The path I wanted was not the path I thought was available to me.
Over the past 11 years as an educator, I have discussed the future with many students. This is one of my favorite things. Asking adolescents what they intend to do when they "grow up" is such a fun conversation to have. When I was young I had these grand ideas of what life had in store for me. I never thought that this path lay in front of me.
When I began playing bassoon was when I knew this thing called music was what life had in store for me. I was going to be a bassoonist and I was going to Oberlin. That was the path.
My first choice was Oberlin College in Ohio. I was certain I wasn't talented enough to get in, so I didn't even audition. Coming in a very close second was the University of Miami where Gary Green was the Director of Bands. I didn't have a clue who the bassoon professor was and I didn't care-Professor Green was the reason I wanted to go there. I had the privilege of playing under his baton as a bassoonist for an honor band. I was hooked! The passion he had, the fervor for making, hearing, breathing, living MUSIC! It was inspiring and contagious. I wanted to be around that. Unfortunately, it was not to be. What I recall is my father telling me that I could not go to school that far from home. Miami had a high crime rate. There were other factors for his decision I know, but the one I distinctly recall is that Miami had a high crime rate. So, it was time to apply to Arkansas. I was accepted and I received a scholarship, but this was the first time I recall being disappointed.
Once I started studying at the U of A, I didn't really have to work as hard as my bassoon professor wanted me to, well...I thought. He wanted me to practice for four hours per day, six days per week. Um, no. I didn't need to practice that much. I could play what he assigned me with little more than an hour of practice, four days per week. Why did I need to push harder than that? He tried to explain it, but I had other priorities now. I was burning out.
I had this thing where I liked to ad lib my etudes for the week. I felt something more or different in each exercise. Finally, my professor had had enough and said what I remember as, "If you're going to change it so much, then write your own music." So, I did. One of the composition professors let me study composition after that and my path shifted yet again. I wanted to pursue film music.
I was accepted to North Carolina School of the Arts Graduate program in Film Composition. OH MY! This was my heaven. I got to write music for film. This was my new path. However, my path changed yet again my first trimester when I asked my professor his advice on how to break in to the industry. His response broke my heart, "Move to L.A. and become a waitress." I switched my degree plan shortly thereafter to Composition & Technology. From there, I studied with two amazing composers and mentors and my dreams were reignited. My path was clear. Musical Theater Composition! Several opportunities were made available to me, but I turned them away for various reasons. Money, loved ones, lack of self-confidence. Major roadblock, huge sink hole.
When discussing my upcoming return home to Oklahoma with my amazing professor, Dr. Michael Rothkopf, he had some painful, yet supportive things to say. This was advice that was like no other I had heard in my life. This was the absolute first time I recall someone wholeheartedly agreeing with what I wanted for myself. Everyone else in my past had been supportive of me earning a living and paying my bills. Here was the first person to understand me as a musician and artist. He truly understood my musical soul. He said, "I don't think it's a good idea to move back to Oklahoma. Don't get me wrong, you will find a job as a music teacher or band director that you enjoy. You may love it. You will get sidetracked and busy. Then ten years down the road, you will look at yourself and think, 'where did the time go?' And you will have written nothing."
"You have a voice in the world of composition that needs to be heard."
I cried for days.
Moving back to Oklahoma was essentially me giving up on my composition career. He was right by the way. Ten years later, I had a job I loved as a band director and I had written nothing.
It was then that I decided enough was enough. I took a different job so I would have more time to write. I had time now, but my job tapped every ounce of inspirational energy I had. I was miserable. So here I am again as a band director. But now, I am writing. I am writing a lot. I get to inspire my students now and be honest and not hypocritical when I counsel them to follow their dreams, not the dreams of their families and friends. Be true to who they are, not to worry about what others have in mind for them.
So this path that I am on is not a different path than the original, it is simply under construction.
For all of us, there will be roadwork every now and then, but we simply have to adjust for the construction cones and keep on going. Some of us cannot be satisfied with the path that requires nothing more than a comfy cruiser. We need an off-road vehicle, a trail-rated vehicle. And sometimes the path may require something even more rugged, like a bull-dozer.
Until next time...