Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In my first life, I was a musician. (Rambly navel-gazing.)

Why?  Well, I had some talent.  I learned the language of music very quickly, because we had a piano.  I would sit at it, at a very young age, and play--play with those black and white musical blocks, until my parents knew they had to get me into piano lessons.

Because it happened at such a young age, music was a huge part of my identity.  Because my family was pretty emotionally handicapped, and I think also because of Mormonism, I didn't develop an identity outside of music.. and Mormonism.  Not as a child, not as a teen, not even really as a young adult.  I think this post marks me acknowledging and developing an identity apart from music and Mormonism for the first time.

I loved to the play the piano as a kid.  The thing I loved most about playing the piano was improvising and  making up my own music.  I eventually learned to write it down, and I loved to do that.  I was good at it.  But somehow, somewhere along the way, as my Mormon guilt grew, and the bottomless pit that served as its reservoir was being dug, music got linked up with my Mormon guilt.

I went to BYU, and though it took me years, I finished a piano performance degree, and then, because I had no idea what came next, I started a masters in piano performance.  Then switched over to choral conducting.  And all the while I thought it was because I was "supposed to", I thought I was fulfilling my mission, whatever that would be.  I thought that the opaque blackness that stared at me whenever I contemplated the future, my future career in music and how the heck I would support myself, I thought that was just the trial of my faith.  You know, learning to step into the darkness. Maybe it was.

But now that I'm done with that part of my life, the school and graduate school, and now that guilt is such an integral part of my approach to my music, and now that I'm nearly immobilized by it, now that I have a lawyer husband who could technically support whatever musical entrepreneurship I could dream up--I really just want to do something different.

I learned tonight that my favorite high school English teacher, Rob Haug, passed away two years ago.  Somehow I never heard about it, which isn't surprising since I have almost no ties to my hometown.  He was an incredible teacher.  Thinking about him reminded me of that magical time in my adolescence when I was taking the first intrepid, awe-filled steps into the world of the mind, the reading and the thinking and the writing.  I loved that.  I was good at that, too.  I treasured the encouraging messages my English teachers wrote on my papers.  One even told me I was classic English major material.  That surprised me, because I so heavily identified as a musician.  It was my junior year, I was starting to think about college, and I had never thought about English.  I remember I really liked the idea, though it was a vision of my future self that was completely foreign.

Fast forward a few years, I remember a conversation with my piano teacher at BYU.  He thought that one thing holding me back from committing to music in a specific, goal-oriented way, was that I had a very broad field of things I could do well.  It feels somewhat self-congratulatory to say it, but he really nailed it, nailed me.

I guess all of this is to say that I'm really questioning my choice of music as a vocation.  Much like my choice of Mormonism as a religion, music actually wasn't ever really a choice.  It was who I was.  Or--it was who I thought I was, despite the little slivers of evidence to the contrary that cropped up in high school.  And, you know, recognizing that any choice, conscious or not, will have its opportunity costs and regrets, I'm wondering now if I had chosen something like English, would I have a better grasp on what to do with my life now?  Why would I choose music as a career if I don't want to be a private music teacher.. I don't want to be a public music teacher... I don't really want to be a choral conductor, or a free-lance accompanist?  I feel so blah when I think about what I want to do to earn money with music, and it's been that way for YEARS!  (Composition--now that's totally another thing.  I can see myself wanting to do that, but at this point I have such an incredible amount of *should* attached to it, that it doesn't feel good to do, or even think about doing.)        

One thing I learned about myself in grad school, was how much I love the small classroom setting.  That was my favorite part of being a grad student, teaching the lower-division undergrad classes.  I loved having discussions with students, and being an active part in creating and nurturing the unique learning community of each class.  I loved getting to know individual students, and watching how individuals interacted, and worked with and learned from each other.  I loved learning from them.  I wonder if I should rewind and go to school to be an English teacher.  Seriously.  I'm remembering the honors class I took freshman year--it was kind of an out-of-the-blue choice, but it was one of the most influential college classes I ever took: I think it was called "The Making of a Teacher."  

And, well, one thing is for sure.  When I connect to those memories of the past, of the way I remember my whole soul firing up in response to great literature, I feel more myself. I remember what it is to feel like a whole person.  

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