Questioning my career

March 19, 2007, 10:45 PM · So this life I cobbled together is a career?

I pondered this question as I walked toward the library at my children's school. I was asked to participate in a "career fair," and they'd set me up at a table with a white sign with the bold black letters, "MUSICIAN." My husband sat next to me, "JOURNALIST."


We sat for several hours as classes of 8th-, then 7th, then 6th, then 5th graders visited our table, armed with sheets of questions fashioned by their teachers.

While Robert was interviewed by a number of kids who sat down, looked him in the eye and patiently listened and scribbled notes like good little journalists would, my side of the table seemed to attract mostly confusion.

Q: "What do you do?"

Make my kids breakfast and comb my daughter's tangly hair, push a large class of first-graders through very basic violin exercises disguised as games, drink coffee, practice, teach more first graders, pick up the kids from school, try to explain long division to my daughter while spelling words for my son's essay on rainbows, teach a cadre of private students. Some days drive long miles to a gig, play for several hours, collapse.

A: "I'm a violinist."

Q: "How did you get started with your career?"

Someone visited my class when I was eight and played for us. I fell completely in love with the violin.

A: "I started playing the violin when I was nine and just really liked it."

Q: "What is your annual salary?"

Annual salary! As if there is such thing for a musician. I have like 12 W2 forms. Annual salary from what? Orchestra gigs? Teaching at school? Teaching privately? Running a website? Teaching Suzuki group? Playing at weddings? Judging competitions?

A: "I don't really have a salary. Orchestra musicians sometimes have a salary. A few big stars make a lot of money. It really varies."

Q. "Did you have little jobs that led to this job?"

They are all little jobs! I guess I played in dozens of orchestras, gig quartets, taught lots of students, fried fries at McDonald's, did telemarketing, was a birthday hostess at Showbiz Pizza Place, worked at Disney World, worked as a newspaper reporter for six years, founded a website.

A. "Yes, I've had a lot of little jobs."

Q. "What kinds of skills and personality do you need for your job?"

You need serious chops for playing and sight reading, and you need incredible resilience in the face of rejection and disappointment and being broke. Patience, if you teach. If you don't passionately love music, do not even consider this work.

A. "You need to be really good at what you do, and really confident at what you do. Part of being confident is building those skills through practice and education. You need to be able to read music, and you can't be a quitter. You need to be professional and reliable: to always show up to jobs on time and be prepared."

Q: "What education to you need to be a musician?"

None at all, or better yet, the best on the planet. You can go with either, but if you don't go to a top music school, or have the kind of personality that wants to, it does say something to the world about your level of dedication. Your garage band has very slim chances if no one in it is thirsty to know more than a few chord progressions, and your voice is eventually going to sound like the croak of a cheerleader who smokes a pack a day unless you train it properly.

A: "I have a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and a master's degree from Indiana University. Whatever kind of musician you want to be, you need to be really good at it and know music theory. Get a private teacher and learn to read music. Learn as much about your instrument as you can. The best pop musicians usually had some classical training, and the best songwriters know poetry and how to tell a story."

Q: "What keeps you going in your job, when things get tough?"


A: "The idea that music makes people's lives better. It's one of the few things humans do together that's all good. I really believe it makes the world a better place."


March 20, 2007 at 07:55 AM · The very last comment is very well put.

March 20, 2007 at 11:42 AM · Beautifully said

March 20, 2007 at 06:06 PM · Very nicely stated. It is funny how all of those questions are always asked of us and the answers are so difficult to explain. I always have students ask me the hardest questions and I just try to answer them as best as I can. Our lives are on a day at a time basis. Sometimes things run smoothly for a few weeks, but mostly there is always some sort of chaos. Cancel these students to go to this gig, move these students to there for this and so on, it's constantly evolving. What can I do to supplement my income during spring break when all of my students are away? How many church services can I play at on Easter?

March 20, 2007 at 06:14 PM · Your last answer is close to a point that our conductor keeps making: music is something that brings people together. Well done!

March 21, 2007 at 02:29 AM · The best career one can have is the one that makes that person happy, regardless of what that career may be or how much money it brings (although, at least one must be able to afford a living).

Are you happy?

March 21, 2007 at 05:34 PM · These questions are applied almost in a daily basis to any musician in the freelance world. It is a shame.

But I am Happy at what I do, believe me I left MED school for music, and will not go back to Med. No regrets!!!

Blesings to you,

Keep going!!!!!

We will back you up!!



March 21, 2007 at 06:41 PM · Indeed, I'm happy with all that I do (mother, violinist, teacher, writer, editor), but it doesn't fit into a tidy package for display on "career day"!

March 22, 2007 at 02:42 AM · Perhaps your purpose in that career day might be to send 3 messages to the kids:

1) not all careers fit perfectly and neatly in tiny pigeon holes.

2) career success may not be measured by how much money you make but the level of your own happiness and your positive impact to other people.

3) you can't have a career and nothing else. A career that lets you balance your work, your personal well being, your family and friends etc. is to one to go for. Not many of us could honestly say we have such a career.

I think you actually played a more important role than the others on that day. Excellent work!

March 22, 2007 at 05:00 PM · So true, William. If the other aspects of life aren't in balance, the "career" won't likely be as fruitful to one's self or to society.

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