I have heard, on different occasions and from varying sources, a proclamation made by successful musicians. It comes in the form of a warning: If music is not the only thing you love in your life, if there is something else you enjoy or that you are good at, do not pursue music and do that thing instead. While I respect and appreciate any advice that comes from those in the field, I’m not sure if the younger generation has fully appreciated or understood the nuance of what is being said here.
Life is hard. So is work. This applies to everyone regardless of the field. But for some reason, musicians have internalized the attitude that music, especially classical music, is more difficult, specifically because of the inconsistent pay, spotty job security, and underappreciated status. Some would call this perspective realistic while others might see it as cynical.
The fact of the matter is that it sort of misses the point. I doubt that anyone goes into classical music with the purpose of making lots of money, to work a steady nine-to-five, or for fame. And while there are those disillusioned students out there, their inability to grasp reality is not the same as the optimism that many students and young professionals harbor in their hearts. Thus, we should retain our focus, remind ourselves of why we pursued music, and come in contact again with that “spark”.
A rich life is not defined by bank accounts, net worth, or fame. A rich life is quantified and qualified by worthy endeavors such as producing great art, expressing yourself, touching people’s lives, and self-actualization. To be a musician is to be incredibly fortunate because along with making rent and paying off our debt, we have other things that are higher than the menial or mediocre. I understand that many people out there have student loans, families, and businesses to attend to, but what is it that makes this bearable?
Last week, I got to teach cello outdoors in the woods of Michigan, breathe fresh air all night long as I slept in a cabin, woke up to one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen, and ate for free. I then drove to Traverse City, reconnected with former teachers who have become current colleagues, made new friends, and performed great music with inspiring musicians. How much money did I make? It doesn’t really matter to me because wealth is measured not by the material but by the immaterial.