Do What You Love, Love What You Do
I had the opportunity to play a concerto with the Alabama Winds yesterday, and had a terrific time. I love playing in orchestras and bands, but it’s a special treat to stand in front of the ensemble and be a featured soloist. It made me appreciate yet again that I have a career doing what I love most in life- making and teaching music.
I have always loved the quote from Conficius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” In reality, just like anything else, being a musician IS work, and, along with the many joys, there are challenging days and long hours…but what would life be without challenges? They stretch us and make us grow, make life interesting, make us better. I tell my students that they should only go into music if there is nothing else in the world they could do and be happy. I can’t promise them wealth (the monetary kind, anyway), or a smooth and easy path, but I can promise that if they work hard at their craft, they will have a career that is rich and fulfilling.
I have known since the eighth grade that I wanted to be a performer and teacher. Other than a brief period where I thought I was going to be a veterinarian, I stayed focused on this path. Having to put our family dog down made me realize my heart was much too soft to do the daily work required of a vet…I am pretty sure that I would have spent most days in tears. Even more important in making my decision, playing clarinet made my heart sing. I felt truly alive when I was playing in band and orchestra, or just practicing. It was my identity, my solace, my joy, my therapy, my passion.
I was fortunate to grow up in one of the best band programs in the country, with incredibly gifted and caring band directors. They believed in me, nurtured my natural abilities, and gave me musical training and experiences that paved the way for my success. I can never thank them enough, except to pay it forward, doing my best to do for my students what my teachers did for me. In my undergrad, Master’s, and doctoral degrees, I was again blessed with wonderful teachers and mentors, role models of how to live and work with integrity as a musician.
Sometimes I wonder what else I could do and be happy. From the vantage of the other side of fifty, I daydream with my husband about where we will retire, where we will ‘run away’. Aside from his career as a performing arts theater manager, Dan teaches yoga and is a licensed massage therapist. If we moved to Fiji, he could find work….my skills as a clarinetist- not much good in Fiji. I love animals, but don’t have any marketable skills for employment there (though I do plan on volunteering at the local shelter when I retire). I can’t see myself sitting at a desk all day. I love to write and take photos, but I already do those things as a part of my everyday life. There is literally nothing else I could do that would bring me the joy of being a musician.
One of the things I like most about my work is that it is so varied. One part of the day I may be teaching lessons, the next part I may be on stage rehearsing with the symphony, or driving across town to observe a student teacher. There is always something new, something challenging. Learning new music, pushing myself to keep my skills up through daily practice, assessing a student’s issues and designing a course of study to take them forward, being a part of meetings and committees…there is no set routine.
For me, it all boils down to doing what you love and loving what you do. So many people complain about their lives, speak horribly of their jobs, their spouses, their families. We all aren’t always able to choose our dream career, but we can choose to live our lives in joy and gratitude. One of my favorite professors used to say, “Act your way into a new way of thinking.” That resonated deeply with me. If I don’t like something about my life, I need to change it, and if I can’t change it, I need to change the way I think about it. It truly makes a difference. We are the architects of our lives through what we choose to focus on and how we focus our energies.
I will always choose to be happy, to be grateful, to see the glass as half full (and then fill it the rest of the way). I am thankful for a career that has brought me immeasurable joy, so many opportunities, taken me around the globe to perform. I am thankful for the many, many students I have taught over the years, from whom I have learned so much. I will always be a student, always be open to learn new things, be open to new ideas. I never want to stop growing as a musician, teacher, or human being.
That being said….it’s time to practice. There is work to be done.