Recently, I had lunch with two representatives of one of my local music organizations. It was a lovely day. I aspire to be like these two ladies when I am their age—elegant, powerful, active and welcoming to the next generation of teachers. We talked and laughed and shared stories, and absolutely nothing about them gave me any pause at all until I mentioned that a couple of my very best high school students ever, both of whom are graduating this year, are not planning to major in music.
“Oh no! Maybe you can change their minds!”
“That’s terrible—what a waste!”
Here’s the thing…I don’t want to change their minds. You read that right. In my 27 years of teaching thus far, I have learned one important thing tremendously well—music does not have to be all of your life to be part of your life, and even if you go on to study and work outside the field, all the time you’ve put in practicing and playing music is not wasted time. These two girls are interested in careers in law and environmental science, and I think they’ll be fantastic in those fields. Music has taught them how to be observant of details, how to present themselves in a professional and public way, how to persevere, to be expressive, to manage their time and multiple projects—and the list goes on.
When I do have students who want to major in music, of course it makes me happy! It means that I have passed my love for this field down to them, that they’ve caught the spark that makes my own life so rich and full of joy. And there are two of those students this year, too, one who intends to study Music Therapy and one who intends to study Performance. I have such high hopes for them, that they will be happy and inspired in the schools they choose and that I will see them as adults in our field one day. But along with them, this year I’m graduating a fledgling physical therapist, a couple of budding psychologists, an aerospace engineer, a zoologist and another would-be lawyer. And among my past students, I could not be more proud of the speech therapist, the fourth grade teacher and the TV meteorologist. They are strong, smart, accomplished men and women, and if I had even a small hand in that, then it’s worth every moment I spent correcting their rhythm and praising their phrasing.
When we invest in a student and they choose another field, of course it can be painful. I find this to be especially true when I realize over time that an older student is losing interest in musical excellence as they progress through high school, but it’s important to feel that feeling and then allow it to pass. They’re not rejecting music, or me, or the time they’ve put in when that happens; they’re simply following their hearts in another direction. And something I tell them to do all the time from nearly the beginning is to follow their hearts.
If you are a high school student now, reading this, know that what I said a few paragraphs up is the absolute truth: music doesn’t have to be all of your life to be in your life. You get this one life and this one only, so find the thing that you love to do and then find a way to make it your life’s work. Every experience you have along the way teaches you something, and most of those lessons will cross over the lines between professions. If you want to play as an adult, there will almost always be a place to do it—community bands, orchestras and flute choirs abound, as do other avocational adult musicians who might want to play chamber music. Give it a place in your life!