Monday, January 16, 2012

When work is play

When you are a musician the word 'play' has many meanings.  We often call our work, the work of performing music with others for the enjoyment of an audience, playing.  This is true across musical genres in the English-speaking word as far as I can tell.  In the jazz world this word seems especially apt since what we do in our performing is closely related to actual playing that a child might do: imagining, experimenting, exploring, pushing boundaries.  Using the word play to describe what is also wage-earning work is problematic.  A photographer or painter might love what she does for a living just as much as the musician who goes out to perform at a concert, but we don't call it play.  This particular semantic confusion seems unique to music.  Why should people have to pay for us to get up onstage and play and have fun while they only get paid to do work?  This is a big issue for many musicians, but not the subject of my post today. 

With the first week of school this semester finished and another one beginning, I am thinking about how much I enjoy my teaching work at Capilano U.  While many people enjoy their work and find fulfilment in their jobs, I think you will find that the majority would not go on doing what they do if the wage were taken away.  If you had a plumber who suddenly became independently wealthy,  would that plumber head out every morning to clear blocked drains just for fun? Even within the music world there are many sad souls who would rather not play the kinds of music they are called upon to play.  A good wage is a serious part of the inducement to most kinds of work.

Don't get me wrong, I like money as much as the next person and have no desire to go without for the sake of my art, though I have done so many times and expect to do so in the future.  Nevertheless, where performance (playing) is concerned, it is pretty easy to see that most musicians would continue to play with or without a wage.  I feel that way about teaching too.  I think I would do it even if I wasn't being paid to do it, just for fun.  Maybe I wouldn't do it at 8:30am, but I really feel teaching is a kind of play for me just as much as music performance is.  Now of course I expect and demand to be paid and I need to be paid for my playing or I would have to spend my time getting wages some other way and thus be unavailable for teaching.  Same thing with music.

All this is to say that I am really enjoying teaching more than ever and count myself very blessed indeed to be able to go to work each day and talk about music with really intelligent and creative students and colleagues.  Of course there are small frustrations here and there and ups and down of various kinds and degree, but overall, I think this is a great way to spend my time.   I am thankful for a great job where I get to play for a living.


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