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Explain Yourself

Explain Yourself

Back in 1967, a little movie came out in late December. It starred some guy named Dustin. Maybe you’ve heard of it…just a little movie called THE GRADUATE. There’s a particular scene from that movie that keeps coming to my mind. Remember Benjamin’s graduation party? Where his parents’ friends pressure him for answers about his plans for the future? To some people, this scene may seem a little unrealistic. I mean OBVIOUSLY people don’t really act that way towards college students. However, that scene is actually kind of relatable for me. I like to think that I understand Benjamin’s frustration. The questions they’re asking him are just less blatant ways of saying, “Explain yourself!” As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently studying music at The University of Iowa, specifically percussion performance. I’ve been playing music since I was three years old. Growing up, I did just about every camp, private lesson, competition, show, band, choir, and jam session that a kid could do (thanks Mom and Dad!). I’m a certified band geek. So naturally, I decided to continue my musical journey in college. A decision that makes perfect sense to me, but maybe not so much to other people. And I can’t really blame them.  Not many people know what a music degree can do for you. I also mentioned in my last post that I’m stupid, but I’d like to make sure everyone understands that I said that as a joke. I’m not actually stupid. There are just some things that I’m not very good at – that’s the way most people are. Here’s the thing – math and science literally make no sense to me. Trying to teach math to me is like trying to get a cardboard cut-out to talk. It just ain’t gonna happen. Subjects like english and history have always come naturally to me. And music. But when your high school relentlessly encourages math and science on you at every turn and basically sweeps the music program under the rug, it’s kind of hard to figure out where someone like me fits in. A lot of people from my high school went through school mainly focused on math, science, and other AP courses of that nature. Maybe they did the school musical, maybe they were in marching band or choir. But they pretty much focused on the subjects that would eventually land them a secure job with a nice paycheck. I guess it was the other way around for me – my main focus has always been music, and I studied a little math and science. The only AP class I took in high school was music theory. It appears I’m preparing myself for multiple jobs that usually don’t have impressive paychecks. There are a lot of people in the world who see that and simply cannot make sense of it. Why would I prepare myself for a job that isn’t secure and doesn’t pay well? How can someone even make a living with a music degree? And this thought process inevitably leads to the dreaded question:”Well what are you gonna do with THAT degree?”

I’ve heard this question or some variation of it more times than I can count on my fingers (and toes). And every time I hear it, I just think of Benjamin trying to answer questions about his future. Because when someone asks me a question like that, they’re not just curious – they want an explanation, dammit! Explain yourself! And the truth is that I can’t really explain it. My goals in life are not confined to a paycheck. A few weeks ago, an older fella (and by older, I mean forty-something) was asking me about my major. And, word for word, this is what he said:

“Well yeah I know you’re studying music, but, are you actually gonna DO something? I mean, you can’t make a living by playing music.”

In his mind, playing music isn’t actually doing something. It’s not a contribution to society. And he’s not alone. There are a whole lot of people who think the same thing. If I don’t have a business model or some smarty-pants math equation to back it up, I might as well just be a bum. I shook it off because I’ve heard that reaction countless times, but it actually is pretty insulting to me. You wanna know what I’m gonna do with my degree? Here, I’ll tell you:

I’m going to be happy for the rest of my life.

Music isn’t just something that I’m interested in. It’s not just something that I’m really good at. It’s not just something that makes me happy. It’s not even just something that I care deeply about. Simply put, music is a calling. Believe me, there have been times when I wanted to do anything but music. There have been times when I’ve flubbed rehearsals or auditions. My audition at Indiana University was a colossal flub. If music was something I was only interested in, I would’ve quit back in high school. I’ve never been able to get away from music because I’ve always been called back. Music is a calling.

I was in the Hawkeye Marching Band my sophomore year. The Hawkeye Drumline (HDL is what the cool people call it) does a 10-15 minute show of its own before the game. One time after an HDL show, some lady who was probably like 105 years old came up to me and said, “I just love watching the drums. It makes me so happy!” And that’s why this all makes sense to me.

I don’t just play music for myself. As much as I truly enjoy playing for myself, that’s not what I’ve been called to do. I play music because it makes people happy. I do what I do because this world would be a sad, sad place without music. I play music because my parents told me that I have a gift I can share. I play music because I would be tremendously miserable doing anything else. As Paul Simon puts it, “Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” I love music with all my heart and soul. So the next time someone sarcastically asks me, “What are you gonna do with THAT degree?” I’ll just say, “I’m gonna be happy for the rest of my life.”


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