Career change has some special challenges for those who move away from the cloistered world of music.
To reach a professional standard, musicians make a total commitment of self from an early age, and few actively plan out career steps or expect financial rewards for their chosen life-path. It is really more priesthood than profession, and no musician sees their path in a linear sequence running from training to joining a club or professional group and then climbing a career ladder. Being a musician gets right into your definition of self, and completely immersing and committing is a key component to reaching an acceptable standard.
In 21st century life – at least in Australia – we accept a mantra that says a work-life balance that is all work and no life is disordered in some way. No doubt a balanced life is a good thing to have, and we’ve taken the need to be work-life balanced to heart as a prerequisite for the modern ideal that’s called the Happy Life. We’re all so work-life balanced that it’s not even cool to write on your curriculum vitae that you’re a workaholic if you’re going for a job that expects you to be one.
In the music world, the norms and expectations are completely different. Few musicians stop to think about things like work-life balance. If you live from music, you live in music, and the intensity of involvement with the music and the instrument is very different from what is expected in most other professions. You make a commitment to this life from quite early regardless of the future outcome, and you attach yourself and your sense of self to the whole thing without even giving it a second thought.
Not surprisingly, for many musicians – me included –there is a kaleidoscope of life to be found within the chosen instrument and amazing world of beauty and complexity hidden behind the notes on the page that fully justifies the entwinement of self that one can experience by living with music every day. It is a world that quickly becomes a way of life that feels complete in every possible way. Even the material sacrifices one makes in order to sustain it become an accepted normal part of life for which the trade-off is a very special world of purpose, structure and beauty. Consequently, one of the main challenges for musicians who move away from this world is to come to grips with a self that actually does have meaning, shape and definition without being completely filled up with music.
For me, when I lost the cello in 2004, rediscovering who I am as a being separate from music was a challenge that I found almost insurmountable. The first month of no cello was a period of total numbness. I didn’t know what to do with a mind that kept painfully defaulting to a forbidden world cello repertoire, lieder, chamber music and symphonies; I didn’t know how to fill my time, which was now carrying the weight of a cello shaped black hole; and worst of all, my body, which had lived the physicality of the cello for more than three decades felt bruised, lost, hopeless. I saw my hands at the end of my arms as weird appendages that did not belong to me. I felt the unfitness of missed daily practice creeping into them, and they sent a feeling of vegetable-like uselessness up my arms and into the depths of my being. It was a really terrible time, and I hesitate to describe just how low I was. But there was a rock-bottom to be found, which luckily became a turning point for me. I was able, at a very bleak moment, to have leaked to me some small shimmers of light through the extraordinary luck that there were some people in my life who loved me, and carried with that love the reminder that I was worth something and had an obligation to give something back. The point I had reached when I realised this was hopeless and frightening. Nowadays, when I see people in a situation of total hopelessness, I think “there but for the grace of god go I”. To become one of society’s lost souls, to be vagrant, homeless, beyond return to normal social comforts does not take much in a modern city, and I am not surprised the streets are full of people who live rough and can’t find a way back into living at standards of civilised normality that most of us learn to take for granted. It was a humbling thing for me to be on that threshold. It was only that chink of light that came from remembering I mattered to some people who loved me and for whom I still felt love that gave me the impetus, imagination and courage to start making the steps that would pull me out. I feel immeasurably grateful that there were enough important and significant people in my life to give me the incentive to see from that depth that I mattered to them. This helped me to admit to myself that life matters, and as a next step, that there did exist within me, fragments of a self that could be put together and enhanced and built into something of worth – if not for myself, then for those who loved me.
At the point where I did not care for my own safety, I woke up to what was happening within me. Knowing I had a responsibility to loved ones, I decided to seek help. I paid for a parade of psychologists and hypnotherapists. There were a lot of charlatans among the occasional gems – some of which, I admit, did come from the charlatans, so I should not be too off hand about them.
But I don’t want to write this blog about my recovery – this chapter in my life is for my cello, so I won’t go into too much detail. In brief: I found part-time work of various kinds ranging from labouring to doing graphics. I enrolled in an MBA. Before I finished it, I started a publishing business (www.tingleman.com.au), which has been modestly successful, and has put me in a position where the revisit to my cello is both possible – and according to my wife – a priority. The starting of Tingleman from a position of absolute zero is a good story in its own right, but I will keep the cello focus for now in this blog.
I am hoping I can manage the love of music and cello as an extension to my self rather than at the core of it. I can say that my daily cello work is very seductive and it is taking clarity of purpose and discipline to balance everything I have learned about being a more complete self to keep me from throwing my whole self to the Lorelei within the cello. As well as filling my day with purposeful other stuff, Tingleman can be a demanding, time-eating monster. But the firm is a source of pride and sustenance, and I really like my job. It is the duck that is paddling along frantically while there is peace and calm on the musical lake.
It is a challenge to juggle both cello and day job, but for the time-being, the challenge is a good one.