Monday, June 20, 2016

Sometimes, it doesn't work out the way you think it will...

                          Sometimes, it doesn’t work out the way you think it will…
I sometimes think that I should have gone into the business of collecting nickels. It’s a favorite phrase of mine, “Man, if I had a nickel for however many times I_______, I’d be a millionaire.” It’s a less narcissistic way of expressing that you’re essentially “ahead of the game”, with regard to perception…but that’s neither here nor there. More pertinently: if I had a nickel for however many times someone told me to “quit everything and go follow your dreams”, I would probably have enough nickels to sustain me financially through such an endeavor.

I’ve hit an interesting milestone in my musical career in the last few weeks, in that, at least with regard to the non-stop touring and endless performances, it has pretty much come to a cadence. Starting July 1st, I will officially be a securities planning representative in the field of comprehensive personal finance. It doesn’t really all fit on a business card…but then, who still uses those? The interview process took close to two months, and required a lot of testing and evaluation. More importantly, it gave me a sort of grace period…one allowing me to clearly discern whether or not this was right for me.

In truth, I have always been plagued by the notion that I would be inadequate when, eventually, I’d have to support a family on a musician’s salary. Even in my success as a single man with few liabilities and a 30k per year income, I always wrestled with the horror that I could potentially have no answer for my future wife when she looks to me in times of financial stress. Some days are better than others, and on those days I wake up realizing that ever since I submitted myself to a vocation of beauty and music, I have never gone without. God is faithful. He keeps His promises. He has qualified me, and I’ve merely made myself available. A vocation requires such a gift of self by definition, and it is in that giving that I have come to find my identity and call to serve.

My message is not a statement of disclosure, but instead a plea for change of heart. You see, in my years as a full-time musician and composer, I have experienced a multitude of dichotomies. One such is that there seems to be some idea that to “give it all up, and chase your dreams” is somehow more admirable that devoting one’s life to an ulterior mission of work to provide for yourself and for your family. For example, why is it that a man or woman who devotes his or her life entirely to music or art is more celebrated and courageous than the one who has invested the same time in a more pragmatic field to ensure that his family has a secure and palatable future? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that pursuing music and art full time is “invaliant”, I’m also not trying to take providence out of the equation, that which often suggests a call or a mission to invest such talents. I remember how people would react when I told them that I was a composer and musician when they would ask me what I did for a living. They would look at me as if I were a superhero. I loved it. Sure it’s exotic, but hindsight and experience highlight the parallels that exist across music and such jobs as teaching, construction, or even law enforcement.

I don’t want to diminish the role of the full-time working musician in our culture. Surely, without these individuals, where could we find beauty in sound? The fulfillment that I experienced day-to-day was exhilarating and addictive, such that even as I rest and rejoice in the prospect of this new ministry, I still grapple with the loss of some of the liberties I took in music. My solace and solution to the new void is this: focus more locally. What I have found recently is that when I began to volunteer my music and offer it back to the place I came from, I became more fulfilled than I ever was in front of crowds of 10,000 or more. Further, might I suggest to the full-time musician that if you are not giving back to the communities that helped you create your gifts, then you are simply doing it wrong.  

“But James, isn’t this all too convenient for you to proclaim? You’ve decided to make a transition, and you all of a sudden have this epiphany. It sounds like you’re trying to justify this decision to the rest of us.” Fair. The timing is a little too perfect, I’ll give you that. On the other hand, what if I was to tell you that if I could narrow down one single solitary burden that I, and hundreds of musicians like me, had in common. Real talk, most musicians can’t support a family on a musician’s salary alone. Most of those who are able are no more talented than the rest of us, but have found a niche or even just plain got lucky. Others do indeed work very hard and profit well from sweat equity, I don’t want to discredit that. However, a vocation to be a husband and father is far more important than that of a musician, and it should come first. I’ve known this the entire time I have been active, and now it’s time for a change. So I tell you, you musicians who know how I have felt, it’s ok that it didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. It’s scary to think about what comes next, but if you approach it with the same heart and consistency by which you became successful and expressive musicians, then you will be happy.

Finally, let’s talk about this past Sunday’s. Jesus says to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Never underestimate the variety of sacrifices people make in this world, and be mindful of those who work not on the stage, but instead in the factory or field. Who’s to say that God hasn’t qualified these available to be the silent heroes of this culture? As for me, I haven’t stopped playing music, but I’ve slowed down the touring. Instead, I’m composing every day in my room after work for TV and film, and for my own purposes. Perhaps I’ll go the way of Charles Ives, known at the end of my life not just for music, but also for the fact that it continued to thrive despite an eight to five.

God Bless,