Some days, when I’m feeling pessimistic, I question every career choice I’ve made. Then I go into a doom spiral where I question the morality of spending so much time encouraging young people to make similar choices. But the thing I keep coming back to, the thing that makes it all worthwhile, is what a privilege it is to make music. Is it difficult, frustrating, annoying, exceptionally badly paid, and overcrowded? Yes. Pointless? No.
When our world seems to be going crazy, I can’t help feeling lucky that I’m in a profession that brings people together. I very seldom express my views on religion and politics, mostly because I hate the arguments the subjects can provoke, especially when no one involved is going to change their mind.
In this way, I’m often glad that I don’t teach a subject such as political science where these debates are part of learning. Of course, it’s important to have these arguments, and in a free society we can and should discuss all manner of political views. But when just opening the New York Times sends me into a fit of anxiety, I start to feel relieved that my job doesn’t involve being a political pundit.
But even if I decide that I’m not going to read the news for a day or two, many people that I interact with in daily life regularly and openly express views whose lack of compassion upsets me deeply. Really, some of it is worse than a lack of compassion because it’s also a lack of the kind of imagination that might lead to compassion, and as a professor the concept of imagination is one of the things I try to encourage. Sometimes I want to shout from the top of the roof, “None of us has any idea what is going on in the lives of others! Can we please at least acknowledge our shared humanity and stop this relentless judging of others?”
If you continue down this path, you can become very unhappy indeed.
Or you can rejoice in the existence of orchestras and choirs, ensembles where your personal beliefs matter less than the things we share, such as the goals of making good music together in a manner that is (hopefully) in tune, in time, and expressive of a shared vision of what a good interpretation will sound like.
I realize that being able to feel this way reveals my safety in a world that doesn’t afford such safety to people who don’t have my privileges. I don’t and can’t feel complacent about any of it. In many ways I feel powerless to make the lives of others better. But there is this one thing that I can do to bring something of beauty and love into the world, and I’m so lucky that it’s my paid profession to do so.
How many people are lucky enough to do something that brings people together instead of tearing them apart? How lucky am I to have the privilege of playing the music of Beethoven and Bach, whose beauty and nobility reduces me to speechless tears every time? What could be a more beautiful way to spend our days than working on shared goals where we’re all in this together, creating something in the face of so much destruction we can do nothing about?
We’re all on the same journey. No one makes it out of here alive. Music reminds us daily to look for the things we all have in common. That’s what has made this all worth it.