Thursday, January 31, 2013

Living the Life of a Pianist

Some days are tough as a musician. It's not that we don't love our work and the joy of making music. It has nothing to do with the hours of practice or the time spent explaining the same concept to a student. There are just days that a "traditional" job with the stability it provides is enticing.....and I find myself dreaming of how life could be very different. The dream quickly turns into a nightmare as I think of clocking hours at a desk job, completing the same mundane task over and over.

Like many musicians, I am continuing to search for the ever elusive full-time position in the field. That means that I freelance in order to make a living. What does that look like for me? My mornings and evenings (on alternating days) are spent teaching music appreciation courses at a local community college. I love introducing students to music that they have never explored before; I flinch at some of the administrative duties and sometimes frustrating colleagues, but the joy certainly outweighs the negative aspects of the job.

I get to feed the collaborative artist inside by driving to Union University in Jackson, Tennessee a couple of times each week to work there as one of their staff pianists. The students are great; the faculty are welcoming and fun. The 85-mile drive can be taxing, but it's a price I'm willing to pay to work as a professional musician. The time at Union has cut down on the amount of private collaborations I have been able to take on....and I miss making music with other professionals and sharing it with the public. Hopefully, I'll find myself in a situation in the near future where I'm not doing quite as much travel and can seek out more chamber opportunities.

The gift of music in my life has been a blessing from God for which I am extremely thankful. As an act of thanksgiving, I also serve a local church. (It's also a source of income, but I try to focus on the worship rather than the work.  I don't always succeed, though.) I wear many hats at the church. In addition to directing the music ministry efforts, I coordinate the teaching of children, have my hands in teen ministry, and provide some administrative support. It's nice to have a non-musical aspect to my weekly schedule (I especially enjoy working with the kiddos), but it can be overwhelming at times. I find it especially hard to switch approaches as I work with volunteers in the church. Students and professional colleagues are a bit more understanding (and appreciative) of clear, honest communication; volunteers require a more gentle approach. After spending years working to overcome my natural tendency to sugar-coat my musical opinions, I'm sometimes my own worst enemy in effective communication with volunteers.

Lastly, I maintain a very small private studio. I am intentionally keeping it small at the moment for a few reasons. Firstly, I simply don't have much more time. My target audience members are late elementary and middle school/junior high students. My available hours don't match theirs. Secondly, I don't have a convenient space for teaching. This is the larger issue at the moment. I share a home with my parents in a small community. My piano is located in the center of the house in a guest bedroom. I don't like teaching students in a bedroom (for obvious reasons) and I don't want to impose upon the schedules of my parents by having students traipse through the house during their primary rest times. I enjoy teaching piano lessons and think I'm good at it; when I find myself in the new situation that I alluded to above, I fully intend to market my teaching in a new city and build a solid studio.

It may look a little nontraditional to you. It is nontraditional. What you may be missing is that it is fulfilling, filled with joy, constant adventure, and lots of fun. Like every other career, there are times where I'm frustrated and overwhelmed. That doesn't mean I'm looking for a career change though; it simply means I'm having a tough day. I'll continue looking for a full-time job in the music field, but until I find it, I'll be content to freelance and pull it together one performance and lesson at a time.