A Note on the Genius of Music Majors

Why do music majors do what they do? If there’s anything more useless in the world of making money and paying the bills than an English major, surely one of them is music. They have just about as many options as we Englishies do: teach, freelance, and attempt to become an independent artist. Sure there are those few job choices that bring in the big bucks, if you’re lucky as cupcakes, such as composing for movie soundtracks, writing for sitcoms and marketing crap, working for the few and rich who need artistic talent to market themselves—but really those aren’t the kind of jobs you can just pick up like how my Engineer friend picked up his. Namely, you can’t just turn in resumes to random places and cross your fingers. You can’t just flash your credentials and get hired to have your bad self tested later for greatness. You need to work your butt off networking, portfolio-ing, digging and scrambling and getting your face into places you never wanted your face to be, cause it don’t freaking matter if you’re shy or not. There’s no easy path after school.
Yet as I was walking past the music building, listening to a few musicians blaring away at their music, I had to wonder why these guys chose music at all. It can’t just be because they’re stupid (though, granted, there are the exceptions). Most people are TOO aware of the bad economy and unsettled times more than they are unaware of it. But the answer was so simple and quick:
They just did what they loved…and trusted it.
I use to understand this concept so well when I was just a few years younger. It has just the right amount of sentimental ring to it that would make most stupid teenagers and ambitious young adults excited. But now, in the ‘real’ world where everything seems to dull and mail stops being exciting, I began to realize just how hard it is to believe in something like that. It’s hard to just trust what you love and plunge yourself like an idiot into the fifty foot drop below. It’s hard to sing, dance, write, and paint and get anything for it other than applause, a toothy smile, and the rare occasional faux gold plaque. Most artists are hobbyists, who work somewhere else (and smartly so, agree many while bobbing their heads in approval). You find a good deal of them loitering in booths at those art fairs where mostly old people and the few great-bored-ones go. Hate to admit it, but those folks usually make me roll my eyes. Does anyone actually buy those weird, artsy quilts too sewn up to cuddle in? And that has to be the uptenth millionth time I’ve seen a picture of Zion or the orange southern Utah landscape. Nice statue, mister, you cut that bear out of wood with a chainsaw? That’s cool, but wasn’t that a thing for cabins, like, twenty years ago?
It’s a bit of a smack upside the face and butt when I realize I’m no different from them when I’m sending out my forty or so query letters for a fantasy novel. I’m sure they even have knock knock jokes for my kind of wannabe. Ouch.
But walking by the xylophone playing about a sexy French horn, I couldn’t help but stop and listen. They sounded like they were having so much fun. Didn’t they know their efforts would never become easy? That their lives would probably never be anything above lower middle class? That they, like me, would one day be faced with a mountain of bills, crying babies, an overworked spouse, and an inability to do anything because I was an artist? Yet listening to them you would have never guessed otherwise. They were finding a way to escape without making lots of money, without changing themselves, without forcing themselves into the same damn ugly routine everyday and loving it so hard their fingers went stiff and their stomachs went empty. It was like a world unto their own. Surrounded by those notes they were on some higher plane above these lowly, common trials of life—a higher plane than me….
Doing what they loved and simply, wonderfully, beautifully, trusting it.


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