Saturday, April 19, 2008

Musical Dollars to Donuts

People often ask me why I don't live in a major city where I could have a much more visible musical life. My simple reason is that my husband got a job here 23 years ago, and I decided to make the most out of a move from a major city (Boston) where I typed for a living and had a very small amount of work as a flutist. Since living here I have learned to play violin and viola, I have gotten a degree in composition, I have worked at a radio station, I have raised two wonderful children, and I have written a lot of music. I believe that my musical life is far more rewarding and productive than the musical life I led in either Boston or New York.

My husband and I do both cringe at tax time when we see that my yearly salary from the community college where I teach as an adjunct instructor is so low. Dollars to donuts, it seems that the "price" of the classes he teaches as a university professor are worth ten times more than the classes I teach. Of course he has university obligations, and my obligations to the institution where I teach are zero. I drive about 20 miles to get to class, I teach, I give exams, I hand in grades, and that is that. The facilities are excellent, my colleagues are great, I like the mix of students that I get (particularly the ones that realize that they like "classical" music) and there is never a problem with traffic or parking.

I do a lot of things in music: I write music (most of which is published), I teach violin, viola, and recorder lessons, I teach music appreciation classes, I play viola in three orchestras, I play in a Medieval and Renaissance ensemble, I play in, and do administrative work for, a string quartet, I play two violin and piano recitals a year (I'm playing one next week), I write CD reviews (as well as other articles), I keep this blog, and I co-run a summer orchestra program in my town.

If you lump everything together and look at its cash value, I make a living below the poverty level. If I did not have a spouse with a good job, I would not be able to afford to have a car, rent even a small apartment, feed a family, buy insurance, or live in a safe neighborhood. That is why I choose not to value what I do the way society values it. I am thankful that I can live in a beautiful place, can spend my time doing the things that matter to me, and can contribute to society and make my corner of the world a little more musical, and hopefully a little more beautiful.

Why do people value money so much? Why are people valued for what they earn from what they do? There are many things in life that don't have monetary value. Playing in tune is one of them. It "costs" years of careful technical practice, and its value can not be measured. Knowledge may be something that you could quantify, but wisdom, like playing in tune, is something that comes from paying a lot of dues. Happiness is also something that cannot be quantified. Despite my overwork (or maybe because it is overwork that involves doing things I love to do), I am very happy. I treasure that time that I can take for myself, particularly the time I take to practice, think, and write; and I treasure the ability to be creative and to grow, even at the age of nearly 49. I treasure the fact that I don't have the kind of job where I need to encourage students to be music majors, or lie to them about their possibilities of making a living as musicians.

I treasure the fact that I don't really care to push the business end of music or promote what I do beyond providing information to people. It is really rewarding to me if people enjoy playing (or listening to) the music I write simply because they like it. I couldn't imagine being in the position of having people listen to or play music I write because they should like it (but really don't). When I used to spend my time with the flute repertoire, I encountered a lot of pieces that I didn't like, but felt I should like. Some of those pieces (as well as their composers) are quite well known.

So now it's time for lunch, followed by a walk to the store (I value the fact that we can walk to the store if we want to--if it doesn't rain), and an afternoon of practicing and maybe doing a little work on the violin sonata I am writing.


Chantal said...

Best of luck at your recital!

Elaine Fine said...


Aage said...

Wow, Elaine. I really needed to read this today. I'm going to come back later and read it again. Jen and I had the worst year of our lives in 2007, but 2008 is looking better. I know that I am happier and I have hope. For the record, we really like playing your music. In fact, last May we played Ugly Duckling while my mother was having triple bypass surgery....again.

What actually brought me to your blog today was my google alert for "medieval music". I am playing my douçaine in two medieval groups now and having a wonderful time!

I had not been to your blog for a while, but I'm so glad that I did. Have a great day and a great recital!

Elaine Fine said...

It is so nice to hear from you Aage! And a hearty welcome back to the Middle Ages. It is such a healthy place to spend musical time.