Like many musicians middle age has not financially empowered me to buy a sports car, even if I wanted to. My new vehicle is human powered and has two wheels – but it is not a bike, I’m NOT wearing a stitch (if that’s the right micro-unit) of Lycra, and I was recently surprised to learn a remarkable lesson about music from my new wheels.
There are few reliable assumptions in the musician’s life. Many in the mainstream workforce struggle in the ‘new economy’ to survive temporary contracts, lack of benefits, highly variable work conditions and constantly-changing colleagues and circumstances; musicians, who are mostly in effect hired and fired every day by individual project, who have never had access to anything resembling conventional job security or meaningful health benefits (even publicly mandated ones like maternity leave), and who must often adapt to new instruments, new mission-critical colleagues including soloists and conductors, new hall acoustics, new genres of music and other wide-ranging demands untranslatable to those outside of the field… well, we tend to yawn and politely support while whistling in our minds, or inaudibly through our teeth, “You can cry me a river.”
(As some of you will know, ‘cry me a river’ originated in the 1953 Arthur Hamilton song – NOT in the 2002 break-up between Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, a fact that neither Timberlake nor the proprietary Wikipedia entry on the song he included in that year’s “Justified” solo debut studio album seem very interested to share).
Middle age is traditionally a time for reflecting on one’s work and life, and my scooter has taught me that I have a three-part response to the challenges of a musician’s life, even as I continue to reap the rewards and savour the joys thirty-or-so- years in.
My account of Kickscooting: One leg (in my case, the right) takes on a role of support – it flexes, it locks, it releases as needed – but it provides no power. The other leg (in my case, the left) provides the power, and the real response to the road (/sidewalk) surface and the pedestrians and their vehicles including strollers, grocery carts, and so on. And beyond safely navigating what lies immediately ahead my hands are what keep me headed where I’m needing to go (and apply the brakes, if needed!)
So HERE’S THE IDEA: Musical life requires all three – a supporting level of knowledge and discipline, like my RIGHT leg on the scooter; a degree of power able to push ourselves towards our limits and others around us to new understandings as needed – like my LEFT leg on the scooter, and critically also A PAIR OF HANDS to work on, and direct where all of this is going. Nor is this such a bad model for creating and interpreting music.