Guest Blogger Dee Braxton-Pellegrino owns a horse farm in NC and works as a professional musician. She’s sharing a blog in response to Alberta’s post "The Value of a Music Degree".
So the question remains: Is it more important to do what you love or to have a stable, comfortable salary? This very personal question has defined my life. I was raised on a farm. My mother grew up in Watha NC (look it up) and ended up at ECTC in Greenville NC where she earned a Music Education degree, met and married my father who was a local farmer. My mother taught piano lessons and played church organ and so my siblings and I grew up in a very unusual household where both parents were self-employed and loved what they did. When I eventually graduated from college and came back home, my mother told me I would have to now get a job. I honestly didn’t know what that meant but I quickly leaned that it meant getting up at 5:30 am to teach public school orchestra until 5:30 pm or later. I was very unhappy. I mean... this was not in my DNA at all... and so SLOWLY over a couple of decades, I extracted myself from the public school system and went into the world of freelancing as a performer, teacher, conductor and composer. I have never regretted it even once.
Yes, I pay my own health insurance and my retirement plan is a bit of a joke... but you know what? I am very happy and I make a lot of other folks very happy. I am blessed to do what I do. I literally thank God every day for my life as it is. In this harsh economy, there are lean times and there are bounteous times but it all seems to work out. I happen to be a person of faith. I don’t think we were put here on earth simply to work, retire and die. I think we are here to celebrate and create. I also (and this IS crazy) am now raising Shetland ponies. I am not doing this as a profitable venture. It just sorta happened.. but there’s nothing like watching a new born foal learning about the world around him as he grows and develops. I’m starting to show my first colt and in the process I am meeting a whole new population of people (a lot of older ladies like myself) who love and appreciate animals.
But back to the subject... If you want to make a life (notice I didn’t say living) as a musician, just do it. I have friends who are obsessed with the making money part of being a musician and I see how it stresses them out. I think if money and security are the top priorities of your career choice and you are successful, “more power to ya” and remember I am always ready to gig if you need someone on violin or viola... but personally I have found that being generous with my gifts (that means occasionally doing a freebie with no intentions of getting a paying gig out of it) has brought me more happiness than anything else. Music isn't just something I do to pay my bills, it is who I am.. it defines my existence. When someone asks me what I do, I am always amazed and humbled that I can say that I am a musician.. and not just someone who has a garage band after work but someone who lives it 24/7. With my little business I never advertise anymore and I am booked pretty solid with my phone ringing constantly. I don’t make a lot of money, but I have what I need. Hey... I paid for my Massey-Ferguson tractor, my Prius and I keep the critters fat and happy.
Remember that being “comfortable” and having “security” is a relatively modern concept in our history. Think about all the musicians that have come before us and what they contributed despite their situations and fortunes. In the past century I feel that money and security have become inflated concepts with much less true value than we credit them with. I see a lot of very unhappy, unfulfilled people who have a lot of “stuff” that they are always afraid of losing.
When I pull my fiddle out and place bow on string I can see that my decision to be a musician makes the world a little nice place. What I do as a performer is an invaluable service to others. As the old saying goes “Someone has to do it”.... that means if you don’t do it, it might not happen. There must always be people who can make music and there must be someone in the world who will insure the existence of pretty Shetland ponies. I’m that gal I guess.