A vivid look inside the elite and cutthroat classical music world
When Patti Niemi was 10 years old, all the children in her school music class lined up to choose their instruments. Boy after boy chose drums, and girl after girl chose flute — that is, until it was Patti’s turn. From that point onward, Niemi devoted her life to mastering the percussive arts. Cymbals, snare drum, marimba, timpani, chimes: she practised them all, and in 1983, she entered Juilliard, the most prestigious music conservatory in the world.
Set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing New York City in the 1980s, Sticking It Out recounts Niemi’s years mastering her craft and struggling to make it in a cutthroat race to a coveted job in an orchestra. Along the way, she has to compete with friends, and face her own crippling anxiety and reliance on prescription medication, while confronting the delicate, and sometimes perilous, balance of power between teachers and their students.
Niemi’s memoir brings us inside a world that most of us never get to see: gruelling practise schedules, intimate musical relationships, and long moments at the back of an orchestra spent sweating and counting before a big cymbal crash.
Patti Niemi has played percussion in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 1992. She graduated from the Eastman School of Music Preparatory Department in 1983 and earned a BM from the Juilliard School in 1987. Niemi was a member of the New World Symphony in Miami from 19881992. She lives in San Francisco.