Sunday, October 10, 2010

Career Choices

If you've known me for more than 2 seconds, you know that I love music. As one friend put it, I live music. I've spent my entire life, including the time in my mother's womb, surrounded by music. I was never told that I had to make a career in music; in fact, my mother asked me specifically not to become a music teacher because she basically wanted me to make a living in which I could afford nice things. *Side Note: Mom's a retired music professor. ;-)

Believe it or not, I actually started out looking at colleges for engineering. I had one or two schools offer me a full ride if I majored in engineering! I courted a few of them during my junior year of high school but by senior year I knew it was music for me and nothing else. I didn't even want to major in one thing and get a music minor, or  work toward a double major. I wanted to absorb more music--as much as I could--into my brain and soul for the next four years.

I changed my major from Music Performance to General Music so that I could focus on theory (UNCG doesn't have an undergraduate theory degree) and prepare for a Master's degree in theory. But wouldn'tcha know it--I got to UT, started off in music theory, then switched back to performance. I came full circle!

So here I am with a BA in Music and an MM in Viola Performance. I teach part-time at Pellissippi State Community College, teach privately (violin and viola) in my home, perform with symphonies and chamber groups in the area, and manage my own group (Robyn James Trio).

But I want more. I'm happiest when I'm creating music in smaller settings (read: not on a huge stage with 100 people) with other people who eat, sleep and breathe music like me. Occasionally I see glimpses of a life like this--when I perform with my friends and colleagues in the faculty recitals at Pellissippi, when I record and perform live with talented artists like Adam Whipple and the Dirty Guv'nahs, and also when I'm writing transcriptions or arrangements for assorted gigs and whatnot. The more I get involved with projects like these, the more I get compliments and encouragement from complete strangers (like students I cross paths with at Pellissippi), friends and peers, and even mentors (i.e. a former teacher from my graduate work saying "I didn't know you had 'rocker' in you. Don't hide it!").

So my non-rhetorical question is this: How do I make this happen? How do I go from doing this occasionally to doing it regularly and making a living with it? I don't want to give up teaching because I enjoy it, but I have lots of free hours during which I'd love to be making the music I teach people about every day. I'm open to suggestions, reprimands, cookie recipes...basically anything. Take the mic (aka the comment box)!


  1. I am so happy that you found something that you love doing. That is certainly half the battle.

    A friend told me to find someone who is doing what you would like to be doing and ask them if they can be your mentor. Also, just call around town and book live gigs. If you'll play for tips, some places will say YES. That way, you can perfect your craft and book more paying gigs.

    Also, read books about music performers. I just finished Dr. Ralph Stanley's Man of Constant Sorrow. He takes you from playing at home with his little brother to touring Europe as a famous blue grass artist. Believe you can do it.

  2. First, the red background is very hard on my 40+ eyes, and I can hardly read what's appearing in a darker red font.

    As to your question: I think you must be willing to travel. Go to music festivals and make connections with other performers. Hopefully Pellissippi will support you in this.

  3. As I said to you the other day, you not only live music, you exude it from your very pores. If CSI did a DNA profile on you, your double helix would be made up of musical notes. You so need to figure this out because I think it would be good for you to not only teach what you know, but be what you know. I don't really have any recommendations for -how- to do that, unfortunately, but I'll definitely help you brainstorm and be your cheerleader, every step of the way! *hugs*

  4. Thanks, Denae!

    Is this better, Michelle? I'm still experimenting with layout. Thanks for your feedback!

    Thanks, H! Having my own personal cheerleader is awesome. ;-)

  5. Aaahh! Much better :)

  6. When you discover the answer to this question, let me know! LOL! I have a performance degree (BM Violin Performance) and my "career", if you will, has been all over the place. Musical missionary (what I loved the BEST!), freelance musician, symphony musician, and...ugh...teacher. That one was forced on me out of necessity because I have never aspired to teach. I'm actually pretty good at it, but it is not my passion. Like my hubby says, I am a performer at heart, very much like you...I am at my best when I'm "out of the box". But, I have yet to be able to make a living out of this. But...what are things, anyway? I've been a missionary and a musician, I can live with very little...but that is harder to do with a family. So at almost 40, I have decided to live by the motto of a dear wise person "pursue your passion and provision will follow". My passion is NOT teaching so I have decided that I will no longer pursue it. I will go for what fills me with passion...writing, performing, ministering to others with my gifts. My first goal is to get OUT of "the 'ville". This is SO not the place to pursue the life of a musician! That is my priority right now. In the meantime, I sub to make some cash, and freelance to keep my chops up. I'm starting to write articles and keep my blog to hone my writing skills, and am grateful for time to do these things. I am an optimist and believe that something good will come that will allow me to thrive in all the things that inspire my passion!

    Sorry to write a book on your blog...but I love your post! You should consider combining writing with your activities! :)