Caleb Burhans in the Times

A Man of Many Talents, Eager to Use Them All by Allan Kozinn, October 3 2008 at

At 28, Mr. Burhans has pursued a career path so logical that it seems almost foolproof. Just sing, compose and master several instruments (besides the violin he plays viola, guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion) and the New York freelance world is your oyster. But this is a new development. Until recently, the conventional wisdom went, musicians with diverse talents should specialize: decide whether they are better suited to composing or performing, singing or playing an instrument, working in classical music or a variety of pop.

And while most young musicians still make the traditional choices and scramble to find work in freelance ensembles until they have established themselves as recitalists or chamber players, others are seeking to diversify. Mr. Burhans’s generation is the third to come of age during the rock era, and where conservatories once taught only classical music, most now offer courses and even degrees in jazz and rock, recording technology and the music industry itself. And musicians who grew up hearing everything from Mozart and Ligeti to Wilco and Radiohead are less inclined than their elders to compartmentalize their passions.

“I was always told, when I was a kid, that you have to decide at some point what it is you want to do,” Mr. Burhans said one afternoon early in his composing break. “And I thought, that’s cool. I’m going to school and study violin, viola and composition, and I’m playing in jazz and rock bands, and when I move to New York, that will decide it for me. People will see what I’m best at, and that’s what I’m going to do.

“But when I got here, I actually did the opposite. I kept doing them all, and I love it. The variety keeps me on my toes, creatively.”