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Emily Grossman

Life as a Professional: A Synopsis

January 28, 2007 at 1:14 AM

True story:

I began piano at age four and violin in sixth grade. I played violin solely with the public school orchestra in Tulsa until the last couple of years of high school, when I began private lessons.

I majored in music at the University of Oklahoma for three semesters before I quit because I didn't think it possible to make it as a violinist. My college teacher told me that I'd had a late start and there was no way I could learn all I needed to learn in four years. So I got a degree in education, moved to North Carolina, and taught kindergarten for a year, which I didn't enjoy (kids great, public school--no). I waited tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant to save up some money and bought myself a ticket to Alaska for a random change of pace. I had previous experience teaching horsemanship, so I applied to a camp up there and spent the summer teaching kids on horseback, trying to sort out what I wanted to do with my life.

The next five years were novel. During this time, I met my husband, a snowboard instructor/iron worker. Over the next several years, we worked at camp and also moved around a lot, trying out different stuff, none of which involved the violin. I lived in the vacant nurse's quarters one winter, then the next two years were spent with my husband in a three-room cabin with no running water. But the price was right (free). During that time, I worked in the kitchen, got a job as a sales clerk in a variety shop, and substituted at a local private school. Sometimes, I sold my color pencil artwork. (There's no money in art. But that's another story.)

We moved to Oklahoma for a winter and I lived in a house my parents owned and worked at a quilt shop for $6 an hour. The following summer, we moved back to Alaska and found that real housing (complete with running water) had become available at the camp, so we moved in and took over the camp's kitchen responsibilities. At that point, my husband joined the full-time staff, and I said what the heck, why not try music again? I opened a piano/violin studio in my home. I began with ten students the first year, then 17, then 24. I currently teach 30 students and have a wait list. I charge $16 per half hour. I like teaching.

Over the past three years, I've worked less and less as a cook and more as a musician. I began practicing again, three hours a day, and through word of mouth and a few good friends, I began picking up paid gigs around town. This past fall, I joined the Anchorage symphony. The symphony job definitely wouldn't support me if that was my source of income, but we only have concerts once a month. This leaves plenty of time to find other business. All told, I'm probably making about $600 - $700 a week on my music jobs, before taxes. Being self-employed, I pay a lot less tax because of all the deductions for expenses that I would probably be paying even if I didn't run a business (like sheet music, travel, repairs, piano tuning, string purchases, instrument depreciation, etc.).

Okay, that's the facts of a real-life person in a real-life scenario. As you can see, there are many unique factors that contribute to the overall success of my story:

--free housing. A big plus.

--no debts (college scholarship)

--husband's job--it helps

--willingness to live creatively (i.e. doing without things like water at times)

--willingness to find multiple ways of making money.

--no expensive habits (like cocaine, gambling, children, etc.)

--living in Alaska. No joke, there are so many more opportunities when violinists are in such high demand, like they are here.

...But you gotta be tough to make the winters in Alaska. I wouldn't advise moving here. No one should move to Alaska. It's just too extreme, and there are lots of bears and stuff. ;)

From Kelsey Z.
Posted on January 28, 2007 at 3:16 AM
Emily, would you make a consideration to allow me into your state? I know I'd be some fellow violin competition but maybe we could do duets or something - play for weddings, that sort of thing (do people even get married in Alaska??? ;)).
From Evie Spratt
Posted on January 28, 2007 at 2:36 PM
...But you gotta be tough to make the winters in Alaska. I wouldn't advise moving here. No one should move to Alaska. It's just too extreme, and there are lots of bears and stuff. ;)

Yeah, just like here in West Virginia. Our whitewater rafting is crummy and the mountains are scary and ugly. I wouldn't advise anyone to come here either.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 28, 2007 at 4:25 PM
Your story is wonderful and very inspiring. It shows what someone who is creative and dedicated can acheive. You have my sympathies living in Alaska. I have third cousins who have/do live in Alaska (one is a pediatrician in Anchorage and the other guided Denali), and I could never understand the choice. Come to DC; life is definitely great here!
From John Chew
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 1:22 AM
I love your story. You sound like an amazing person. If I ever find myself in Alaska I'd like to come and visit.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 2:30 AM
Kelsey, come on up, but don't say I didn't warn you! ;)

Evie, yeah, West Virginia sounds just awful, too.

Tom, DC? Thanks, but no thanks... I'll take my chances with the bears.

Jon, if I'm ever in your area, I'll look you up, and vice versa.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 2:48 AM
Emily - if some music-hating bear eats you for lunch, we definitely will not forgive you!
From Kelsey Z.
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 4:34 AM
Ah Emily, you forget I'm from Canada. I can handle cold! 8)
From Nicholas DiEugenio
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 4:51 AM
Yes, that story is definitely true, because it is so immediate and real that only a Steinbeck would be able to "make up" such a narrative! What comes through to me is such an overwhelming sense of courage and the desire to embrace life at every turn. It's inspiring.
From parmeeta bhogal
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 7:40 AM
Thanks Emily for such an insight into your very creative and musical life. So much for your college teacher,??
I had to chuckle when I read about children x expensive habits. Last week I totalled 420 euros on school (OK that could be less going to a state school: they go to one run as a parent's cooperative) plus another 275 on music school. This is without all the clothes, shoes, (mum, my toes hurting, need bigger size winter shoes, slippers, gym shoes, walking boots, nice black shoes for concerts, swimming flip-flops, basque dancing leathers,...fortunately, he seems to have given up football),
...medicines, pocket money, transport cards, haircuts, dentists,. ..
and from time to time: strings!, reeds!, repairs!, and last week
- a mouthpiece!!
- a full-size violin!!!
And I thought of all I could do with that money, and how much poorer my life be without them.
You can't have everything, and we are lucky that we can just about give them this opportunity (after skimping on all of the above for ourselves).

*please also look at supporting SOS Villages of India and Ekal Vidalaya Movement or anything SIMILAR.

From Linda Lerskier
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 7:51 PM
You left out the moose. MY moose.

You are just amazing. Both as a violinist and person. But not so much as a moose.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 9:06 PM
Emily - your description gives me some idea of what it might have been like for my ancestors who went to Denver in the late 1870s to become the first serious violinists out there.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 10:04 AM
Kelsey, you can handle the cold, but can you handle the insanity?

Linda, come and get your moose out of my yard. It's messing up my snow fort.

Tom, yes it's true, we are about 130 years behind you guys.

Nicholas, are you a Steinbeck fan? I was thoroughly depressed when I read the Grapes of Wrath, and I told my grandmother I felt horrible about all the Okies who were forced to flee to California. She exclaimed, "Those people? Those weren't Okies! Those weren't your family! Those people left. We Okies stuck it out, here in the dirt."

From Patty Rutins
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 2:32 PM
Me, I keep getting sidetracked from my musical career by my expensive habits (husband, child)...

If this global warming thing keeps up, though, I might be joining you in Alaska soon. We've only got about 2-3 inches of snow in our yard (though they've got more on the mountains for the visitors).

From Emily Grossman
Posted on January 30, 2007 at 7:44 PM
We've had a very cold winter until this week. I don't put much stock in global warming.
From Nicholas DiEugenio
Posted on January 31, 2007 at 6:34 AM
How great that your grandmother set you straight on who the real Okies were! Yes, I love Steinbeck--he's one of the most musical writers I can think of!

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