Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (1986), in a land far, far away (New Jersey), I had a job. I had a job as an administrative assistant in a community music school. People (mostly children) came to the school for private instrument (mostly piano) lessons. The school hired musicians (mostly professionals) from the area to teach the lessons. I did the payroll. Bi-weekly. There were several dozen teachers on the payroll. I knew exactly what everyone was paid.
Junior faculty, college students, were paid pretty close to minimum wage, about $6.25 an hour. Regular faculty, local freelance musicians, all of whom had college or conservatory performance degrees, were paid from $9.00 to $15.00 an hour. Senior faculty included a woman with a doctorate in piano performance from Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. She received $17.50 an hour. The most highly paid staff member was a section violinist from New York Philharmonic. She was paid the huge sum of $19.50 per hour of teaching time.
At the time, none of these numbers made much of an impression on me as I calculated payroll. It was clear to me, however, that all of the music teachers had a great deal of training and education, that they could play their instruments very well, and that they were all highly qualified for their jobs.
After a year or so, I left the conservatory to work for a computer company as a software instructor. Remember, this was a long, long time ago, and personal computers were just making their way in to the public sphere. Secretaries used typewriters back then. A portable computer weighed 13 pounds. My company sold desktop computers to businesses, and then I would go teach the employees how to use software with weird sounding names like Corel and Lotus. MicrosoftWord also existed back then, and I taught this one, too.
In fact, my very first assignment was a 3-hour private tutorial in MicrosoftWord for a secretary who worked for an investment banker, just block away from the community music school. Did I know how to use MicrosoftWord? No. Had I ever seen MicrosoftWord before? Maybe. Did I know how to use a word processor? Sort of. Did I know how to operate a PC? More or less. That was all OK. Being a diligent employee, I took the manual home that night to read through and spent an hour or so experimenting with the program. The next morning, I was ready to teach.
Everything was going well, until the third hour when the secretary wanted to know how to insert a page break. Oops! I punted. “Computer programs can be very complex. An important skill to learn is how to use the manual, with its table-of-contents and index. You have to be able to figure things out from it. Let me guide you through the process.”
And what did I get paid for this private instruction session for which I had no qualifications what-so-ever?
$25.00 per hour.
What was wrong with this picture? The discrepancy bothered me then. It still bothers me today.
That learning to play a musical instrument has got to be the most complex of human endeavors.
Making music requires melding a clamor of physical, intellectual and emotional tasks. And it has to be done in time: once the downbeats, the train keeps chugging, else the music ceases. And it has to be done in public, with the anxiety of exposing one’s frailties to all. Nothing else combines all of this. Not a brain surgeon, figure skater, or Google exec has to do all of this at once.
Nothing matches the task of making music. I bow in respect and gratitude to the musicians I meet. They did all the work. All I have to do is listen.
Previous entries: April 2013
Revisit Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles' coverage from Canada of the 2013 Montreal International Musical Competition, including her interview with gold medalist Marc Bouchkov.
Kate Little is from Salt Lake City, Utah. Biography
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