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Madison Monday

Madison Monday: The Life of a “Professional” Musician

By October 31, 2011No Comments
My fiddle, with my first check

At the beginning of this summer, my husband and I came to the conclusion that the difference between the people who became that thing they wanted to be…a playwright, a musician, an artist, a writer…and us was the doing. If you want to be a writer, you must write. It doesn’t really matter what. It doesn’t really matter if it’s good. But if there is any certainty in this world it might be that if you never write at all, you will surely not become a writer.

So, if you want to be a musician, you must play music. Not always an easy task when you have a day job, but nonetheless. I’ve already written about my weekly fun at Irish music session night here in town, but this weekend, I was lucky enough to have my first ever paid gig.

The art–trolley–gallery–shop hop is ubiquitous in big cities and small towns across the country, and in Madison we have our own Fourth Friday Art and Shop Hop, sponsored by the Main Street Program. I’ve played at various locations around town for the Fourth Friday events twice before. Once in front of the 605 Grille, because I could pop in and grab a beer between songs. Once in front of Eco-Massage, because my generous friend had wine available so that I could pop in and have a glass between songs. This Friday night, there was only hot chocolate, brought to me by my husband and step-daughter from The Downtowner. But this time there was a paycheck, too. What there was not was much of an audience, though I did entertain one small child with a stirring rendition of “The Camptown Races.”

I won’t disclose how much I was paid for my fiddling, though it was more than I’ve been paid to perform many other services, some of which supposedly required 6 years of post-graduate training. I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon. But as part of that day job, I did recently take, along with a class of first-year college students, the Strong Interest Inventory. This test tells you what some of your main areas of life interests are, and then compares your own responses to those of people who are happily employed in 122 jobs. If your responses are very like those given by happy architects, the test suggests this might be a career for you.

Among the jobs suggested on the results for my test were photographer, artist and musician. I feel satisfied knowing that I can now check one of those off. College instructor was there, too, though not at the top of the list. The Strong Interest Inventory is meant only to help guide you into the general ballpark of what kind of job might make you happy. That photographer was at the top of my list only tells me that I have a lot in common with photographers and that I’d be happy in a job that did some of the things photographers do.

But as someone who already has a profession, taking the test was an entertaining exercise in both what could have been and what still might be. Could I have done the scary thing at the age of 22 and dedicated myself full-time to becoming a writer? What would that even have looked like? And given that I’m prone to anxiety in the relatively stress-free job of college professor, what kind of toll would that path have taken on my mental health?

When I was first taking fiddle lessons (way back in January) and I would tell people, they would so often say in a wistful kind of voice, “I’ve always wanted to learn to play *blank*.” And I would say, “You still can.” Do it. Do it now. If you want to be a musician, you must make music. It doesn’t matter how. It doesn’t matter if it’s good. It’s all about the doing.

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