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Waiting on the World to Change

Article by Jillian Mitchell // September 02 2007
Waiting on the World to Change

We’ve all been there. You’re at the shopping mall or the supermarket and, as if by some unfortunate twist of fate, you run into Miss “Susie-talks-alot” who has not, nor will ever let go of high school. Of course, you can’t escape. It’s too late, you’ve made eye contact, and if you run now…well you for sure won’t be getting that alumni newsletter anymore to say the least. So, you smile and wave to the bee-lining bundle of exasperation headed in your direction. “Yes, it’s great to see you too,” you say, but inside your stomach is in knots. You know it’s coming—that dreaded question. And, then, as if by cue, she hits you with it: “So, what are you doing with yourself these days?” Your head spins, your heart sinks and you try to come up with another tired excuse about why it is you do what you do. “Why, God? Why? All I wanted was a dang jug of milk!” With careful precision and a sincere delivery, you break it to her gently, “I’m a musician.”

There it is, you said it... and the worst, in fact, does happen. Your honesty has been received by a deer in the headlights, and a very insensitive deer at that. “Oh!” she says wide-eyed, as she tries to make sense of you, “you’re still doing that?” Ouch. Yes, yes, I am still doing that, and I see you’re still sporting that god awful permed-coif and tapered pants combo that never ever was cool, but have I said anything about that? You wonder how in the “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” have you let this woman get to you. As if things couldn’t get any worse, right about now is the moment when you lose complete control of your mental filter and that nervous habitual word vomit rears its ugly self again. First, you begin overcompensating for your personal choices, stating all the cool things you’ve ever done (or hope to do) with your music and how super busy you are and how your music is going to one day pretty much save the children, restore the planet, cure all diseases, and repent the sins of mankind. (Okay, maybe you don’t go that far, but you get my drift) You may even find yourself throwing in a little tidbit about your day job or your latest college pursuit, just to firmly secure that your foot is indeed implanted in your mouth. Sound familiar?

Myself, I have experienced this same scenario far too many times. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love music and will always be a musician, but for some asinine reason, I seem to give a crap about what the “Suzie’s” of the universe think of me. Call me crazy, but it’s true! To be quite honest, I think I just want to avoid both that unnerving awkward stare down—one similar to how you might look upon the Siamese-twined love spawn of Cher and Bigfoot (not pretty nonetheless)—and that little bone-chilling word, still. (I’d like to make a petition: that the word “still” be completely eradicated from our vocabulary until we can use it properly. Too often, it is a derogatory word designed to make us musicians feel like crap. Doctors and lawyers are not interrogated with the word “still,” so why are musicians?) In the grand scheme of things, doctors, lawyers, scientists, pilots, musicians you name it, they all belong in the same category that we refer to as “careers,” so what’s the fuss about? Yet, as much as it pains me to say, after a multitude of similar encounters such as this one, it is getting easier to see why some music-lovers throw in the towel and take that cushioned, better-paying, good-pension day job and leave their rock and their roll behind them. Nowadays, it seems as if you don’t have that Grammy adorning your shelf, your journey is somehow not worth it. Well, riddle me this: just because a scientist has yet to win a Nobel Prize, does that make him or her any less of a scientist?

Which leads me to my next question: what happens if this ridiculous anti-music campaign forces the delicate species of musician to extinction? Without music as a career option, what if all the musicians instead turned to, law, for instance? Hmmm…lawyers, you say? Well, conveniently enough, my friend Mark knows a thing or two about that one. I first met Mark, aka Professor Rudoff, a few years back in a lecture theatre at Brandon University’s School of Music. During one lecture in particular, Mark disclosed that the journey with which he took to get to the front of our class that day, was a long and winding one. In short, Rudoff’s story is one that most musicians can relate to, the pressure of three particular terms: “still,” “pipedream,” and “real job.”

 

BLACK PAGE: On the road to success, you have made some important career choices. Please enlighten our readers.

Mark Rudoff: Here’s the story: I had this first career as a cello player—bachelors and masters from Juilliard, free-lanced in NYC, played in the New York Phil, won some auditions and took a job as principal cello in the Calgary Philharmonic when I was 22. After five seasons I resigned my CPO position, went to study at Banff for a couple of years, following which I decided to abandon music and become a lawyer.  Law degree at UofS (on the Law Review and with distinction, thank you very much!), practiced law in Calgary. After a few years of that, decided to move over into arts admin, but found I missed playing. So I undertook the challenge of rebuilding my playing, worked harder than I ever had in my life (much support from my wife, Nancy Nehring, made all of this possible) and, step by step, made myself back into a musician. 

BP: That’s quite a journey! What was the proverbial straw that tipped the scales between law and music?  Was it a pro-law/anti-music choice?

MR: Best I can explain, two straws pushed me out of music. First, I was frustrated with the music business. Second, my playing felt like it had reached a dead end. Today I am now more patient about both: I understand and roll with the business, and I honestly never run out of ideas for my playing. As for going back, most people assume I hated being a lawyer, but that’s not true.  What happened was that I felt called back to music:  I just missed playing, felt I had things to say and do as a musician. There was this point where I was working in administration but still doing a fair bit of playing.  I had been successful enough in a junior position that I was scouted for senior management.  Nancy and I had a conversation that went something like this: She said, “You know, up till now, you have been able to keep playing while you did other work, but you know once you get an executive position, the cello really does go into the case for good.  How do you feel about that?” Mark: “I had thought of that and I think it sucks.” Nancy:  “Well, you are going to have to stop messing around with this half-assed cello thing and get serious about being a real cellist again.” And that’s pretty much what we did.

BP: A large percentage of society has seemingly adopted a low tolerance policy towards musicians, specifically the belief that there are only two “categories” of music careers: “Mega-fame” or “Mega-shame.” What is your response to this query?

MR: I haven’t heard that one. I think musicians make a mistake when they confuse fame with success.  I always tell young musicians you have to create your own definition of success, rather than accept one created by your teachers or parents or friends or the media. What I mean is, find and commit to a way of making a life in music that allows you to be true to yourself, that gives you joy, and  that makes all the hard work, disappointments and inevitable b.s. worthwhile. I can honestly say I now love being a musician: the teaching, the concerts I give and the people I work with when I give them, my research and explorations, practicing. I am totally in love with the work for its own sake, and that for me is success. I don’t think much about fame. I know many exceptional musicians who would not rate any definition of “fame.” And I know a bunch of famous musicians whose work is pretty mediocre—and who are pretty unhappy with their lives. (On that note, this interview makes me famous, right?) But seriously, folks, make no mistake about it, music is a demanding, intensely competitive field. And there are comparatively fewer and fewer “jobs” as such. From what I have learned, I would offer two pieces of advice. First, and most important, patience. Do the work, refine your craft, and keep making yourself a better musician so that you are ready when opportunities come your way. Second, the future belongs to musicians who know how to make their own work, and things look pretty bleak to those who expect opportunities to fall into their laps.

 

It’s stories like these that make me ponder life in general. I mean, think about it! Had the greats like Beethoven, Bach, Lennon and McCartney, Gadd or Bonham given up on music, where would we be now? Look what we would be missing out on! So, who’s to say that great things aren’t in store for yourself? Grammy or no Grammy, if you’re a true musician through and through, then answer that call and pursue! In closing, I’d like to leave you with a few tips, created for argument’s sake, in favour of rendering music a valid and prestigious career choice. Store them in your back pocket so that the next time Miss Suzy comes around, you’ll be ready for her if need be! Game on! 

 

POINTS TO PONDER WHEN IN DOUBT

  • The origin of music occurred prior to the advent of recorded history. Some suggest that the origin of music likely stems from naturally occurring sounds and rhythms. The first music is speculated to have been invented in Africa and then evolved to become a fundamental constituent of human life.. (Hmmm…before doctors and lawyers you say? Interesting.)
  • Music is found in every known culture, past and present, varying wildly between times and places. Since all peoples of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have a form of music, scientists conclude that music must have been present in the ancestral population prior to the dispersal of humans around the world. It’s the only universal language!
  • Every human being on the planet enjoys music! Go ahead and ask them…I dare anyone to try and deny it! While you’re at it, ask said individual what they would do if (insert band name here) weren’t still hacking away at their craft after high school. (Are you getting any of this, Miss Suzie?) 




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About the Author
Jillian Mitchell

As a professional vocalist (and self-professed grammar nerd), Jill brings a fresh perspective to The Black Page. In addition to earning a B.A. in music, creative writing and English, Jill has also studied vocals with Philadelphia-based vocal coach Owen Brown, known for his work with Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, and Wyclef Jean. Jill makes up the other half of world soul group The Mitchells, alongside Black Page creator, Sean Mitchell.



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