and distribution of their projects.
The many avenues of performance and involvement for those in this category require the most nuanced social skills of all categories. Those in this group are often around new people, and must forge a professional relationship in a short period of time. They may find themselves dealing with Higher Ed administrations and political dynamics, as well as competition among other freelancers in their area.
The level of financial stability for a player in this category is directly related to the level of "hustle" an individual exerts. When filling a professional life with passion projects, it's sadly normal to accept personal fulfillment over financial compensation. The ability to secure funding - long or short term - is yet another skill Diverse Career/Entrepreneurs have.
Like Distinguished Teachers, Diverse Career/Entrepreneur percussionists quickly shift from role to role, as they are often part-time professors, private instructors, members of chamber groups, and on several sub-lists for larger regional ensembles. They may also have specific interests in areas of research in addition to any scholarly documents previously written.