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!


On “Interstellar”, Part 2

GriefHappens asked for further thoughts on “Interstellar”, and I said I’d post them. I am feeling tired and intimidated by writing a long and involved post, however, so I am going to jumpstart this one by sharing a few of the comments from the interesting conversation that ensued on my Facebook page when my post landed there.

    “I just cannot go to movies anymore.”
    “How about the movie being about the daughter’s realization and journey? Or the science officer’s creation of another world? To my mind, the McConnhey character is just supporting them in their journey.”

[to which I replied]

    “Well, I would say that after the daughter has her initial realization about time & the equations, it is the dad in the 3rd/5th dimensional place who does the work to show her the way. It is hard to explain the extent and shape of the sadness and disappointment I feel (and so many other women, too) when, once again, the female roles are not as strong, not as vibrant, forthright, not as brave, not as risk-taking, not as brilliant. And they don’t get as much time, either. I would love to see not just one, not just the rare example, but frequent hero roles held and expressed and experienced by women. It would be a game-changer.


    Can you imagine what it might feel like to have a huge global repertoire of books and movies with so few people of your gender in the lead role?”
    “I honestly didn’t see it that way. … I did see the strength and intelligence and agency of both Murph and Brand, as much as there could be given the situation. There were many male characters who were pigeon-holed into roles that may not have been what they would’ve chosen – the son as farmer, the professor father as savior of the earth, even Mann as the symbolic Cain, valuing his perception of the mission as more important than his “brothers'” life, thereby demonstrating typical male aggression/lack of empathy. But Murph and Brand both chose to be where there were and contribute using their own developed skill sets. As did Cooper.”

[to which I replied]

    “I saw the limitations not just as created and presented in the context of the film, but as drawn out of our current limited views of gender and how to portray gender. Murph was described as being brilliant, but we didn’t get much chance to see it in action. She didn’t get to show the full range of her character. We got to see a ton of her father being strong, showing his humanity, showing his brilliance and strength, his pain. I’d like to see more of hers, more of Brand’s, not just one short scene during a 3 hour movie. Or to see the main character played by a woman. I want women front and center, not always on the sidelines. At least, some of the time!”

My bottom lines are as follows:

    I loved the idea(s) of this movie.
    I did appreciate that there were multiple female characters who didn’t spend all their time talking about their love lives.
    I felt strongly that the movie did not grant space, time, or scope for the development of the female characters that allowed the viewer to feel as connected to and to care as much about them as was encouraged in the presentation of Cooper.
    I’d love for some decent percentage of movies to contribute to a societal feeling for and appreciation of the strength of women (and not just in the arena of child-bearing and rearing) which could help us effect a real shift both in perception and treatment of our female citizenry.
    I want female heroes too.

What stories are told says a lot about the culture in which they are spoken and heard. The stories, of course, do not express the breadth or totality of the human experience within that culture. After all, stories are impacted heavily by that culture, and in this one, we don’t value everyone’s story, everyone’s life. We’re much more interested in some stories than we are in others. We are addicted to the polarized construct of winners and losers. And we only like losers when they eventually win. In the [global] rape culture, women cannot really be winners.

What continues to strike me is the extent to which so many people and so many stories are completely absent from our literature, our visual media, and the stories we tell each other. There is so much erasure. And in those vast chasms of invisibility, many people are left feeling that they don’t fit, don’t belong, aren’t valid, aren’t wanted, and indeed, ultimately, have nothing of value to contribute.

We need feminism, because we need to learn to value everybody. We need each other.