Sometimes the simplest of questions are the deepest. “Why are you here?” was asked at a prison recital last month. The prisoner wanted to know why performers would come to such a place when we could be anywhere else.
But that question meant more to me than just why I would perform music in a prison. That question is a question any musician should be able to answer honestly at any point in their career.
Why was I doing what I was doing, anyway. It is a question that forces one to analyze their own stance and purpose in the field. But in analyzing the Why, I realized that for many artists, the questions are usually limited to What and Who. Musicians get focused on what they do and who they are–as dictated by their job titles. “I am a cellist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.” That’s good, but….why do you do this?
Sometimes the Why answers don’t come immediately, and they are often impacted by circumstances beyond a musician’s control. For example, if an orchestra leader (either artistic or administrative) is rude, abusive, or plain incompetent, the answer to Why is going to be different from where a musician is in a supportive, respectful, and fully functioning situation.
Getting to the real answer of Why, a Why might start out with a personal conversation with oneself.
Here’s an example of how a positive self-conversation might look:
- This is my job; I need to make money.
- I’m lucky to do what I love while making money.
- Why do I love this?
- I love the way music makes me feel.
- Why do I like the way music feels?
- I like sharing the experience with colleagues and friends.
- Why is sharing so important?
- Sharing music brings community and purpose to my life and my community’s life.
- Conclusion: My job is to enhance society and bring relevance to it.
Or a negative conversation could look like this:
- This is my job, I need to make money.
- This is my only job skill, so I’m stuck.
- Why am I stuck?
- This is a full-time job and I have no time or extra money to pursue something new.
- I used to love music but now it’s just a job.
- Why do I not enjoy this anymore?
- I don’t like my work environment, I don’t like the lack of stability and support, I’m tired.
- Conclusion: My job pays the bills and it’s too late to start something new.
Another situation that impacts a musician’s Why answer is how much connection that musician has with the audience. For some musicians, knowing how an audience enjoys or needs a concert adds an important dimension to the purpose of Why. Even if that musician came up with a negative Why self-conversation.
Being able to answer the Why gives authenticity and validity to a musician’s purpose.
What are your answers to Why? Leave a comment!