Part of what makes my blog a little different from those of some other professional musicians is that I tend to expound about the sorts of things that highlight my frailties rather than serve as promotional material. It’s a niche I claim- and I don’t think there’s a line of folks waiting to take it from me. Truth be told, I find promotion and marketing to be intensely unpleasant, especially because I’ve grown up in the filigreed hierarchy of old-school cred. Where you have a booming studio because of your reputation. Where you get gigs because you’ve waited your turn and established yourself. Plus it just seems like bragging sometimes. I don’t do well with the abundant exclamation points, needy backstage/onstage photography and automatic subscription to kickstarter campaign emails just because I once sent you a note asking if I needed to bring a stand to the session. We know you’re good. It’s cool. This is not true of all blogs, but pro nouveau is becoming more ubiquitous from what I can see.
The advent of internet advertising and gimmicky bargain “music schools” has radically impacted the teaching side of my life. While my adult beginners are reliably deferential, parents routinely ask me why my first lesson isn’t free, or why I don’t charge $25 an hour, or why I use scary, antiquated German manuals and prescribe constant practice instead of Cello Fun Explody Easy Good Time (vols. 1 and 2) and act as a source of entertainment for their overextended children.
I’m old school. And I’m willing to out-wait the kitsch and fire-sale teaching studios until my place in this new venue is solidified.
Yay! I’m so hardcore! How does she do it?
I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not doing it. The last few months have been a horror show, professionally. So dire in fact that I began applying for 9-5 work in nearly any field related to music within 25 miles of The District.
At first this seems to be de rigueur. You want work? You go looking for a job. The thing is that most set-hour work precludes the development of a weekday teaching studio and performing schedule.
Can you come to my house at 5 on Tuesday?
No. No, I can’t.
Can you play the gig next week? It’s 3 hours away. Load in at 5, sound check at 8.
So it was with a heavy heart that I wrote cover letters and submitted applications. I always say that you go where you’re pointed, and I do not want to land where that rocket is trying to take me.
Still, I summoned up a cheery face for one position at the Library of Congress. Here is an excerpt of the job posting.
Completed Undergraduate and Graduate Education: Major study – Music
Experience that demonstrated the ability to:
Produce stage, conduct, or direct musical productions, concerts, recitals, festivals, clinics, workshops, or other musical events.
Instruct or perform in one or more of the musical arts such as (1) composing, arranging, or orchestrating music, (2) interpreting classical, modern, ethnic, or cultural dance forms, (3) choreography and notation, or (4) interpreting vocal or instrumental music.
The incumbent of this position will work a flextime work schedule. The incumbent will also be required to work evenings, weekends and some holidays as necessary.
This position is located in the Concert Office of the Music Division, Collections and Services Directorate, Library Services.
The position description number for this position is 231826.
The salary range indicated reflects the locality pay adjustments for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan area.
This is a non-supervisory, bargaining unit position.
Relocation expenses are not authorized for the person(s) selected under this vacancy announcement.
Organizes and produces and/or participates in activities in support of broadcasts, and recording projects for the Music Division on the local, national, and international levels. Prepares and edits press and other printed programs/materials concerning concerts, broadcasts, exhibits, acquisitions, publications, recording, videos, and all special events for newspapers, and the Library’s publications. Prepares for publication scholarly works on music for Library of Congress public events, broadcasts, publications and recordings. Provides input to Chief and/or Assistant Chief of the Music Division regarding the organization and operation of the script and program writing activities in support of music broadcasts, concerts, and internet projects.
Writes scripts and/or coordinates the preparation of scripts by Division staff who possess special competence in specific areas. Uses several languages, if required, to study scores, compare editions, and provide translations of biographical and textual material. Interprets musical notations and nomenclature, transcribing, as necessary, in order to carry out the work of the Music Division. Carries out research using the resources of the Music Division and other Library offices/collections in order to respond to inquiries in person, by correspondence, electronic mail, telephone, and fax, and to prepare program annotations and scripts for concerts.
Applicants must have had progressively responsible experience and training sufficient in scope and quality to furnish them with an acceptable level of the following knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the duties of the position without more than normal supervision.
Knowledge of the principles, concepts and methodology of music. **
Knowledge of the performing arts/production fields. **
Ability to plan and execute work.
Ability to meet and deal with others.
Ability to adapt to changing circumstances while working on a variety of projects.
Ability to communicate in writing.
Ability to read and understand a modern European language.
No additional requirements to those listed above.
HOW YOU WILL BE EVALUATED:
The Library of Congress evaluates applicants through an applicant questionnaire and a structured interview. Applicants may also be screened for some jobs through licensing, certification, and/or education requirements, a narrative/application review, and/or a preliminary telephone interview. The knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that are marked with a double asterisk (**) in the vacancy announcement and the applicant questionnaire are considered the most critical for a position. To be considered for final selection, applicants must demonstrate fully acceptable experience in these designated KSAs in the narrative/application review, preliminary telephone and/or full structured interview. The various assessment tools listed above are designed to verify or explore applicants’ experience, knowledge, and training directly related to the job in order to identify the best qualified applicants for selection.
Now I wouldn’t be at all qualified for that, would I? I gleefully typed out responses to their questions, knowing that whomever would read them would detect my readiness to jump into the position and immediately get to work.
Weeks passed. I heard nothing. I emailed. Still nothing. I asked a friend who works in another division of the LOC. He said it’s typical and that sometimes they don’t even hire anyone but don’t tell the candidates. I get it. The government is huge and interpersonal finesse is the first thing to go. He also told me how the candidates are chosen for promotion onto the interview round. A computer goes through your cover letter, resume, and responses and tabulates a score based on keyword hits.
I scanned my entry and it seemed to have the right stuff: masters, music, cello, performance, French, Italian, German, seminar, administrative, organizational, logistics, concert, performance notes, guest artist.
Finally, I called the LOC and was guided to the voicemail of the head of the correct department. The next day I received an email informing me that 98 was the cutoff score for advancement in the process and that I had scored…
What stung is not that I had fallen short of their standards, but that I had strayed so far from what matters to me and supplanted it with something that painted my nightly dreams with anxiety and feeling like someone was standing on my chest. This job would have been a concession. Not because it wasn’t a good position, but because it was a fast train away from the very thing that makes me brim with purpose and meaning.
Failures like these are always teachers. In this case, it reminds me to fail for things I actually believe in. So I’ll stick my neck out again, like one does only for the most desperate and aching kind of love. And if I become a casualty of these efforts, I’ll at least convalesce in the comfort of knowing I am pointed squarely in the direction I should be going.
I want that sign.
It’s very honest what you’re doing, too — I’ve gotten tired of reading blogs by people who “follow their dreams” without mentioning somehow that they have a CEO husband who makes $852,000 a year or a rich elderly uncle who made a fortune in railroad securities in the early 1900s bankrolling their self-actualization. You are honest about what this is taking, and how hard it is for those of us living our lives without safety nets.
With you 100% on that one Janis. I’d suggest it’s a struggle for most of us but very few admit it. The thing that’s saved me many times is setting up a number of income streams so there’s lots of little bits coming in. While I can’t say that I’ll ever be rolling at least the rent’s getting paid and there’s food on the table (usually).
A very thoughtful missive. I have also wondered if my career train is going to the right destination. Okay, so the pay is good for now, but am I eventually going to do the kind of work I dream of if I keep this up? That’s a sobering sentiment that I might not like the truthful answer to. But on other days I do think that I’m moving in the right direction.
Life has a lot of improvisation to it.
I too love the sign! It makes me wonder how we ever managed to catch this bug. It would make a good column, I think. I try to think of all the qualities that helped me:
1. Deeply delusional – I always think that what I am playing or writing sounds good. This has helped sustain me until it is partly true.
2. Bored by easy things and gets sucked into challenges.
3. My family has a lot of padding where we sit. Excellent for cellists.
4. Obsessive – no three year old boy with a toy truck could be more so.
5. Believes that music will help me get the friends I need. This somehow doesn’t account for all the time spent alone practicing.
6. Deeply moved by great music.