OK BOOMER! Understanding Generational Flutists
by Rachel Taylor Geier
Rachel Taylor Geier holds a DMA in Flute Performance from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, an MM in Flute Performance from San Francisco State University, and a BM in Music Performance from DePauw University. Former applied instructors include Immanuel Davis, Linda Lukas, Anne Reynolds, and Rhonda Bradetich. Dr. Geier currently teaches and freelances in Davis, California.
In early November 2019, a video made its way into popular culture depicting a grey-haired man, thought to be from the Baby Boomer generation, declaring that “millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome. They don’t ever want to grow up.” On a split-screen next to him, a younger individual, roughly from the Gen Z generation, held up a notepad and replied with that now infamous phrase, “OK Boomer!” And thus began a cultural movement. The OK Boomer movement reflects the growing tensions between four generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Gen Z) currently making their way through today’s World and workforce. In the music industry, all of these generations may exist within a single orchestra or even under one flute studio. Rather than engaging in this stereotypical cultural warfare, we have the opportunity to better understand our generational differences and learn from one another. We all have talents based on our unique upbringings. Collaborating with others from different generations may help fill in gaps in our own experience, leading us to become much better musicians and colleagues.
What are the Generations? The stereotypically traits of each generation originate from the cultural events surrounding their childhoods. These backgrounds are characterized by distinctive strengths and weaknesses. The following descriptions are based on generalizations collected over years of study. This is not necessarily meant to suggest that all members in each group possess these qualities. For example, individual Baby Boomers may be very adept at technology while certain Gen X-ers may be chronic workaholics. You may find, however, that some of these characteristics do, in fact, ring true for your generation. If so, the following may help you to better understand possible ways to share your strengths, who you may consult to address weaknesses, and how other musicians around you may be reacting to the same circumstances.
Baby Boomers (born roughly between 1947-1963).
Who they are and What they Value. Baby Boomers derive their name from the increase in birth rates following World War II. They believe strongly in the American Dream and have worked very hard throughout their careers to achieve their version of it. Baby Boomers value relationships and have built their professional reputations by communicating directly with others in face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and letters, resulting in top notch interpersonal skills. They also value playing by the rules and are often considered to be workaholics. They are ambitious, have incredibly strong work ethics, and live to work, typically remaining loyal to one employer throughout their entire career. They also work very well on teams and, given their ability to view the bigger picture, strive to make a “difference” in everything they do. They do not subscribe to today’s technology-obsessed environment and instead use technology primarily as a productivity tool.
Who they are as Musicians. You may find Baby Boomers as long-term members of your favorite orchestra. They have worked very hard to achieve their chair placement and have likely performed with the same orchestra for several years. They are very good at following the direction of a conductor and work very well in smaller chamber groups. They know their orchestral excerpts inside and out and have likely memorized the entire Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise Journaliers from cover to cover. They are excellent teachers for younger students trying to discover the “rules,” particularly when it comes to recommended practice structure and tips on how to perform in the accepted style of each musical genre. Unfortunately, they often keep unrealistic work, performance, teaching, and practice routines, and shy away from technological advances that might help them promote their ideas to broader audiences.
Who can they turn to? If you are a Baby Boomer, consider having an informal chat with one of your Gen-X friends over coffee about suggestions to better balance your work and family schedules and how to execute any entrepreneurial ideas you may have, particularly if they involve online teaching possibilities. As for technology, let your Millennial friends teach you how to set up a YouTube page and other social media platforms to promote upcoming performances.
Generation X (Born roughly between 1964-1979).
Who they are and what they Value. Generation X is also known as the “latch-key kid” generation as they spent a majority of their childhoods fending for themselves while their parents worked long hours at the office. Perhaps as a reaction to their workaholic parents, Generation X values work-life balance and independence. Gen X does not enjoy playing by the pre-existing rules and tends to question authority. They value change and individual freedoms. Gen Xers are the entrepreneurs, the free agents, and generally work to live rather than live to work. They are self-reliant and believe in working smarter not harder. Although they are the first generation to not do as financially well as their parents, they prefer a more informal and balanced existence.
Who they are as Musicians. Gen Xers are the ultimate gig musicians. They likely perform in smaller chamber groups and often line up their rehearsal/performance calendars with outside family commitments. They are excellent project managers and very good at organizing fundraisers for meaningful causes. Most importantly, they are the masters and commanders of their own private studio practices. They typically do not teach as part of larger institutions or, if they do, require the flexibility to schedule lessons and office hours around their lives. They may perform with an orchestra, but they are not looking to stay with one group for their entire career. They instead wish to build experience before graduating to another group. They sometimes cause controversy when they question conductors or section leaders. Their objective is to find more efficient ways to do things or to seek a better understanding to the underlying “why” of what is being asked from them. They have a love/hate relationship with technology. They can speak the language of social media, but they do not live their lives online.
Who can they turn to? Millennials can help their Gen-Xer colleagues by introducing them to better ways to market their unique entrepreneurial ideas, whether this is through a website or blog series, or as a series of YouTube videos. They can also learn a lot from Millennials about ways to teach online lessons to broader audiences, which will help them expand their studio businesses. Although they may not always trust Baby Boomers, this group can also really help Gen X-ers perform outreach to others about gigs, masterclasses, and other larger project ideas. Finally, in order to break the rules, Gen Xers need to learn what they are from the Baby Boomers and where there may be room for change in the existing culture.
Millennials (Born roughly between 1980-1995).
Who they are and what they Value. Like their name implies, Millennials were born around the turn of the millennium. Growing up with cell phones and smartphones readily available to them, Millennials are the technology gurus. They are deeply interested in the ways that technology can innovate their lives. This over-reliance on technology, however, has led to a lack in interpersonal skills. Unlike their Gen X counterparts, Millennials grew up making the rules in relatively sheltered and scheduled environments. They are intensely competitive, ambitious, and goal oriented, and subscribe to an “I am better than you” mentality that some may refer to as “entitlement.” Millennials value achievement and fun and work well in teams (particularly when technology is involved). They respect competency rather than job titles, and, at the end of the day, just want to please others. They require a bit more direction and mentoring than other generations, but have the confidence to achieve goals using well-tailored to-do lists. Unfortunately, they often lack focus and move on quickly to other goals and projects. They are networking geniuses online and can master all forms of social media.
Who they are as Musicians. These are your YouTubers and bloggers. Millennials invented Facebook Artist pages and likely have booming YouTube pages with likes, comments, fans, and corresponding merch (or merchandise) for their brands. They also enjoy participating in festival competitions and are not afraid of the audition circuit. Millennials may also operate an online lesson practice as they are very comfortable using platforms such as Skype, Facetime, and Zoom. They know how to advertise performances on social media and are masters at organizing performance schedules. Millennials will have a app for every musical need under the Sun – metronomes, tuners, recording apps, and so forth.
Who can they turn to? Millennials likely experience a degree of performance anxiety in front of live audiences, or even in smaller interview-style settings, due to their overall lack of interpersonal skills. Baby Boomers can help them improve their face-to-face interactions by providing step-by-step action plans. Baby Boomers can also help Millennials learn the most important rules to mastering excerpts, giving Millennials a way to structure successful future careers as orchestral musicians. Gen X can encourage Millennials to think out of the box to create new ideas that can be promoted to larger audiences. Gen X-ers are also the best sounding boards for Millennials who may struggle with always trying to be the best, reminding them that there are other things in life that may be more important than the thrill of victory.
Gen Z. (Born roughly between 1996-Present).
Who they are, What they Value, and Who they are as Musicians.
Generation Z (born roughly between 1996-present) are only just making their way into the workforce, therefore not much is yet known about the qualities that will separate them from their Millennials counterparts. What is clear, however, is that this is the first generation that has never known a time when technology was not part of their daily lives. Gen Z is even more comfortable using social media platforms, YouTube, and smartphone apps than the Millennials. The difference, however, seems to be an increased distrust for the Baby Boomer generation, who are remaining in secure positions much longer than previous generations, creating somewhat of a job opportunity shortage for newer generations entering the workforce. The future of our industry may hinge on the creativity and initiative of these newer musicians to break the mold of what has been done before. This would be a great opportunity for Gen X and Gen Z to share new ideas and practical ways to bring them to light using advances in technology.
While the rest of the industries in the World struggle to negotiate the differences between these generations behind cubicles walls, musicians have the opportunity to understand our differences both on and off stage. We are all different. Understanding generational differences may help us build better orchestras, better studios, and move music onto platforms more relevant to future generations.