Lecolion, my undergraduate bassoon teacher, once told me that all professional musicians have some amount of ego. It's not that they (we) are snobs or jerks (not all of us anyway), but to put yourself out there after all of the hard work involved with actually winning a position requires confidence. Being overly sure of myself has gotten me in trouble with people in the past, but it's also proven to give me a leg up in auditions, and lately, performances, over the years. I don't know if I would specifically use the term "ego", but I agree with Lecolion that confidence and swag are just as important as technical proficiency and preparedness in this field of work.
Being the DSO Fellow is a very mixed bag when it comes to showing swag on stage and around the concert hall. While I'm expected to show up and do the job just as well as anyone else, I have to, at the same time, have the "student/intern" sort of demeanor - the "I'm here to learn from you" sort of thing. Out of respect for the folks who've been doing this for decades, I came into this position back in September with more of the latter, because I am there to learn, after all. I'm slowly coming out of my shell (everyone in the section tells me to play louder), but there's still no way for me to match the comfort level the older musicians have when it comes to playing most of the literature. Many of the works we perform are new to me, while some others may have played the pieces dozens of times. The advantage of experience was thrown out of the window these past couple of weeks, though, with two new pieces performed by the orchestra.
While rehearsing a contemporary violin concerto, you could feel the discomfort of the musicians around the room. Some of the players were even vocal about how "bad" the parts were, in their opinions. The performances of this piece went well, but it felt good to be in the same boat as everyone else, for a change, and to show a little more swag in my part. The following week, we performed the world premiere of a holiday piece with Cuban musical elements mixed in, and it definitely threw me for a loop. There is a section in the 2nd movement where staccato 16th notes are passed around the orchestra, and when my turn came during the first rehearsal, my fingers were twisted tighter than my hair! Even though I had practiced the part, I didn't have the extra confidence required to really nail it. Every time after that was perfect, and it showed me that whether it's Mozart, Brahms, or a composer we've never heard of who wrote this piece yesterday, I have to play as if it's the 100th time I've done it, and unapologetically present my contribution to the sound as if I'm the only one on stage (while tuning and playing in time with everyone else, of course).
If you're not offended by a few foul words, listen to Soulja Boy's "Pretty Boy Swag" and think about how you can bring more swag to your line of work. I may not be "tatted on my neck", but when I go to rehearsals and concerts, I'll be like, "Get out the way, pretty boy coming through - me and my [bassoon] we swaggin' through the room". Haha...could you imagine how uncomfortable a 60 year old classical musician would be sitting next to me in a rehearsal dressed like a rapper? Maybe I should try it...