Finding Value in Serving Music from Outside the Profession

I do a lot of different things for work. I conduct two community ensembles (and serve on both their boards), I co-founded and conduct a historical performance practice orchestra, I have a woodwind studio, I gig and play musical pits whenever I can, and I do my best to promote my own work/serve as my own agent. I’m a former adjunct professor at two institutions (and was director of bands at one of them).

And in spite of all that, I still have a day job.

Because, let’s face it - while all those jobs are great, they don’t pay the bills. You can adjunct at several institutions and still only expect a meager salary given that, on average, an adjunct professor can expect to make ~$2,400-3,000 per course. Teach five courses (a typical course load for full-time faculty) at the high end of the scale, and you can still only expect to make $15,000. This is obviously before rent, health care (what health care?), student loan payments, etc.

No, this isn’t a post on the plight of the adjunct. The reality is that music students (even the education majors, who “can always teach if performing doesn’t work out”) are entering job markets that are far too saturated, and we lead them to believe that they have a chance to be successful.

Well, they do have a chance.

Far too often though, talented players, teachers, researchers, etc. can’t land a job immediately after graduation. For some, it takes several years. For some, it never happens, and they are resigned to give up and change professions entirely.

During the day, I work as a personnel manager and music librarian for a regional orchestra (also a part time job). While I’m technically employed by a musical organization, my job is not artistically motivated and, as I think most administrators would tell you – working for a musical organization is not the same as making music.

Here are five things I do to make sure I keep in touch with music:

1)         Make it a point to play or sing every day. Whether you pick up your instrument, sit down at a piano or sing in the shower, remember that making music is good for you – do it often! This also keeps you in touch with why you decided to go into music in the first place.

2)         Find a community ensemble to play with. You can find an extensive list of community bands and orchestras here. If you’re looking for a community choir, try researching your area, or start with your church. Churches are generally looking for talented vocalists to serve as cantor or augment their parish choir. At the very least, it’s a place to make connections and find out where others sing.

3)         Whatever organization or field you’re working in, find ways to tie music into your profession. It can be something as simple as getting a group together to play at your company’s next work event.

4)    Learn a new instrument. If you’re looking for a way to reconnect with music, this is one that I highly recommend. Sometimes, being able to reset and start from square one is a refreshing way to engage with music from a new perspective. If you’re already an instrumentalist and you’re looking for an extra challenge, pick an instrument from a different family than your primary (i.e. if you’re a flute player, take up the cello).

5)    Bring your music to others. When I was in high school (certainly long before I was getting paid to make music), I would volunteer to play at local nursing homes and hospitals. This is a great way to keep your chops up, but even more importantly, you can share your love of music. (Not to mention, residents/patients tend to enjoy the entertainment/company/distraction.)

No matter what has drawn you away from music, you don’t have to lose your connection to it. These are a few of tips that I’ve found useful. Feel free to leave yours in the comments below or share them with me via email or social media.