How I Found My Vocation
Many people have expressed admiration for my pursuit of my dream, my single-minded focus and how I have acted on my passion for composing music. What they may not realize is how long it took me to get to this great place, on this fulfilling path. I experienced so many frustrating shifts in direction, and quit music not once but twice! I have two college degrees, neither of them in film composing. I share this long story of my many course shifts because it may give someone hope on their own tangled journey.
Path 1: Performer
Since I could walk, or even before, I was on the stage performing. I started learning violin at four years’ old, and was singing and playing a bit of piano. I was happy to go in front of people to speak and sing. Solo violin wasn’t so easy, I got very nervous the older I became. In high school I received a music scholarship to attend an excellent Girls’ school. This resulted in constant performance activities: choir, madrigals, chamber ensemble, orchestra, solo performance and musicals. I thoroughly enjoyed it and truly expected that my life would continue on this path. But what would I perform? Classical music didn’t seem like the right choice. I saw the other potential candidates around me and I didn’t fit in. I didn’t want to reproduce was was on the page. I didn’t believe I could do it as well as others. I wanted to do something New. So I tried rock and jazz. it kind of fit and I was good. That was my new path.
Path 2: Jazz Composer/Performer
I left Australia for the United States after high school to pursue a career in Jazz music. It was a hard journey, resulting in me getting so frustrated and feeling so lost, I quit music altogether for about 6 months. I was going no where. But a life void of music for me was too depressing. I ended up writing a song about how I was trying to quite music. Crazy! Once I received my green card I was able to go to college so I enrolled in a jazz performance program with voice as my main instrument. However, I became bored very quickly singing Jazz standards. Something wasn’t right and it was the same issue that drew me away from Classical music. I knew I couldn’t sing How High the Moon better than Ella. I needed to do something new. So I started composing and performing my own music and the new music of others. I became a composer/performer. I had my own Jazz quintet. That was my new path.
Path 3: Office Job
The more I performed, the more I disliked it. My senior recital for my bachelor’s degree involved performing mostly my own work. My voice didn’t work the way I wanted it to. I was exhausted. My feet hurt. I left the stage that night angry. I asked my mentor if I could stop performing and just compose. For whatever reason, his response was “No. You must perform.” So I finished my degree and quit music. I got a day job as an office admin. I was very good at it. That was my new path.
Path 4: Music Teacher and Singer/Songwriter
I couldn’t quit music. It called me back once again. I started writing singing/songwriter material on the guitar. Tried performing again. Started teaching music. Became an elementary school music teacher and a private instrumental instructor. Began a masters in music education. I was a great music teacher. That was my new path.
Path 5: Composer
Are you tired yet? I was. And it still wasn’t right! Teaching short people exhausted me. I was almost finished with my masters and hating every second. I had nothing left at the end of each day and the prospect of doing this for a lifetime depressed me. One day I found myself in a state of Flow while arranging a piece of music for the grade 5 band while all the students were away on a field trip. Just me alone with the music I was creating. I still remember that “Ah-Ha!” moment. I was supposed to write music! I didn’t need to perform it – other musicians could instead! I didn’t want to teach it. I wanted to compose it! Finally it was clear. This was my new path.
There was still a lot to do from that point. “Composing music” is a broad term that covers many specific career choices. How exactly does one make a living from such a thing? I had a lot to figure out and it took me around two years to fully get in the swing of things. But in that moment I know it was right. It was almost like I could see the light bulb above my head or the heavens opening and angels singing. There was hope! This moment in time changed my life forever.
Five years later I am a full time composer for film, media, games and live performance. This is a very challenging path to follow. It has no guarantees and does not come with health insurance and paid vacations. Looking back over my life thus far I have tried many different things but there has always been a common thread: I didn’t feel comfortable on the stage. I love to compose my own music. I wish I had seen it sooner but it doesn’t matter now. I learned a lot of life lessons on the way.
What I hope you take away from this is to keep going. Listen to yourself. Try and figure out what it is that brings you joy. What do you really want? What is your common thread? How can you make a living doing that which fulfills you? Staying in teaching would have been a sensible choice. A regular paycheck from something involving music with paid summer vacation – doesn’t sound so bad, right? But I was unhappy and becoming more and more miserable. I needed something more and I am so glad I found it.
I encourage you to change direction if you feel unfulfilled. Sometimes we’re so overcome with the “don’t be a quitter” sensibility that we stay in an situation that is simply a bad fit. Knowing when to quit and change course is a great thing.
I wish you happy travels and a fulfilling existence. After all, we only get one shot.