What I Said Tonight

Every spring, the APU School of Music faculty sits down for dinner with the students who are graduating. Toward the end of the evening, the floor is open for students to talk to share about their experiences here, and for faculty to give a few words for the road ahead. Tonight, I said two things:

First, one of the hardest things about graduating is the collapse of structure. For the past 4 years, every minute of your day has been accounted for, you have to know certain things by certain dates, you have to show up once a week and play for someone who intimidates you just a little, you have been forced into some very good habits. The day after graduation, all of that goes away. No more juries, recitals, exams, no more weekly lessons. The collapse of structure can be devastating. Figure out how to build that structure back into your life, so that you continue the good habits that are part of being a good musician.

The second thing is this: you have a power and a freedom that many of us no longer have. You have the freedom to be poor (lots of laughs, most of them from faculty members who are pretty convinced they are still living with this freedom). There is a real freedom in that. If you can live poorly, you can make creative decisions for creative reasons, without having to worry about how much money the gig pays. Don’t trade that freedom away too soon.

Don’t buy a new car. Don’t take on debt. Find roommates, eat at home, don’t buy things you don’t need. The less money you HAVE to make each month, the less time you have to trade away for that money. You don’t want to live this way forever, but for these first few years, embrace the freedom of being poor. You may not ever have a time like this again.

I don’t mean to romanticize poverty, at all. I do, however, think that I started worrying about making money earlier in my career than I should have, and passed up on the chance to do some really great projects because they didn’t tally up on the bottom line.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts. I know as a group we’re all over the map in terms of both income and creative choices, I wonder how often we stop to think about the particular blessings of whatever situation we are in at the moment.

9 thoughts on “What I Said Tonight

  1. Faith Hefty

    I graduated just a year ago and I think this is great advice. Right out of school i took a job teaching at an academy in Monrovia. I am poor poor poor but my bills are paid and I have time in my life to create, think, and just be. The academy where I work lets us use the pianos whenever we want and since I work in the afternoons I often go in early just to play, practice or write. I love the freedom and space my “poverty” gives me and I love the things I’ve been able to do because of it. :) Good advice, Mr. Lee.

  2. sharolyn

    Well said.

    First reflection: There was a cheezy movie several years ago with some good lines in it, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” In one scene Mr. Holland (a music teacher) and his wife are fighting and she feels neglected due to the amount of time he spends on his music. He says something like, “MY music? MY music? Whend’ja think I had time for MY music?!” A lot of us have probably felt that way at some point – meeting the expectations of church music, school music, etc. and forgetting why it filled our soul in the first place. (I confess I am going through some of that now.)

    Second reflection: Jason and I recently got a phone call from a really nice guy who is dating a family friend. We had never met him, but he just graduated from Cal Baptist with a degree in composition and might be starting a music program at a Christian school. He came over and we talked for a couple of hours. After working so hard on his senior recital, in hindsight, his face was kind of blank when we said things like, “You know what works really well with first graders? The sit-down-stand-up song. Here, let me copy if for you.”

    (There is more depth to our teaching, but hopefully you get the point.) It was refreshing to be around a new grad, with his ideals and lofty pursuits versus our rhythm sticks and the best ways to teach four-beat rhythms and 10 years of saying, “Trumpets, F sharp”. After he left Jason looked at me and said, “I think we just popped his bubble.”

  3. sharolyn

    Mike, I’m just wondering: Are these things you wish someone had said to you?

  4. sharolyn

    So true. I guess I was trying to get you to talk about yourself. Spark some conversation on this bloggy.

  5. michael Post author

    “MY music? MY music? Whend’ja think I had time for MY music?!” A lot of us have probably felt that way at some point – meeting the expectations of church music, school music, etc. and forgetting why it filled our soul in the first place. (I confess I am going through some of that now.)

    This feeling probably hit its peak for me about a year ago. It was part of the driving impetus to dive into the “Our Father Vindicate” piece, and the transition to writing more music.

    I finally decided to quit feeling sorry for myself, to quit feel frustrated, and to realize that I was in the best possible position to start pushing toward doing music I really love. I have a job that not only all allows me flexible time to write, it puts me in contact with conductors, ensembles, and outstanding professional players who are willing and eager to perform it. I spent 4 years ignoring that fact and moping over the limitations that a full-time position placed on my ability to do other kinds of work. How dumb is that!

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