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    A View from the Pew

    What Makes a Young Musician Stay the Course? 

    I love young musicians. I deeply appreciate their exuberance and passion for music and their hope to earn an honest livelihood within their calling as artists. The amount of hours that a young musician spends practicing and performing, learning the science of music (harmony, counterpoint, history, pedagogy, conducting), the emotional output invested to make the music work, the mental deployment of brain power to keep the academic piece spinning while physically conditioning their bodies to build core muscles that support the physiology of their art rivals the work of a medical student who simultaneously decides to train as a ball player in the World Series. The work involved in producing even just one piece of well honed music requires countless hours of demanding regiment and discipline. Drawn in like moths to a flame, music must consume the life of young artists if they expect to compete with other gifted musicians. Too often, these assiduous artists work as waiters, baristas, sales clerks or at entry level jobs within the business world to pay the bills, all while keeping the proverbial musical plates spinning to stay on their game.

    Does our success driven culture drive these young artists to hide their bravura beneath masks of shyness, audacity, jauntiness, chic style, geek armor or service oriented beneficence? Do the gods of green and gold question the significance of music in terms of monetary value?  “You want to perform? Is there any money in that?” “Can you make a living as a singer?” “How will you pay the bills playing a clarinet?” “You want to compose for a living? That’s all?”  How do we expect that young musicians will make good on their promise to create beauty and stir our souls in a way that no other language can do all while we play the hand of double standard and tell them that they cannot make their art work as an occupation?  “Music is for fun; get a real job.”  

    This weekend, I worked with young liturgical musicians in a parish setting and on a college campus. I attended a concert and listened to more college students lend their youthful voices with more seasoned singers and an outstanding orchestra as they performed a sterling presentation of Brahms' Requiem. Throughout my weekend, I marveled at the resilience of young musicians, at their determination and their fervor to generate beautiful music despite the challenges they face in a plunging economy. They plod on, exhausted and elated, daring to live their authentic response to their calling as musicians. How many people can say that they live for their work, that their livelihood informs everything else that they do?

    This weekend, I saw a young singer continue to apply her wonderful skills as a professional singer to assisting the prayer of the assembly within Catholic worship. I watched a group of college students create a vocal and instrumental ensemble to craft music for worship on a college campus. I witnessed a young musician move a group of people to tears through his prayerful delivery of heartfelt song. Will we sustain these young musicians emotionally, fiscally and spiritually as they continue to explore options in the world of music?  Will the church thrive or flounder artistically because of our support or apathy? What is our plan of musical succession?

    So what prompts young musicians to purge on despite the odds? What keeps them moving forward, deeper into their art regardless of the abyss of understanding from pretty much everyone except other artists? What moves them to run the race and stay the course?

    Love. Even though ignorant people will rush for the parking lot before the final note sings out at the end of a concert or liturgy with more haste than the Israelites left Egypt, musicians will make music from love. Although status seekers will question the wisdom of career within the arts, musicians will make music from love. And although they may need to live in a shoebox, develop the knack for finding great clothes in consignment shops and eat ramen noodles for a long, long time, musicians will make from love, not because they should, but because they must. Would that so great a love compel us all and inform everything that we do.

    I came so that you may have life and live it abundantly.” John 10:10