“Be careful what you wish for because you will get it. Be even more careful what you work for because you will get it even more quickly.” Colin Cunningham
Today’s blog is a little advice and some musings. I’ve received emails in the past few weeks from young choral musicians– singers, pianists, organists and directors—who did not have great holidays. Why? Well, it’s hard to say but I understand their reasons for being unhappy and confused. I bet you will too.
All of the folks who contacted me had a few things in common. All of them are fairly young. All of them are either freelance musicians or have a steady church job or a life event change for the first time this year. And all were super busy and couldn’t join in the usual celebrations and expectations with their family and friends.
Instead of being happy he was working, Paul’s* Grandma was upset he couldn’t come to her house for Christmas Eve. When Paul’s Mom told her, Grandma remarked, “Well, I guess somebody has to work on Christmas Eve, but why does it have to be Paul?” The answer is; because Paul is an organist at a church. Paul tells me Grandma has always supported him in music before this. She was very proud he got that church job. Paul thinks she didn’t quite realize what it would mean if he was playing the organ regularly for money.
Gretchen* moved back to her hometown, a suburb of a large-ish city, after graduating this past spring with degrees in voice and music education. She auditioned for many things in the summer and fall; a symphony chorus, a small professional chorus and a paid quartet at a local church. She got everything she auditioned for and spent the fall and Advent running around to rehearsals and performances. She is barely making a living right now, and hopes to add a teaching job soon. That should help her earn enough to move out of her parent’s house. Gretchen is happy and her parents are proud but her high school friends were miffed with her this December. When they came home from college for break, she was not able to hang out. No amount of explaining would make them believe she was not avoiding them. Gretchen tried to tell them she was free after Christmas but that wasn’t good enough. She felt bad but now realizes it is time to move on, friend-wise, and make friends who understand her new life-style. Her parents are supportive, so that’s a start.
Luisa* was newly married in August. She teaches and has a church job so December is her busiest month of the year. Her In-Laws are generally lovely people but this Christmas, her first married Christmas, was awful. Since they were only engaged last year, it didn’t seem to be a big deal to them when she couldn’t attend holiday events. The whole month of December is a month of family parties; she could not attend many. They were not pleased. Every event she did not attend meant a phone call or text from her Mother-in-Law, scolding her. Her husband attended almost everything; brought their contribution to the Family Cookie Exchange, made sure their family ornament was brought to the tree trimming and even made a cheese plate for the Pot Luck Open House his brother hosted. Luisa’s husband attended the Christmas Eve service at her church so he did not attend the usual “Feast of the Seven Fishes” at his grandmother’s home and his Mom was unhappy. Luisa’s husband told her not to worry about any of it. He loves her and understands what she needs to do for her jobs.
When we decide to become choral musicians, we know Decembers will be busy. We start out wishing to be busy; never realizing it will change things. We can’t go out of town for Christmas. We can’t take a cruise or visit distant family or spend December Saturdays and Sundays doing things others want us to do. These are sacrifices we are willing to make for our Art. Those close to us should be supportive or, at least, understand it is part of our job to be busy every weekend in December. We plan our music but perhaps, we don’t explain to those in our family circles and friends what it means to be a working choral musician in December. They would understand if told before, I think.
Paul and Gretchen and Luisa are lucky they have a few people in their lives who understand what it means to be a choral musician in December. Paul’s Grandma might decide to come hear him on Christmas Eve; maybe he could invite her next year. Gretchen could give her friends her schedule next year or maybe it will make sense to just move on to new friends. Luisa has her spouse’s support in her profession and he can handle his family. If parents and spouses understand, the rest will come along eventually, and we can all relax and just make music.