Do you think you know where music is leading you? Is it to a career, a fulfilling avocation, or a rewarding way to connect with other people? Or are you approaching one of those places where you’re not sure what the next step is or which way to go?
There are often “opportunity moments” in music study, moments when we experience the power and possibility in going a new direction or trying something new. Your first musical “opportunity moment” was probably when you decided on an instrument to study. That was the beginning of a musical journey for you, and you ave likely discovered since then that the path was not as straight or as clear as you had expected.
I’d like to look at some of the more usual “opportunity moments” and share with you some of the advice that I offer my students when they hear opportunity knocking on their doors.
Opportunity Moment #1: Choosing a College
The Opportunity: I have taught many gifted high school students. Often by the time their high school years are coming to a close, they have been playing the harp for nearly a decade. The decision they face is whether or not to study music in college. What role will music and the harp play in their college years or in their lives after college? Should they major in music, minor in music, just take lessons or put the harp away until later?
The Critical Question: Usually students don’t need much soul-searching to know if they DON’T want to study music seriously in college. They have felt the call of another field or discipline, and that’s where they intend to put their focus.
For the others who are less sure, the question to consider is this: if you study music in college, what might you like to do afterward? There’s no one correct answer, and you get to change you mind as many times as you want over the course of time, but you should be able to point to someone who is using music in their life the way you would want to.
The Path: Once you have answered that questions, your direction is clear: follow the path that will lead you there. Get advice from the people you would like to emulate. Ask every question you can. Envision what your life might be like. Shadow a college music student for a day. Are the daily activities they do ones that appeal to you?
Opportunity Moment #2: Life after College
The Opportunity: Once you have your music school diploma or perhaps even advanced degrees, you feel as though you should be ready to begin your life as a musician. The surprise comes when you realize that after school, on the outside, the world isn’t nearly as ready for you. How do you stay a musician, earn enough to keep you alive, and stay motivated?
The Critical Question: If you are prepared to be a working musician, then there is only one question that you need to ask yourself every day: what can I do today to move even one inch closer to my dream of being a full-time musician? How will I daily remind myself by my actions that no matter what I do to keep food in my refrigerator, I am and will be a musician?
The Path: The first step on the path is to play music every day. Musicians play music. Find even 15 minutes to stay in touch with what brought you to this point. This must be an iron-clad discipline for you. Next write out twenty things (besides practicing) that you can and should be doing to move your musical career forward, and then do one every day. You will be amazed at the power of small but consistent action.
Opportunity Moment #3: The “Second Career” Student
The Opportunity: You are in an enviable spot. I realize you might be feeling the disadvantage of starting music at a later age and envying the ones whop started as younger people. But you have a distinct advantage: you have the experience and self-knowledge to know how to apply yourself and make great strides in a short period of time. But what do you do with your music? What kind of musician will you be?
The Critical Question: You may have an idea of a musical path or perhaps a friend or mentor whose steps you can follow. But the question that will help you the most is this: with whom can I share my music? This may be a difficult question to answer, because you may not feel ready to play for anyone else. But thinking in that direction will help guide you to a path.
The Path: Music is meant to be shared. Our accomplishments mean very little if we don’t let our music out into the world. Whether you play in a group with friends or for residents in a nursing home, your music is something to share and a gift that is uniquely yours to give. So find some musical friends and let your music out of your practice room. Once you have taken that first step, your path will appear before you.
What “opportunity moment” are you facing?