The value of music, and of being a musician

In my darker moments, sometimes I start thinking that being a professional musician (in the way I am currently doing it) is an inherently selfish act. Why?

Because I love what I do, and I often don’t get paid for doing it (the performing and the practicing).
Because I could be spending that time with my kids, who miss me when I’m gone.
Because I don’t play for an established large symphony, with a salary and benefits, which would help support my family in addition to the teaching I do.
Because there are lots of much better cellists in the world performing the repertoire I’m performing, and doing a better job of it, so really, who does it benefit for me to be inadequately replicating their efforts?
Because music is not important in the way medicine is, or teaching kids in school. It’s a cultural accessory. Should I really be devoting so much of my time and energy to it?

There are other areas of my mind and heart which recognize the fallacies in the statements above. But in a society which is so focused on money, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of thinking that my worth is inextricably tied to my income, and the ways in which I make that income.

Ted, bless his heart, has started referring to my practice as work when he talks to the kids. He has explained that he believes it needs to be perceived as work, just as much as my teaching hours. So, the other day when I said I was going to go practice, he said to the kids, pointedly, “Yes, Mommy is going to go to work.” His support makes me cry tears of joy, and also of grief for the message I have received in so many other ways that what I do is not really that important. My practice hours have always been the schedule item that most easily falls off the schedule, deprioritized in favor of kids’ appointments, family business & logistics, etc. Also, I am a procrastinator, and so there’s the layer of resistance I feel, the tendency I have to fight to want to go to bed or relax when I have time with childcare, instead of practicing. Because of that latter internal struggle, I am even more apt to blame myself, or to view practicing as a luxury, or something that’s not really crucial in the broader picture. Sexism plays a role here, too; this is an inner narrative to which I am sure a lot of women can relate.

I talk to my students sometimes about the role music can play in their lives lifelong, and I believe in what I say. I believe in the curative, inspirational, meditative, restorative, intellectually and emotionally and physically and spiritually impactful and interweaving powers of music. I believe that it expands our minds and hearts and souls, and that a society that does not highly value art and artists is impoverished in important ways. I believe it affects us holistically, that being involved with music is more than receiving and giving pleasure, that it can help us re-join the disparate parts of ourselves. I believe all of that.

And I also believe that my unique voice, my unique combination of training and heart and mind and intention, is important. I believe that I can contribute something important.

I will always have that internal despair that can yell or whisper or sneer that I am a loser and that what I’m doing doesn’t matter. But I do have examples large and small of the ways in which music has changed people’s lives, in the moment or the hour or the forever. And I need to hold onto those.

I’d love to see readers’ comments with your stories of your relationship with music and what it means to you. Let’s add to the cultural narrative in a positive way, in this, a tiny corner of the internet.

Thanks for reading!

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