Ten years ago at this time, I started down a path that has been immensely rewarding, and yet lately it’s caused me to ask some difficult questions about myself.
In January 1998, I was a grad student at the University of Toronto. Most of my time was spent practicing, reading, and exploring the city. My career plans were pretty undefined – a vague notion that I’d get my name added to various sub-lists, take some auditions, and work at HMV until I got a real gig.
Around that time, the NAC announced it was looking for someone to work on the operations side of the orchestra. B applied and suggested I do the same (I guess she wasn’t looking forward to living with an unemployed drummer with a student loan). I wasn’t really interested in an office job, but the starting salary of $35,000 plus benefits was pretty attractive considering my limited earning potential.
I applied, and over the next four months I jumped through the required hoops – written test, interview, personality test, etc. I was surprised to get the job, and gladly accepted. I naively thought I could continue to practice and perform regularly, especially since I had the money to buy my own marimba. Aside from a few concerts with the Kingston Symphony, though, I didn’t really do that much playing after I took the job.
Sometimes I feel like I sold out. I spent seven years at school locked in a practice room, thinking I wanted to be a professional musician, yet at the first promise of a steady paycheque I gave it all up. I admire / envy artists and musicians for their willingness to make sacrifices in pursuit of their goals. Some of them scrape by for years, maxing out credit cards and chasing grants just to put on another show. Why wasn’t I willing to do the same?
Somewhat regrettably, I’ve accepted that I’m better suited to being an administrator than a musician. I’m more suited to making it possible for others to create art than making art myself. As a player, I never really could let go and just express myself – I was way too self-conscious. I realize now that I was more concerned with technique, form, and precision than affecting people on an emotional level. I wasn’t prepared to give up stability for uncertainty. Too much head, not enough heart.
Stuck between being an amateur musician and a professional one, I chose neither, and in doing so, lost something that was important to me. It’s time to find something – a bar band, an orchestra, a Japanese taiko group – and start playing again.
Oh yeah, if anyone’s found my chops, please return them to me as I think I lost them a few years ago.