I have become a firm believer in the importance of selflessness in every area of our lives. Music is no exception. What makes these Wholesome Musical Priorities a bit controversial is that most musicians tend to be narcissists. Music is a performance art and it is easy to be fooled into believing that, as a performer, you are the center of everyone’s attention. In contrast, the Wholesome Musical Priorities list looks at the importance of putting our family’s needs above our own musical, narcissistic desires.
Needs Always Come Before Desires
I like to think that I am slow to anger. And perhaps most people would probably agree with me when I say so. But one thing that will push my buttons faster than anything else is when someone places his/her own desires higher on the priority list than his/her family’s needs. Such is the essence of hedonism.
Some people today celebrate hedonism (see Hedonism Resorts) because of the sensuality. They see it as a sexual thing. But when you look at its definition, hedonism is when you judge right and wrong according to what feels good to you. It is an extremely hedonistic act for a musician to do the whole “starving artist” bit while his/her family suffers through a life of poverty. Hedonism says that “pleasure is the highest good.” But it is short sided to believe that one man’s pleasure is another man’s good. It is short sided to believe that a musician seeking his own pleasure will somehow translate into equal amounts of pleasure for the people in his family. In that sense, being a hedonistic “starving artist” is a very selfish, self centered way to live when you have a family to support.
Family Comes Before Music
I came up with this Wholesome Musical Priorities list as a result of many years of teaching private music lessons. When students come to lessons unprepared because their family was out of town for a funeral, I do NOT want them to apologize to me for not practicing. I don’t want them to feel bad about it. I don’t want them to be frustrated about it. What I want is for them to know that it is inappropriate for them to be practicing when they should be grieving and attending to funeral business. During such times, they need to be there for their families.
I feel the same way about family vacations, weddings, visitors, graduations and any other family celebration. I also feel this way about family obligations.
If you choose to practice instead of helping your sister with her homework when she really needs your help, then you have crossed the line…you have made your music more important than your sister. If you choose to practice instead of doing your chores, taking out the garbage, making your bed, cleaning your room, mowing the lawn, then you have placed music higher on your priority list than your family.
For the adult musicians, if you refuse to take your family on vacation because you think you need to spend that time practicing, then you have placed music above the needs of your family. If you spend more time with your trumpet than you do with your spouse, then you have made music more important than your family. If you spend thousands of dollars on music equipment but claim you don’t have money to put your children through college, then you are saying that your own family is less important to you than your music.
All of these scenarios are examples of a hedonistic lifestyle. Any time you put your own pleasure, your own selfish desires over and above the real life, practical needs of your family, you are a practicing hedonist.
To give you an example about how serious I am about this, I once fired an adult student who came to his lesson and told me that he was going to divorce his wife. When I asked him why he wanted to divorce her, he said that they couldn’t see eye to eye when it came to his music. The trumpet was coming between them and his answer was to go with the music and dump the wife.
I told him I would not teach him again until he got his marriage straightened out. I also told him that I keep an eye on the online trumpet forums and if I caught him participating, then I would never teach him again after that. A married man who is having marital problems, especially marital problems centered on his love for music, has no business spending hours every day participating on trumpet forums.
The good news was that I heard from that student again several years later and he told me that his marriage problems had been worked out. He got a good job and they were getting along a lot better.
Expressing Family Is Expressing Who We Are
Always remember that our family life is a large part of who we are as people. If we push our families out of our lives for the sake of our music, we then have less to express. Music is supposed to be an expression of our lives. But someone who has rejected his family is someone who has amputated some of the most important parts of his life. What then will he express through his music?
I understand that misery likes company. Certainly, if you do place your own selfish desires over and above the needs of your family, you will experience bitterness and disappointment in your life. You will be able to express your misery through your music and some people will enjoy that, because they are as miserable as you are. But I ask you, is it your best work to operate that way?
Is bitter, angry, hateful, vengeful, dark music the best that you are capable of sharing with the world?
That’s the irony of this Wholesome Musical Priorities list is that the people who put their music ahead of their family’s needs don’t really have much to offer. Their music isn’t what sells. When you get down to it, with that kind of music it is the anger that sells, the hate, the darkness, not the music itself. And yes, those musicians may sell more of it than the people who create beautiful music, but their popularity does not define the quality of their work.
As I have said many times over on this blog, evil is contagious. You can sell things very easily if you go that route. But as a music teacher, I am more concerned with the quality of your work, not how many gold albums you can sell.
When we honor our families and put them first in our lives, it opens up a pathway for us to create better music. It’s not only about creating more beautiful music. But when we put our families’ needs first in our lives, above our musical, narcissistic desires, the people who hear our music will hear that selflessness shining through. It will touch them more deeply, more intimately, because they will feel that you actually care about people. Then your music will have great power for good. Your music will heal people and bring peace where there was none before.