I have to admit, I have been ensnared by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In,’ and the movement inspired by it. But while it is about women and how they are being held back and are holding themselves back, I found a lot of similarities to my own experiences, not only as female, but as a musician.
There was a long period of my life when telling new acquaintances that I had majored in music in college, the doors of communication slammed shut faster than you can say “Gemeinhardt.” Letting slip that I had a master’s degree only deepened the divide. I could see that the other people were wondering how they could relate to me, that I must be some exotic creature who could only converse about esoteric, highly cultured topics. Never mind that we met while I was sweating it out on the Stairmaster next to them, or playing darts at the neighborhood dive bar. I had to either gloss over or avoid these details when meeting new people if I had any hope of having a second conversation, or getting a date! I wanted to be liked, or at least not treated like a leper, so I denied one of the most important parts of myself.
As an over-educated, underemployed musician, this type of information was also a detriment in job-seeking. Instead of being able to advocate for my strengths and skills (many of them honed by my musical study,) again I had to downplay that I had been a music major. “Yes, my training as a musician and academician will not hamper my ability to run a photocopier.” When it came to making a living, I became someone who believed that I was only able to do what other people allowed me to be, a completely self-defeating behavior, both as a musician, a woman, and a human.
I am trying to break out of this. Really I am! I’ve written a music practice book that I’ve sold directly as a pdf and as an ebook. I have plans for at least two more. I’m thinking about putting myself out where I will be seen, offering lessons on Skype and presenting at music events. My skills and knowledge have value, don’t they? Every step has been exciting, excruciating, euphoria-inducing, and frustrating. I’m a long way from my goals and time keeps ticking.
The book has spurred me to think bigger and to think about what tables I would want to sit at. We meed more musicians sitting at local government tables, education tables, arts committee tables. I know that where I live, the city’s arts committee doesn’t even include music or any type of performing arts, it is only geared toward visual arts. (My boss sits at this table.) How do I get to this table or one like it?
There are lots of reasons I am not where I want to be in life. Not all of them have to be with being a woman or being a musician. I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I had taken a different academic and career path. But it always comes down to the fact that nothing interests me or engages me as much as the study and performance of music, and I have a lot of interests! I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t see how other people do without it or something similar. So the current overall challenge is (still) to find my place at the big musical table. Suggestions welcome!