DOAC 6.6.12 – Big Boy Pants

Isn't this James Vanderbeek of Dawson's Creek fame? One of my high school history teachers once stopped in the middle of a lecture and told the whole class how much I looked like this guy.

One of the things that I wanted to share in this series was the interaction of my life with my work, including my job(s), my personal relationships (as much as I care to share, which is usually not too much.) and my progress on the work as it relates to my developing thoughts about what a large piece like this can or should be like.

I’d like to share that I just accepted an internship with an arts education organization based in New York. I’ll let you know a little bit more about that as my work takes shape and there’s something to share. Until then, I’ll just say that the plan for the internship is for it to eventually develop into a full-time job raising money to support the group’s activities. I’m excited to learn the craft and to make a contribution to a group that I like very much. Also, the experience will help me to raise funds to support my musical work, and to help build opportunity for all musicians through my work as a curator.

I grew up in the nineties. This was a boom time, and I remember thinking that getting a job wouldn’t be hard. I don’t need to tell you how different things are now. I finished my Master’s degree in music in 2008, when the shit hit the fan, as they say. I think that, like all my peers in and out of music, I was fated to struggle. I can’t say it wasn’t partly my fault. I have to remember that choosing to focus on music through the 6 years of my education was never a smart decision if I wanted to make lots of money. But, if I could go back and do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe I’d go back and change some of the awkward things I said to pretty girls, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. But I digress.

This development in my life comes at an interesting time during a discussion in the jazz blogosphere. Kurt Ellenberger, a pianist, writer  and educator, suggested in a guest blog post on NPR’s A Blog Supreme that musicians should do what artists of all stripes have done for a long time: make money doing something else. His advice comes in response to the question of how we, as a field, can develop a viable audience for our music that will allow jazz musicians to make a decent, middle class living without resorting to work outside of the field. His position is that we can’t, and I can’t say that I disagree.  He concludes by saying it is “unwise to finance art with art” and that finding more firm financial footing through other productive work is a surer way to doing great work than to slaving away at low-paying, non-creative gigs because of the romantic, and outdated, idea of the “working musician.”

His advice seems directed towards young musicians just entering the professional world, and in some ways I feel his advice is years too late. Most of my peers long ago found a day job to be a necessary part of their livelihood from day one. But, I think his warning is still important because of the flagging demand for live music. Young musicians entering into the gigs-at-night, teaching-hot-cross-buns during the day lifestyle are taking a risk, and the risk will only get bigger. Unless they develop other marketable skills, they lock themselves into a future of low-wage work, and then when they get older they wonder why they are broke. “Old” is a relative term, but it happens to everyone: we all get sick, and we all lose the resiliency of youth that lets us run around from gig to gig, job to job without the benefit of health insurance and other “comforts.”

I feel a bit funny writing these words. I’m 28 years old as I write this, and I’m sure that to some readers, no matter their age, this essay will sound “old.” I’ll be honest and say that my childhood dreams didn’t involve administrative work. I saw myself playing my own music on stage with a band, and that is still what I want to do, but it is only a beginning. What I’ve learned by pursuing my music has led to heaps and mounds of administrative work, that, compared hour by hour, is far more than I spend playing. I never saw this part of my dream when I was young, but now in order to taste that transient glory that is performance, I have to plan months, sometimes years, in advance. All of that requires many emails, phone calls, meetings, writing, composing, and yes, work at a day job to make it all happen. In addition to playing with my own group, I also want to make inter-disciplinary art beyond a band on a stage, to build the scene as an organizer and curator, and to continue playing the best music I can while (If its in the cards) supporting a family.

The reality in this field is that we’ve got lemons, and lots of them. Every musician has his or her own recipe for lemonade, and mine now includes my new day job. I feel that having a more secure financial situation, even with the greater restrictions on my time, will improve my music, not hurt it. It is time to build for my future, and this is why, as the title of this post suggests, that I am now putting my big boy pants on, and doing what it takes to get a better day job. I need to support my art, not the other way around. If I find a larger audience through making great work, this is a happy miracle, but is not my primary goal. Just like many, many artists before me, I will continue to make my work even if I lose money doing it because I believe it is a great thing to do regardless of the size of my audience. Ellenberger makes this just as clear in his essay, and I commend him for making a strong statement about this. Obviously, some people make this lifestyle work, but I think its important to be clear about the risks.

Since I am writing about my commissioned work, I should talk about how this issue has effected the writing of this piece. The most important thing I can say is that anxiety that I’ve been experiencing for the last two years or so about my financial future, and the stresses of finding a better job, have taken up a lot of my energy and have caused a lot of lost sleep. Now that I have a clear(er) path to a job, I’m less worried about these issues. I can focus on summoning the energy to create my work in the time I have outside of my job. So, I feel good about my decision, I think it will improve my music. There is much, much more I could say about this, and perhaps I will. But this is it for this DOAC post.

An update on the piece: I’ve now drafted ten movements, which I believe will be the final count. As I’ve continued to work with my theme I’ve found it to be very flexible, even ambiguous. But, I’ve found that it is still very identifiable, so that as I return to the theme many times in the longer piece, that it still sounds fresh, even after I’ve used it over and over again to generate new material. Once the piece is reasonably “finished” I’d like to go through each movement and talk a bit about each one, but then I still have to tally up the on-going “score” in the epic battle of Detrick vs. Music, which I know all of you are just itching to know. More on that below.

Rather than analyzing this little bit of melody for its technical detail, I’ll just tell you how it came about and how I feel about it. I had sat down with my trumpet, and I asked a few questions: How would a long piece start? How would I make a theme that was memorable enough to stand up to repetition and expansion? Then I tried to just listen to what sounds were coming naturally to my mind’s ear, then just play that and write it down. This is often the first thing I do, and I find that I can usually trust my instincts. The right idea is usually the first one, and that’s what this was. The first movement came in a rush, and I wrote it all down within two hours or so.

“Wow! I’m a real composer!” I thought to myself at the end of that session. I patted myself on the back and made myself some lunch. But, the very next day things got much more difficult and a mess of influences all rushed in, and the words of one of my favorite poets, Robert Creely, came to mind. He said, when asked about what he had learned in the process of writing his novel The Island that “I think, for example, I learned a lot about how to continue by writing the novel, and it seems to me true that my poems show what’s gained in the novel.” His phrase, that he “learned to continue” through the writing of prose after many years writing short, terse poems, is fascinating and may be a helpful way to describe what I have also learned, and struggled with, in the writing of a long, thematically unified piece. The Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission has been a wonderful opportunity for me to learn “to continue”.

So, I’m in the home stretch with this piece. I’m feeling very good about it, so I’ll go ahead give myself some points, but just because Music can be very scrappy in the ring during the late rounds. I won’t assume that the fight is over yet, so here’s my reckoning of the score for today:

Detrick: 1

Music: 1

Which brings us to a grand total of:

Detrick: 8

Music: 4

Which seems horribly inaccurate, not to mention disrespectful. So, I will give some extra “penalty” points to Music today. Four of them. One for the days that I made no progress, one for the days that I erased pages of work, and one for the days I dared give myself a higher score than this worthy and formidable adversary, and one for the days that I spent longer blogging than actually composing:

Detrick: 8

Music: 8

A metaphor for life: we may be ahead now, but you never know when you’ll throw out a whole movement!

 

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