Work And Music

I have a confession to make.

I am a school teacher. Of art, no less. This makes me buzz, you understand. But not always in a good way. You see, education is an odd old thing….. its ever-changing structures and rules do more than ‘keep you on your toes’….they positively confuse and tire. The reliance on raw data (imposed on us by the powers that be) to inform and dictate our practice as educators seems at odds with the fact that, essentially, we are dealing with human beings who have quirks and foibles and flaws and are not subject to singular ‘truths’ and givens.

Being a teacher of art is ultimately frustrating and rewarding in equal measure. I lead a department that attempts to promote and disseminate the idea of art as a revolutionary, subversive, creative and skillful activity. Where thoughts are as important as actions (though one without the other is useless). But, we do so in a system which isn’t really built for these things….a system of rigidity, of certainties and of compliance. At the same time, I really get satisfaction from the interaction, the look on young people’s faces when they achieve something they thought they couldn’t. Or when they make something which really means something to them.

The profession is often derided, sometimes by the press, sometimes by those who had a fairly shitty experience in school and can’t let it go. But one thing people cannot doubt (though they sometimes do) is the effort and time that goes into the job. I will tell you now: the stress, effort, time…the investment that goes into preparing lessons, writing reports, marking, assessment, evaluating and jumping through hoops is immense. Because we are not dealing with statistics; faceless masses who are subject to gross generalizations, data-pools or demographics. We are dealing with people.

It’s a job I spend a great deal of time on (weekends, late evenings)….and I do mainly love it. Though there are moments when I think “what’s the point” and think of alternative ways of paying the bills. It doesn’t matter what your line of work is…we’ve all thought that, right?

Well, recently, I have been thinking of alternatives.

Music isn’t one of them. Not because I want it that way, but because it isn’t actually a ‘way’ at all. It was once a belief that professional musicians were a blessed bunch. They made an extremely good living off their art and became famous as a result. It was believed that record labels paid out huge amounts of money (maybe they did to the select few, in advances) and kept on giving. It was believed that to be a professional musician meant that you worked, doing something you loved, something that was akin to a hobby or pass-time, for just a few hours a day and the rest of your time could be spent attending parties, getting wasted or traveling the world.

Then the realisation (fairly recently) came that, actually, professional musicians are not that well paid, if at all. They end up in convoluted legal wrangles, they get ripped-off, they put in many hours of hard work, they put up with hardship. Many were actually “semi-professional” in that they held down day-jobs as well. Blimey….nothing’s ‘perfect’ is it?!

However, there is a more prosaic and (perhaps) idealistic view that I subscribe to. Not borne out of necessity, but borne out of experience. Music, for the likes of me (an amateur by most people’s standards) is so important because of the drudgery of the day-job. It’s more than a ‘hobby’, yes…. though it’s not the wildly poetic and hackneyed idea of it being an ‘escape’. But it is a compulsion. When most of our jobs and, indeed, our lives involve repetition, bureaucracy, frustrations and banality….music, either as a ‘consumer’ or a ‘producer’ seems to make sense. It creates images, it evokes times/places/people, it distracts you from stuff, it makes you think, or it just makes you feel all tingly. It’s far from being a soporific (though supermarkets, advertisers and TV execs might work hard to make it so)…it’s accessible and changes our lives, or at least changes our mood. How many things in life can lay claim to that? Art does that.

However, without the vagaries of everyday life, would it have as much significance? Well, for me…no. It’s a counterpoint. It’s a crutch. It’s a beacon. It’s a focus. It gives you headspace.


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