Interesting, isn’t it, that we divide ‘commercial’ music from ‘real’ music? When in fact all music is consumed, and all professional musicians are in the business of earning a living – no matter what genre they play in. We say to our kids – no don’t be a musician, you’ll never make it, it’s too hard – and urge them to get real jobs – respectable ones. What a terrible thing to say to anyone – especially a young person whose soul comes alive when she plays, who loves everything about the work of making music, teaching music, learning, building, playing, recording, performing. I know kids like this.
This embedded idea applies similarly to art, and the work of learning the skills, making it, teaching it, presenting it.
There’s an old joke that says it all, in which little Johnny says to his mom, “Mom, I know what I want to be when I grow up!” Mom (who’s delighted that he’s thinking ahead) says, “Really? And what is that, Johnny?”. J: “I want to be a musician!” Sad, Mom says, “Oh but honey, you can’t do both”.
It’s persistent, that perception – that being a musician or an artist is more like play than work. That to choose these professions is to choose to be unreliable and therefore disrespected. This mystifies me when I encounter it in parents of young people, since nothing could be further than the truth. Every pro musician and pro artist I know works all the time, every day at what they do. They are entrepreneurs, translators, presenters, skilled craftsfolk, diplomats, therapists, philosophers and comedians (that last because they have to be, in order to stay sane).
I was at a lovely show last night by “My Sweet Patootie”, good friends of mine who deliver a marvelous mixture of edgy, silly dancey swing on fiddle, guitar and a tiny drum kit. They regularly tour Britain and the ‘States, and had a chance to let their hair down a little & play to the home crowd. It was solid fun, presented with just the right level of goofy professionalism and great playing.
I left the show reassured that good stuff can happen in the industry, that the business of music can pay if you apply a little imagination, and keep showing up for work.
Now: can we try to change our minds about what we tell our kids? Don’t shut them off from their souls, folks. Find a friendly pro who can give them a little structural help, and then love them for their courage.