Apr 29

Just do it…..or maybe just have a think about it first?

stickman Piano

Artwork by the excellent and very talented @GillJeffery13 at www.pinmandesigns.com

 Sacrifice has a price

I was planning an article on getting out whatever it is you have inside of you, be it learning an instrument or writing the book you feel you have inside.  I use the past tense “was” as the rather excellent James Rhodes has beaten me to it, and he’s done a fantastic job of it too.  His article in the (27th April 2013) Guardian newspaper says it far better than I could have.  The article is HERE and I urge you to have a read of it first.  I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT IT that I think is also relevant, though may not be too popular but let me make it clear, I am a big fan of his and I truly admire what he’s been through in the following of his dream, but parts of his journey don’t sit right with me personally.

James reveals something about himself that I didn’t know – he actually took the plunge and dropped out of the rat race to pursue his dream.

This was a very, very brave thing to do and the cost  very high. He destroyed a marriage, had no income for a long period of time, and ended up in a mental institution.  The pull back to the piano was obviously a strong one for him to have to endure such awful life changing situations as these.  I admire him for his dogged determination, he’s doing what he always wanted to do. I don’t like the obsession that caused such traumatic events to occur because of it.

Now here’s the rub.  I have written in these (pages? screens? posts?) about the people who used to play but gave up.  My advice to them is still the same, it’s never too late to reignite the flame.  I wouldn’t advise you enter bankruptcy, divorce or a mental institution in order to do so although James himself says he was an extreme case.

I still know many people who put unimaginable numbers of hours into their practice for such a small return that it has to be being done more for the love than the money.  This creates pressure to take unwanted work (maybe in a different genre of music) in order to pay the bills and not many people can cope with this.

Imagine, you spent seven hours a day playing and practicing the trumpet, developing your breathing technique and tone.  Your fingering and tonguing are perfect despite the innuendo of the terms and you spent your family fortune on an instrument worthy of your ability.  You love jazz and are the best in your town and you get offered the first seat in a fantastic big band.  Great so far, however……… they are booked to spend the summer playing ballroom dancing.  It will make you unhappy and unless you are wealthy to start with, refusal to do the work will put you into financial trouble and this can make life VERY uncomfortable.  You will also start to resent the people around you who are happy to take the money and play the same songs night after night.  You spent seven hours a day for years to get there, some of the band don’t even take their instruments out of the car at the end of the night.

I was also put off the classical music world as a child by the snobbery and cattiness of a few individuals who had spent so much time on their own in a room that they didn’t know how to be nice to anyone who wasn’t at their standard.  I LOVE listening to Bernstein’s “West Side Story ” – I HATED the video he made of the recording session in which he humiliated enough talent  (yes, people who spend seven hours a day practicing) for me to want to smash the screen. The same thing happens today in the pop world too thanks to the spiteful nature of Simon Cowell and the puppets he employs as judges. You may say that without the fire and passion we wouldn’t have the recordings, that people need to be outcast and singled out in such an ugly way in order for the product to be of such a high standard.  I say RUBBISH to that. How do you know that?   This is music, once it’s in tune and in time the quality of the interpretation becomes subjective, like any art.

For the average musician like myself, we have to find a balance between our jobs, which is what James Rhodes wanted to be doing, and our home life.  Six hours are not available to me to practice every day.  My wife and kids leave for school at eight AM and come home at four PM. They need to be fed, they need their clothes washed and hung out, the house needs keeping clean and I have to make some money – so I do get a few hours in my studio, but that’s working, not practice.

When they come in and the after school activities all taken care of, I have to leave the house every night to go and play the piano again. I have always felt an outsider when I say things like this, but I HATE having to work.  I hate that I HAVE to pay money to live on a planet I was involuntarily placed on.  I will always chose the “work to live” path over “live to work”.  And the reason is simple.  I like most of the people in my life, in fact I love an awful lot of them and spending time with real people with real emotions is far more appealing to me than any kind of musical challenge.  I find driven people selfish, and I’m not keen on that as a trait as it often impacts those around you negatively.

So I realise I am not driven, I prefer people to things.  Would I swap a day on the piano for a day with my wife? No way. I would burn every instrument I own before having to chose between music and my wife. This needs clarification, I’m sure.  I don’t HATE working, I love to play the piano and the bass guitar.  I love to program drums, even singing is pleasurable at times. I enjoy recording new songs, creating sounds.  I love to feel an audience grow to like me, and I love the applause and adulation at the end of a good night.  What I hate is HAVING to work and it will never be a priority over a person, especially my family.

Apart from not having either the time nor the draw to be an amazing concert pianist, obsession takes me in waves that last months rather than years to fade.  I don’t know why I can play, I don’t remember learning, I don’t like to practice very much, and I still make a living entirely from music. I always have, since the age of eleven.

So from the perspective of somebody who has spent over 40 years playing scales alone and learning new pieces it should be no surprise that I find the results of James’  reconversion to musician a bit sad, even though I love that he’s doing what he loves and that he does it so well.  And he is REALLY good.

I’m sad for the wife he is no longer with, marriage may not be the institution it once was, but that little girls special day was for nothing.  I’m sure there were other pressures that contributed to the break up, but ultimately it reads like his piano obsession played a part.

I’m also sad for his realisation and the fact that he’s not as financially rewarded as he should be and even sadder that much lesser talented people are retired by the age of 30 just for having a six pack and being able to put some moves together while miming their latest hit.

There is a quotation at the end of the original Guardian article that I have to take to task. Its by a pop culture icon, so I was never going to like it much.  It says “find what you love and let it kill you“.  There’s doubt over the name attributed to it, but its one last thing that I’m sad about.  That people should be loving something to that degree.  I get that its figurative and literal, but the gist is obsession above all else. Love SOMEBODY like that by all means, but not a THING.

Sacrifice comes at a price.

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I used to play the piano



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