Play On!—Donato on Music and Sports

Dedication. Practice. Training. The tireless pursuit of excellence, and a commitment to a collective goal… It turns out that professional musicians and athletes have a lot in common!

Artistic and Music Director Donato Cabrera takes us through his conducting play book.

So the theme is music and sports.  Where would you like to start?

There are many parallels between being an athlete and a musician. There are sports like running, cycling, swimming, and gymnastics, that are about being the best possible you. The most obvious corollary is mastering and performing an instrument to perform by yourself, or as a soloist. Both require a lifetime’s dedication to the pursuit of excellence and perfection, knowing that this goal will never be achieved.

Another parallel is team sports – basketball, football, soccer, etc, – and playing in an ensemble like a string quartet or an orchestra. Both require a dedication to individual excellence but neither can be successful without adherence to the adage, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Almost all professional athletes and musicians start excelling at their chosen sport or instrument before the age of ten, showing an above average fluidity and understanding. However, to be talented isn’t enough. It is those that show a predilection towards practice and honing one’s gifts that will propel an athlete or musician to a professional career.

What is most inspiring about both sports and music, though, is that It’s possible to pursue and enjoy both at any point during one’s life. While one can’t be a weekend warrior surgeon, one can certainly be a weekend warrior guitarist!

What sporting position or role does your job most closely resemble? Are you the quarterback? The MVP?

The closest parallel in sports to a conductor is not a quarterback, point guard, forward, or anyone else on the field. Conductors are like coaches. Conductors/coaches are players who become fascinated with the bigger picture. They are educators, interested in helping each team member be the best they can be.

The majority of the work is done at practice (rehearsal). By the time the game (concert) happens, the coach (conductor) is there to inspire and reassure everyone of what was accomplished during practice.  

What’s your personal history with playing sports? If you had pursued a sport professionally, what might you have played?

I began playing sports before I began learning music.

The first sport I pursued as a child was swimming. While I learned all of the strokes – free-style, breast, backstroke, and butterfly – I was most adept at freestyle and competed rather successfully at it.

The next sport I became obsessed with was tennis. It was a great time for a child to become interested in the sport and I was very lucky to see, in person, many of the greatest players of the time play, including Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, and Vitas Gerulaitus. At the same time, I learned how to play golf, a sport in which my father truly excels, as well as skiing, a sport I still enjoy today (when there’s snow!). 

In middle school and high school I played a lot of baseball, basketball and football, but never on any organized team. I was lucky enough to grow up in a neighborhood with a lot of kids, so our front yards and street were our field of play.

As a young adult, my sports obsession turned cycling and, for a brief time, I competed a bit in it. It is a sport that I still fanatically follow, even though I don’t ride as much as I’d like. 

What games will you be watching over the holidays and who are you rooting for?

Football is unavoidable this time of year, but thankfully I love it! As a lifelong 49ers fan, I’m crossing my fingers that they will make it deep into the season and, who knows, they might go all the way!

While I also enjoy college football, I’m not a fan of the bowl champion series…but I’ll watch the games, anyway!

Another thing we have in common with sports is that we rely on our FANS to reach a common GOAL! Help to get us to our year-end target of raising $50,000 by December 31 with a gift to support our fabulous professional orchestra and music education programs that uplift and inspire our community.  We payment by accept check (including from Donor-Advised Funds), credit card, gifts of appreciated stock, and IRA distributions. Donate now or call the office at 925.280.2490 to make a gift, and hear us do a little touchdown dance as we take your donation. Thank you!


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