For as long as I can remember, the art of creating and storytelling has been magical to me. Getting to do so through music has been a privilege for many years.
SJI International first provided precious freedom to explore as many artistic and musical activities as I yearned to – for the simple joys of collaborating, creating, and having fun – and to integrate them with the rest of my education. This has been an accurate, transformative reflection of how music shows up in my every day. It has since been my aim to continue creating those experiences (curious exploration, pure motives, and balanced art-life intertwinement). They have seen me through intense training at Berklee, and into my current working life. The post-SJII years have sent many surprising and humbling life lessons my way and refined the core purposes that I try to live by. At the heart of it all: connecting, empowering, and serving others are the true creations I aspire to make. Many in our SJII community surely share these values; their origins can clearly be traced back to our Lasallian educational and social experiences. Big-sounding concepts indeed – but they are the root motivations that propel me out of bed each morning to try and conjure magic in little ways, especially on lazier or tougher days!
Having followed my passion in choosing a music career, I’ve been very fortunate in it working out thus far. “Every path has tough moments – might as well choose one that you truly love, right?” True indeed, but not necessarily a ‘one size fits all’ saying. Following one’s passions as the only compass can be excluding and limiting to those who have yet to figure out theirs, those going through a change of passions, those having multiple interests to choose from, or even those who do not yet have the luxury of following their heart. If you have felt this way before, you are not alone.
Furthermore, feeling pressure to have ‘one ultimate calling’, can risk us: ruling out options with solid potential far too early, “losing our sense of identity” should any surprising career shifts happen, or fostering impossible expectations to feel fulfilled 24/7 in one’s career … which will most probably be a let-down or obstacle during inevitably tougher moments. I’ve often thought about alternative avenues to explore, should the gift of making music ever be lost to me one day.
Life and people have thankfully taught me other important considerations since, such as the liberating thought that doing anything with consistent care, effort, and grit, over time, is key to nurturing passion and fulfillment. It leads me to wonder: is passion a prerequisite to doing something well, or is it also a result/by-product of learning and doing something well? Is it both? If we can indeed create a passion for most things by doing them well consistently over time, perhaps it would be enlightening to lower the bar: explore more paths that generally spark our interest, learn them well, and then actively reflect on our experiences to help make key decisions.
If I could chat with younger Sarah about making career decisions, I would also encourage her to assess skill sets together with passions. Younger Sarah chased her dream of scoring films in Berklee, but upon graduation, realized her combined skill sets and interests led to diversifying via multiple ‘work-hats’: (film) composing, teaching, performing, arranging – instead of only specializing in film scoring. Regularly evaluating what we are currently good at doing, and what we want to get good at doing (equally important), can provide more clarity on which path to take, or what further training to invest in.
In hindsight, a big reason why being a professional musician works out for me thus far is that I have the priceless fortune of a supportive family, excellent mentors, and peers who help me build my music skillsets into what they are today. The guidance and training they give by example empower my lifelong dedication to music. Acknowledging serendipity, good luck and other people’s contributions to our development keeps us grounded, helps us count our blessings, and steadily do our part in little ways to make the most of such opportunities. To all musicians in progress (like myself), let’s keep honing our craft for as long as we can, and create – regardless of our field of work. Creating is the ultimate artistic process to me, the endgame of learning technique, theory, history, and expression. Creating is to vulnerably share stories and messages about our experiences. Creating is also to do so without judgment at the moment, and to practice it more reliably than waiting for fleeting moments of inspiration would allow. Career-wise, there is no standard industry guide to developing one (especially a freelance, self-directed one), because it will be inherently unique to you, the musician. The best way to work more in music, no matter the place or situation, is simply to intentionally create more, listen and learn (apprentice) more, play more, and collaborate more.
To all students considering pursuing a music degree: wholehearted thanks for wanting to invest your time and efforts into learning this art form that means so much to so many! You will have diverse music fields to consider studying, more so than the respectable ‘performing artist’ or ‘educator’ route that the general public sees. If I can offer any encouragement at all, it would be to investigate and collect as many reliable insights as you can, as early as you can – on what you are interested in studying, and the schools you are interested in auditioning for. Meanwhile, the music industry (local and global) has been evolving particularly fast in the last decade. This COVID pandemic has also highlighted the importance of investigating the realistic work environment for specific music fields of work. Take the time you need for your research, and keep checking back for updates.
To all artists and creators: our vocations should be recognized as sustainable and essential because it absolutely is! I hope society will enable and empower more artists from different walks of life, especially in terms of what people are happy to pay for, for effortful products made with much time, energy, and care. It would be greatly rewarding to see more collaborations developed between various art forms, and integration between art and all other existing areas of work/life; to see more art that supports contrasting cultures and perspectives, and most especially: art for art’s sake (not solely business). All of us (not just hardworking artists themselves but also the generously-paying audience) have a vital, symbiotic role to play in improving artistic prospects here –– to ensure that art keeps on enriching our lives, breaking down barriers and shaping our global communities for the better.
To you, dear reader – thank you very much for your generous time! I wish you all health, safety, and peace.