At Indiana University, we are privileged to have one of the most distinguished musicology departments in the country. Along with the two survey music history courses required for the degree program, I also took Professor Ayana Smith’s M410 “Women in Music” in which we examined the historical issues surrounding women’s musical careers such as education, social context, and representation. One of my favorite words that Prof. Smith was fond of, and one that I am now at fault at for overusing, is “mythology”. A myth is always grown from a kernel of truth but the narrative the unfolds is usually a distorted un-proportional account of the truth. Perhaps the greatest “myth” one finds is not so much an intellectual idea but an attitudinal outlook that many young musicians in conservatory hold. I’m not sure if this is something that others tell us, that we tell ourselves, or perhaps both. Maybe, the problematic nature of a “myth” is that we have a hard time defining its origin. In any case, here it is:
“The Undergraduate Myth”
1) You have to do just one thing
2) You have to do the best at this one thing
3) If you do not love it every day of your life there is something wrong with you.
4) If 1, 2, and 3, do not apply to you, you are the only one because every else is living the dream
While musicians are already trying to find success in a specialized field, believing this myth is the root of much unneeded anguish. Indeed, I spent the first half of my bachelors degree trying to eliminate my options until I could find “the one” and the second half of my degree broadening my horizons. Of the two halves, I was much happier during the second half. I learned that I, like many of my friends that I see being fulfilled in their respective fields, enjoy doing many things not just one thing. We piece together our interests and blend them into something that is our own. For me, it is the love of teaching and my interest in academic thought (musicology and philosophy) that continue to complete my puzzle.
I got the idea for this entry from a friend of mine, Liz Nowland, who is a harpist earning her Masters of Music at Roosevelt College in Chicago. She double-majored in harp performance and trumpet performance at Indiana University and since we share similar history, both academically and domestically (she hails from Petoskey where I am currently living), we make music together. While Liz is auditioning for professional orchestral jobs on harp, she is also playing jazz trumpet in frequented clubs in Chicago. I was really impressed by this and I thought to myself, “how unexpected but really cool!” She is also the one who articulated the four points of the “myth” and I thought it to be very insightful. Perhaps the “truth” of the “myth” is that no matter how much hard work and focus you put into one area of your life, balance and variety will ultimately enhance your productivity.
On another note, I will be playing with Joe Fortin at Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Petoskey tomorrow. He has programed Pablo Casals’ El cant des ocells, a Catalonian folk tune that Casals transcribed for cello and orchestra. The title, which translates to “Song of the Birds”, is actually a tune used during Christmas, though, popularized by Casals as an encore, has become a beloved piece of the repertoire.
(When Joe and I were rehearsing this at the church the other day, you could hear the rain as it fell on the roof of the sanctuary. It was quite pleasant.)
Read more about the piece’s history on the Kennedy Center’s website:
Listen to Casals talk about and play his El cant des ocells: