Cave diving? No.
Ebola specialist at the CDC? Nope!
Sword swallower? Nah.
No, I base my income on the wispy whims of people whose ability to pay me is a direct reflection of sentiment about the economy. Sure, I have a few dedicated students who are going to be cellists as adults. And I have a few nearly-professionals who take maintenance and polish lessons too. But the majority are people who are half-assedly checking it out, and if the financial tango we all dance gets a little too risky, cello lessons are the first thing to get the hatchet. Tis the nature of the beast. How is it that the people who are dedicated somehow manage to budget for the cello even though 9 times out of 10 they are in much lower tax brackets than the people who bail?
Sometimes I think that the economy is an excuse. I had a kid drop out this week and cancel last week because of school “burn out”. The last lesson we had, I made his eyes well up with tears because I had to give him a talking-to after he was disrespectful. Coincidence? Hmm. Another student quit after 3 lessons, none of which he practiced for. His dad wrote me a note, saying that I would be contacted about his son’s intentions. After an unpleasant communication debacle, I had to level with them and let them know that I can’t pour water into a glass with a hole in the bottom: you have to practice to even attempt to retain. Plus, and perhaps I am frail for this, but I feel insulted when some 17 year old saunters into a lesson without so much as having read a word of the notes from the last lesson. So the kid bristled and gave me the “yeah, I know, I’ll practice.. I’ll let you know if I’m going to continue.” I, of course, had to call them the night before the lesson to confirm that he was quitting.
5 other students dropped in the past week, citing a mix of money and other issues.
This happens every few years, and what I am realizing is that I devalue myself and invite instability by accepting students for short term financial benefit. It’s a double-edged blade, though: if I only have 8 students, making the ends meet becomes very, ahem, exciting. But if I have a forever mutating, quitting, cancelling roster of 24 students, I get what’s coming to me anyway.
Nobody teaches cello to make the big bucks. And I have skills that could possibly net me some hateful job that would pay the bills and then some, but still I persist! Because I just love it. I love teaching. I love the good fight, the introspection. I love watching kids learn about humility and become fantastic young adults. I love the nit picking of the Internet Cello Society. I love the fact that my little blog generates interest, and that there are hundreds of other cellists writing some pretty compelling stuff. I love that I am always learning, about my instrument, about human nature, and am reminded that there is a lot of goodness even in an industry that is teeming with greed, politics, and unsavory characters.
So I guess this post started off with a whimper, but ends with a bang. In the end, I am grateful. And the students who continue to devotedly toil away make it all worthwhile. And if you’re one of them, know that your teacher gets just as much from your lessons as you do.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to send off another copy of my manuscript….