Getting into a conservative conservatory opens a lot of doors, but in other ways I'm scared to death. What if I do not get a job when I get out? What if I can not afford to pay off my student loans? For years this kept me from pursuing my dreams, and it continues to worry me to no end.
My original strategy was to “play to win.” But what does “winning” mean? Winning the Pulitzer Prize? Landing that prestigious track track position at NYU? Perhaps. But I think it would be it would be healthier for me to contemplate how I can blaze my own path– how to I use my skills as an artist to make the world a better place.
Prior to graduate school, I took a year off just to write. I moved in with my mother and cashed out my retirement pension. For the first six months, I lived in artistic bliss. I experimented and implemented ideas. I composed eight to twelve hours a day. I wrote nearly an hour's worth of well thought out music, for every instrument, including electroaccoustic music.
When the retirement check began to dwindle, though, I started to worry. Jobs on silver platters do not wait MM candidates like they do for MBA candidates. And the more I worried about how I would sustain a living as an artist long term, the less I composed.
I resolved that there's no way I can advance toward artistic freedom without I can see “in my mind” a light at the end of the tunnel. I must settle my worries about not making a living, once and for all. If I want a stable, healthy, uncompromised life, I need to find a path of getting there before I even start to think about that opera or symphony I dream of writing. Even the greatest masterpieces fail.
Luckily, I'm a minimalist. I do not need a big house. I do not need fancy clothes. I do not need to start a family– at least for another ten years. I do not even need a computer.
Here's what I do need.
1.) Friends. We need friends more than we think. And friends are easy to find when you're a musician. There's nothing more rewarding than collaboration or playing together in an ensemble. In main, white collar America, people are (with many exceptions) more interested in their friends' social status and how they look. They're more interested in being liked than finding love. Modern social culture demands that you attend stale dinner parties and spending $ 25 on brunch. It's been my experience so far that true friends are much easier to find when playing music. If I want anything out of my music degree, it should be to make lots and lots of lifelong friends.
2.) Time to pursue artistic goals. My calling is to compose. My calling is not to work in a cubicle as an arts administrator, not to work 80 hours a week as a high school band teacher, not to take a corporate day job and write music as a hobby. Nothing could sabotage my artistic opportunities more than working a full time job, except it's being a college professor, supporting myself as an artist, or some combination of the two (say, becoming an adjunct). Time is essential for composers– time to work, time to take walks and self reflect, and time to experiment with new techniques of writing that may or many not work.
3.) Financial security. We all need money, but not a lot. How much should it really cost to eat, have a safe, warm place to sleep at night, and pay off student loans? We live in a society where theoretically there's enough food and living space for all, yet we work long hours to pay exorbitant rents and spend money on things we do not need.
I've spent years searching for a way to make as little money as possible while still being able to afford moderate comfort, time to work on my music, and have friends. Sadly, I have yet to figure it out.
But I think I have an idea. I'll join an arts collective … or better yet, start my own.
There is an 11 acre plot of land for $ 125,000 in Harford County, MD. Hundreds of other lots are available within close proximity of major cities. Even larger, 100 acre lots are available in Ohio and Pennsylvania for as low as $ 60,000; these states are abundant with college towns and performance opportunities. Spacious, winterized yurts for every person could be installed for under $ 10,000 each. “Tiny houses” are also an option.
This means that 5-6 composers and musicians could live in a beautiful place with lots of privacy on a combined income of just $ 100,000. That's a nice, middle class lifestyle where each person only has to teach 1-2 adjunct classes, and still afford to eat and pay rent (which would cost about the amount of a cell phone bill).
Some might complain that living in a yurt is too rustic, but these are the types of living quarters you'd get from attending Aspen or Tanglewood. And if a middle class family can afford a mini-mansion on the same amount of land, then six adjunct professors can pool a six figure salary to afford the same thing. An alternative could have been to invest in a communal living space in an urban area.
Laugh all you want at this idea– but having material wealth is fraught with misery. I'm suggesting a lifestyle that is more stable than being a “starving artist,” while still affording you the same opportunities to produce art that will create a meaningful impact, surrounded by people who care about you.
A small donation from a generous patron could afford us a small, intimate performance space. Someone's rich parent could front the down payment. And if word gets out that several composers are pursuing this lifestyle, the watermark of success would rise for everyone involved. Big name composers and musicians would take an interest in us, and friends would come by to visit. A school of thought could be formed, not based on aesthetics, but on lifestyle, and composers would no longer need to compete for jobs.
Who's with me?