Direction and Balance

ImageLately, I’ve had a struggle that I didn’t anticipate, although it’s an ongoing struggle for me–wanting to do too many things as a professional!  I have to admit, though, it’s kind of the struggle of my life that also reflects my personality.  I mean, the world and its inhabitants and experiences are so amazing and interesting, how can anyone possibly NOT want to explore everything?  Of course, the problem with this as a professional or student is that the more breadth you have, the less depth you have in a particular area. 

I’ll use my friend, Andy, as an example.  I know he won’t mind, and I’d say he’s fairly typical of the patchwork career that many of us musicians share.  First, he’s an amazing performer and plays piano with many different musicians in the area and as a soloist.  Then, he has his own private studio where he teaches piano.  He also teaches courses at one of the local community colleges–class piano, music theory, and so on.  Finally, he is the accompanist for a local church. Wow! That’s four distinct jobs right there.  And by the way, he just finished his D.M.A. in piano performance, so he had that in the mix until last year.

My teacher, Isola, has been harping at me (and I mean that in the most loving way) for going on two years now to stop spreading myself out in this same way–I’m the music teacher at a local school, perform myself as a singer, play trumpet in a local concert band, was conducting a local community band until a short time ago, and am trying to study opera and voice through college courses, lessons, and coachings.  Honestly, it’s exhausting, although exhilarating, most days, and the thought of doing one thing well (i.e., sing) is very appealing.  However, focusing on a single type of job is a totally foreign concept to me.

I asked Andy at a rehearsal we had yesterday if he thought he could only perform–no teaching, no accompanying.  He paused, and said he really didn’t know because he had always taught. 

After a bit of discussion, we both agreed that the cool thing about performing is that you are affecting audience members in that very moment. You are directly communicating with them and fellow performers and sharing what you are able to do as a fellow human being.  Perhaps, you evoke memories, emotions, or ideas that will mean something to them.  The present exchange is like no other, and you hope that the audience members will be moved and remember the moment.

On the other hand, teaching is having faith that what you do now with students will have a lasting effect.  Perhaps you will help to shape a future concert pianist or music teacher, but equally and perhaps more important, is that you will instill an appreciation and love of music in someone who will play an instrument for enjoyment or attend symphony concerts for pleasure.  You help students to think in a completely different way through music that doesn’t come from any other area of study.  While the present is certainly important, moments build upon one another to create significant connections that affect the future.

Certainly, teaching is a laudable way to spend one’s life.  The question remains as to whether teaching can be balanced with performance (and any number of other musical endeavors).  There are only so many hours in a day, so an hour spent teaching or prepping is an hour not spent rehearsing or performing.  I certainly can’t work on dentalizing Italianate t’s or supporting long legato lines if I’m teaching beginning flute or recorder fingerings.  Viewed as an opportunity, though, I understand recitative rhythms better because I also play an instrument, I am facile at singing different languages in part because my mouth is strong and flexible from playing a horn in particular,  I can explain relationships between culture, history, and instruments because I know the Hornbostel-Sachs system of classifying instruments, and so on.

Is it better to do many things fairly well or one thing extremely well?  Isola says that fear holds us back from going to the ultimate level with our talents, and she might be right, but, it might also be more complicated than that.  What does my heart say?Image

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Do You Mean to Tell Me that I Can Get Paid to Do This?

Raise your hand if you hate tax season.  Ok, it’s unanimous.  I, too, dread the entire quagmire of receipts, deductions, expenses, blah, blah, blah, blah.  Essentially, I’ve never had any money to be much concerned about past your basic EZ tax form, and my husband and I had just one job each.  Not to mention, my eyes glaze over and I get heartburn just hearing about all the “schedules.” Let’s see, I get a pat on the back for not taking student loan money to pay for courses and paying in cash, but alas, I earn too much money to receive any credit for paying for the classes myself.  Huh?  Oh, and we appreciate the fact that teachers often pay for classroom supplies, but you can’t deduct more than $250 on your taxes.  Ummm…my first year teaching, when I made the very least salary ever, I spent nearly $1,500 on books and supplies for the classroom.

Anyway, in the last few years, things have become very complicated because our income derives from various places (mostly due to my husband’s work).  Thus, I was on the phone, yet again, trying to understand why we were paying more federal taxes when we thought we’d already paid plenty of estimated taxes ahead for 2011 and scheduling a meeting to sign more forms when the conversation turned to the income I was getting for performing.  I stopped.  Wait a minute.  That’s right, I did get paid for performing this year, and I have two paying concerts coming up!  When did that happen?

Truth be told, I’d probably perform for free for the rest of my life for the sheer enjoyment of making music.  However, there is a niggling sense in the back of my brain that if I don’t get paid for this work, it’s not valuable.  Is this a righteous attitude?  In the end, does it really make any difference?  This dilemma is one that I faced when becoming a wife and mother–how does one place value on work that is not recognized by society as valuable in a monetary sense?  We all know that child rearing and housekeeping are incredibly important jobs.  Otherwise, how would anyone manage?  However, if you don’t get a paycheck for what you do, is the work less esteemed?  You betcha.  Is it valued in other ways?  Certainly.  Does it matter?  I guess that depends on your own attitude and whether or not you want to get tied up into gender studies, class studies, race studies, you-fill-in-the-blank studies, etc.

I guess the long-winded point I’m trying to make is that it’s super-cool, as my kids would say, that I’m getting paid for doing what I really love.  However, it’s a far cry from being able to support myself or anyone else for that matter.  (Performers certainly can make a good living, but most of them hustle–teaching, performing, studio work–and may even add a non-performing job into the mix, like waiting tables.)  Nonetheless, I’m trying to view work as productive and purposeful, rather than simply profit-bearing, and value it accordingly.  It’s definitely a hard switch to think in these terms for me, but I’m going to try.  All you unpaid domestic laborers out there, get on board!  My work is my work; it is no more or less valuable a contribution to society or my life if I’m paid more or less than the guy or gal next door.  But, here’s hoping that we fall on the “more” side now and again…