A new day job this year puts both teaching and learning in the frame for what I do. Both have to work together and this seems to be happening constantly in my musical life at the moment.
Over the past year or so I’ve been thoroughly inspired by frailing banjo guru Patrick Costello, who has, without even meeting this delightful fellow, taught me as much about music as lessons at the most established music conservatoires in this country.
Patrick is an inspiration both because of his innate musical talent and his ability to frame concepts with encouragement and friendliness that makes him a truly great teacher. However I am also inspired by his attitude to what learning is, and what music is as a cultural activity and concept.
Often I see and hear so called professional musicians and musical teachers complaining about the woes of their profession and the economics of their life earning their living from their trade. Comparisons to the rates of plumbers seem the norm, as do the complaints of non-professionals stealing their gigs.
I won’t be popular with my compatriots for saying this, but i believe that music is higher than this. If you are a true musician then you play because you love it. You perform and practise because it is something you love and wish to excel at. You want to share your performances with others, preferably lots of them! But dilemmas always arise over how this can make your living.
In my mind at least, once upon a time communities were made of people who all worked together. Some had trades and some of these might have been musicians. But being a musician is more than a trade, it is being part of your community. Without a community and an audience a musician is nothing. Performing requires and audient, it is a two way process with the performer as reliant on their response as the listener is on the musical experience.
This leads me to think of the current situation of professional musicians. Constant complaints about lack of pay for gigs, and the demise of the profession leave me cold. I play music because I love it. I can practise (occasionally) for hours each day. I don’t do this because I see a pay cheque for it coming. I do this because music is part of my being and something that I strive to improve myself at. I don’t do this because I see it as a loss-leader with pay as the ultimate goal.
If you want to earn money take up a profession that will give you your salty salary. If you want to be a musician then just do so, and don’t think that the world owes you a living, no matter how expensive your instruments were, or how many degrees you have.
This brings me back to Patrick Costello, who, despite being a thoroughly amazing musician and inspirational person generally, also sees music as a thing you do, rather than a profession. If you want a lesson with him (wherever you live in the world) you are invited just to ask him! (Skype is wonderful thing!). From Patrick’s perspective this is so that learning and sharing music isn’t about financial ties. It is something you need to do, if you want to do it, and all should be free and able to sit at that table. Patrick does not charge for his lessons.
I haven’t had a lesson from Patrick yet. Despite (or because of) being a teacher for many years I am still nervous about asking for help and opening myself up to learning in that way… But I have been told to man up already by the banjomeister himself.. so it may just be a matter of time before I report back here on progress being made
If you want to find out more about what Patrick does you can find him at www.dailyfrail.com