A Personal Reflection on Innovation, Or Wearing a Floppy Hat
June 6, 2012
A year ago I began this blog after returning from Europe, living eight years in a new country, wearing different and new hats as a young mother, expatriate, music and flute teacher in an international school, sometimes feeling successful in some cases and in other cases, not so much. Living in another country, especially in a part of that country that pushes your comfort zones, is a fantastic experience, but it also challenges in unexpected ways all around.
Upon coming back to the US I felt both overwhelmed and energized by the buzz of opportunity as a musician and teacher compared to Italy, and I ran with it. I undertook flute studies again and learned more about body awareness, performance anxiety and the entrepreneur side of being a musician and really felt I made up for some gaps in my own undergraduate and graduate studies here in the US during that time. I was amazed by all the varied chamber ensembles and the new paths they were creating for future musicians. I loved the air of possibility here in the US which I missed so very much and really felt at home again. This air of possibility feels sometimes full of naivete, and is definitely connected to that American idea that the individual can rise up and do what he/she feels, given the individual’s spirit to go at it in the right way. It’s a combination of being talented, having the right support, and taking some smart decisions in your life to let you get to where you want to be. Here there are many opportunities, albeit many are for little or no pay, but it’s possible at least to do the thing you dream of if you’ve got all the right ingredients in your court, or if you are willing to settle for less pay and maybe a less glamorous lifestyle too (depending on how you define glamour, of course).
Being a free-lance musician has its tolls and doesn’t (at least for me) always mesh well with family life. There’s no health insurance. There are rehearsals in the evening. The pay is sometimes little or non-existent. Many musicians do land orchestra jobs and good college positions and they don’t live life on the edge as freelancers. We’ve talked over and over about how these are few and far between and so the need to create a niche, do your own thing, be innovative…this is where we come full circle to talk about how being innovative can help you to make a living.
OK so the economy stinks and competition is tough, and in particular for flutists we are all so awesome that it’s hard to stand out. Many of us love to teach and we can make a decent living from that (aside from the health insurance) and play in a local chamber group or orchestra and feel that we’re contributing to the community and still feeding our art and passion. I’ve been inspired by many musicians going down the administrative side of things and, from my time in Rome where I was able to tap into the administrative side of being a musician, I have been trying to navigate my career in that direction over the past two years since coming back. However at the same time there’s always been a part of me that has been nervous to go down this path. It seemed standard, boring, maybe even a sign that I failed as a musician?
I’ve just accepted an administrative position with a highly respected music school in the US. The pay isn’t fantastic but I accepted it considering opportunities into the future, the benefits, and networking possibilities. I have been questioning the whole innovation thing though. I mean, am I settling into something that is in fact standard and about as uninnovative as it gets? Yes, in some ways maybe. At the same time being innovative can also mean exploring new ways for yourself, and going down unexpected paths that seem to help balance out all different aspects of the life, from being a parent to an artist to a teacher to a human being. Having another source of steady income and health insurance lets us breathe easier, and lets us plan more into the future. I will finish early, still have time for teaching and playing and for being with my family, time for exercise, and I will be a part of a fantastic community of musicians and people who support this community of musicians. I’m sure that by going down a new path that provides me with security and a growing network of people who love music that it can’t be bad, and for sure by doing this new thing I’m being innovative for myself and my family and what’s right for us at this moment. And so I’m going to wear that new floppy hat for now and I’ll let you know how it goes.