“Don’t quit your day job”

How often as a fledgling musician, when you were, say… Not too good yet? Or had a night of debauchery at the local pub and heard a sub-par version of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” during karaoke after Patricia’s bad break up with Mark? You often hear murmurs of snickers from the crowd along with: “Wow, Patricia, don’t quit your day job.” Largely due in part to the fact that Patricia’s liquid courage removed her fear of ridicule due to her unrefined singing abilities, and everyone else’s influence of alcohol made them a bit kinder… Wait, no, that is not correct, it certainly made them quite a bit more unkind – which is why someone is telling Patricia to not quit her day job.

However, I would tell anyone who is a fledgling musician or a musician who is infused with passion for the art to never, ever, ever quit their day job – which, is a means of supporting themselves. Even if you’ve just premiered your best aria in Carnegie Hall, even if you just won the Cliburn as a pianist – don’t quit your day job. But also, don’t quit being a musician and pursuing your art as a hobby, as a career or as a personal journey to a higher version of yourself.


Because you need to eat. You need to live in a home. You are not a robot. You, unfortunately, are a human subject to biological processes. Musicians are not computer processors. And many who study even as a hobby find themselves forgetting to make time to care for their biological systems. (Any wonder, considering we are often making our lives so intertwined with technology?)

I’m pretty okay as a musician; I play pipe organ for two churches and also accompany with piano for various occasions and I maintain a private studio. Not huge, but I have a few students enough to say I have a studio.These are some of my music related ways of making my way in the world, but primarily, my main work is that of being an ESL teacher. I’m extremely thankful for the company I work with, Alo7, for rewarding great tutors for their excellent teaching efforts! If you are a musician like me, I would definitely recommend interviewing with Alo7 right now (if you have a bachelors degree and an ESL teaching certificate). By the way, we’re hiring right now!

The ESL crossover from my opera training is actually very practical. I spent a few minutes in class today working with Chinese students preparing for high level exams, and my knowledge of IPA from opera studies was able to get into those tricky vowels we often run into as native English speakers. Try saying “mine” and “horizon” sometime and take a special listen to the “i” sounds… Diphthongs are a crazy thing!

I’m in the company of some great musicians and composers by having a seemingly non-musical day job. Check out the list of musicians and composers who would also recommend not quitting your day job:

  • Philip Glass
    • He is probably the most famous and inspiring composers, who kept up a prolific composing life while maintaining a job as a plumber. According to an interview by Christina Patterson for the Independent, Glass was 42 when he began making more money through this music. Until then, he was driving cab and doing plumbing work to support himself.
  • Jon Nakamatsu was a German teacher who went on to win the Cliburn. His “day job” was a German language teacher at a high school.

Having stable day jobs did not preclude the aforementioned artists from building their craft and nurturing the gift within them. I’m not sure about you, personally, if you are a musician, but I feel sometimes the artistic community suffers from impostor syndrome if we don’t spend all of our time making music and building our craft.

If you stink at music, don’t quit your day job. If you’re awesome at music, don’t quit your day job. Because living must be supported by food and shelter, because we are biological creatures, we need this before we make any music. If music can eventually be your all encompassing day job, that is amazing! If it isn’t your all encompassing day job, that’s amazing too – because you’re still bringing something beautiful into the world while also being a responsible member of society. Stay whatever path you’re on to take care of yourself.

Long story short, do what you need to do and keep up your hustle: Keep your day job (or night job), my friends. Cheers!

Sunday Work, Oct 4, 2019

Had the chance to play one of my favorite hymns this past week! It’s not an easy one and actually worked on some techniques to improve my playing on it, but take a peek. It is a fun job to be an organist.

Why do we need music? II

We meet again; back to the question that I am circling around. I still don’t have the exact answer. But, I do know of the answers I don’t find truly justify myself and are the easy go-to’s. They answer it so easily and simply that it can’t be the only answer.

I don’t want the answers that fit into the perfect little boxes, and tick the boxes in the right way that provide the “ah-hah!” answers:

  • “Science proves that singing in choirs helps release feel-good hormones!”
  • “Studying Mozart makes you better at math!”

Yes, yes. We know these things, and I’m not saying these things aren’t important. However, how do we go through each and every day nearly unable to hear at least one piece of music? How is it to powerful? What exactly is it, that draws on us so profoundly?

In our world, could you go through one day without hearing music? Why? Why does it permeate every inch of our culture and existence in the Western world, and how do we still not understand the mysterious pull of music? We know what it does, we know it’s good. Even personally for myself, though, I want to know why I keep doing it. I want to know what my motivation is and why we’re so intrinsically drawn to music; what about music reveals to us our own narrative, and for musicians, what about music shapes our narrative? Is there a gene that affects musical and creative types?

Something about music defines us, tells us our story and makes a profound impact on our direct experience of the world, and it has been doing this for thousands of years. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and Glaucon deliberated at length about their concern of the influence of music over young men in society – even the type of modes and rhythms, and how this would seemingly influence the actions of these young and impressionable men. They believed that the ancient Greek modes were so powerful that they influenced certain accents:

“I don’t know the modes, ” I said. “Just leave that mode which would appropriately imitate the sounds and accents of a man who is courageous in warlike deeds and every violent work, and who in failure or when going to face wounds or death or falling into some other disaster, in the face of all these things stands up firmly and patiently against chance. And, again, leave another mode for a man who performs a peaceful deed, one that is not violent but voluntary, either persuading someone of something and making a request – whether a god by prayer or a human being by instruction or exhortation – or, on the contrary, holding himself in check for someone else who makes a request or instructs him or persuades him to change, and as a result acting intelligently, not behaving arrogantly, but in all these things acting moderately and in measure and being content with the consequences…” – The Republic of Plato, translated by Allan Bloom (p. 77-78)

Music has been influencing us for thousands of years. These are questions we continually ask; or, do we take it for granted and just accept that music influences our actions without asking why? I continue to ask why.

Fall 2019 project: JITC School of Creative Arts: Voice Classes

Take a look at a new teaching endeavor I am taking on this fall: group voice classes with Joy In The City’s School of Creative Arts. Teresa Miller interviewed me about this endeavor a few weeks ago. I can’t wait to see my students’ progress take place. Take a look!

Why do we need music?

Why do we need music? This is a question I have a hard time convincing myself the answer of. Strange to say, seeing as I am a musician and a singer, and I spend hours – countless hours – listening to music, thinking about music, talking about music… I’m listening to music now as I write. (“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine* if you’re wondering.)

The answer to this question continually eludes me; but it shouldn’t. I’ve been a pianist for years. I’ve been studying opera for the past five years. I’m an organist for two churches for the past two years. Shouldn’t the answer be self-evident? Why don’t I have this instantly convincing answer for myself as to why I’m continually drawn back to this art form that I have sacrificed many aspects of my life for.

You may think, “Oh – Annette, you obviously must love it so much since you can’t stay away!” That is not necessarily the case. I don’t love music unconditionally. Some days my ears are so tired that I pray for nothing but silence. I’ve hated pianos, pipe organs and operas to the point I’ve vowed I would never sing or touch the instruments again. (Obviously, these fickle sentiments didn’t remain a permanent fixture.)

But, certainly, I love listening to music and that’s what draws me back every time. I make sense of my life and my story by finding just the right song, lyric or motif that seems to reveal some part of myself to me.

Perhaps, in an abstract way, and not in a way I can empirically prove to you, musicianship and artistry is a need for me, as it tells me something about myself, my story, my life and my place in the world.

Stay tuned as I continue to search out the answer to this question.

“I am hitting my head against the walls, but the walls are giving way.” – Gustav Mahler

* Currently listening to…