But what will he do when he’s finished university?

I get asked this question a lot recently.

Michael. TSYO, 2012.
Michael. TSYO, 2012.

My younger son Michael has started a music degree in performance at McGill. Neither my spouse or myself have professional artists in our lineage. It’s sort of “not on” to pursue a life in the arts, with all the uncertainties around earning a living wage.

I’ve always been a proponent of following your bliss. Both my husband and I followed our bliss into mathematics and ended up in satisfying careers, albeit not particularly mathematical. I was given various types of advice about “falling back on” accounting or teaching, but neither of these were what I wanted to do. My spouse felt a great deal of pressure to enter a profession such as engineering, and while he was pursuing graduate studies, to stop working and get a job.

Our older son did mathematics but really didn’t have much of a clue about what he wanted to do when he finished. Late in his undergraduate career, a new field of work opened up, one that was not really in his awareness when he started. He’s now pursuing graduate studies in that area and is excited about being able to pursue multiple interests in that field.

But music? Really? Orchestra jobs are so hard to get. How will he make a living? At least he’ll be able to teach. These are all comments that have been made about his dream.

Recently, one of his early tuba teachers celebrated a birthday and, in response to all the good wishes that poured in over Facebook, posted this:

31 years old. living my dreams, chasing others, and surrounded by people and music that i love dearly. life is good. I noticed a touch of grizzle in my whiskers, and i’m ok with that. in other news, i’m going to have a party in a few weeks when work calms down a bit. thanks everyone for the love!

Read his bio if you have a minute. Rob has been a mentor to Michael, and although he is eking out a living in this expensive city, he manages to travel and work doing what he loves.

His current teacher is one of the legion of hourly wage employees in university music departments. In fact, he teaches in two schools, in two cities 6 hours apart, and plays in an orchestra in the second city. It cannot be an easy life.  A friend of mine is in a similar position, commuting weekly between Toronto and London, Ontario to teach in two post-secondary institutions. But (presumably) they are following their bliss.

I am proud of what Michael is doing. He knows that life may not flow as easily when he finishes as some of his contemporaries. But when you look at employment data for young people these days, NO one is having an easy time. But at least he’ll be spending the next few years doing exactly what he wants to be doing, and for that (and so much more) I am happy.

If you need more convincing, consider this:

2 thoughts on “But what will he do when he’s finished university?

  1. I know several classical music graduates – they usually taught a bit – some have gone into different fields entirely after a few years trying to make it. The positive thing is that they have all been very driven, committed and passionate people (I think that’s a given as it is so hard to get into any kind of good music college!) and I think those qualities have come across and helped them never be out of work.

    It’s not an easy life though, I appreciate that.

  2. One of the most important things – in my view – about being a musician (and artist, as the two are not mutually exclusive) – is that we must not ever buy into the notion that we will be “poor, starving artists”. It is this very notion that causes us to be so, becoming psychologically attached to the idea and enabling it to become our various realities. Nothing could be further from the truth, and while it is difficult, and while there are tremendous gaps in our practical education (how to decide what to charge, how to do taxes, how to promote, how to invest, and even the most basic thing: how to write a proper musical CV), if we acknowledge these gaps and determine that we refuse to be poor, starving, or otherwise disadvantaged, we can take the first steps to securing ourselves in a realistic, and even ambitious way that will almost certainly see better results than buying into defeat from the start.

    Where Michael is concerned, he has the great good advantage of being an observant fellow, well exposed to a great variety of role models, and personal experiences (with tons more to come), and he will use his kind personality to his benefit in securing himself as strong a position in the musical fabric of the world as he desires.

    I’m excited to see where it goes.

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