When I told my parents that I would like to study music after school, they told me that, though they know I sing very well, I should rather pursue a career that has the potential to add real value to my life. Now that I’m basically halfway through my life expectancy, and although I did pursue a ‘proper’ career, I still became a professional musician. Why? Was it because I wanted to rebel against the wishes of my parents? Definitely not. Maybe it’s because I am a musician. Becoming one as a job was just a natural expression of who I already was.
Music, and the making of it, is fundamental to human existence and has been central to cultural expression from the beginning of time. So no one can disagree that it has intrinsic value. Yet when it comes to earning a living through musicing, it is usually considered a high-risk, low-value endeavour.
That said, when it is time for Pop Idol or The Voice auditions, thousands of hopeful musicians queue for hours, hoping that they will make the cut. Are all of them delirious? It seems that being a full-time musician is actually aspirational.
A quick search on the internet around music and its value led me to these titles: “More evidence that trained musicians are superior thinkers”, “Research Shows the Health Benefits of Music”, “What Doctors Can Learn From Musicians”, “Scientific review of how music training primes nervous system and boosts learning”, “From musician to physician: Why medical schools are recruiting for musical ability”, “Why not put music at the heart of education?” – and the list continued. If all these articles are only 80% correct, it is quite impressive.
One of my young singing students said this about music in his life: “Music is a lifestyle; a way of expressing and communicating one’s true emotion. Since the day I started my singing lessons, this exciting new world opened for me. By learning to control and delight in my own singing voice, I could experience these emotions myself.”
If the above is true, then why is pursuing a career as a musician, or making music well in general, not perceived as a valuable endeavour? Maybe the discrepancy between the intrinsic value and perceived value is because music comes from within the human spirit and is therefor essentially undefinable. It is not knowledge that is acquired through education, but rather the shaping and refining of that which is within through education into something that inspires and move other people. Music is also hardly ever egocentric. It is always meant to be shared.
I think that musicing, at the very least, increases ones quality of life, whether you are in the audience or a performer. This has been proven over and over again, using scientific or unscientific methods of research. It is also supposed to be a good way of making a living, but alas, we are not there yet.
I dare you to find out what making music can add to your life. The truth you discover will surprise you.
Herman Theron is the director of the Reakopana online music academy. For more information and to see what courses are available to study, go to reakopana.co.za.
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