Recently had a chat with a singer acquaintance to arrange an upcoming thing, which had to be cut short because… she had to go and serve someone who’d just come into the shop.
I should add that she’s one of the finest singers I know and works the best gigs in town. But she feels she needs to keep it secret that she does a couple of afternoons working in a shop every now and then, because she fears people won’t take her seriously as a musician if it gets out.
Crazy huh? But it sadly seems to be true that musicians and punters alike just assume you’re not serious or not very good the moment they find out that you don’t live and breathe music. And heaven forbid you’re interested in or [FX STING] actually good at something else too…
Let’s put this one to bed, shall we. Borodin was a chemist; Ives sold insurance; had he lived a little longer, Elgar would probably have worked at Bletchley Park. Ruben Blades is a lawyer and former government minister, and Paderewski ran a country. As does the King of Thailand…
Closer to home, Art Themen is one of the best post-bop saxists in London – and also a renowned orthopaedic consultant. Dan Reinstein (also sax) is a leading ophthalmic surgeon. Oscar Peterson was admired as a photographer, David Bowie was exhibited as a respected visual artist and Anthony Hopkins has not only written and orchestrated, but conducted a film score. I know a really good trumpeter who works for a hedge fund (he seems to be making a better living with his trumpet these days).
In fact, as far back as you care to go, you’ll find that musicians have always been people with a wide range of interests and talents (generally, but certainly not exclusively to do with “the humanities”).
I’d go so far as to suggest the whole notion of being a “professional” is rather ridiculous anyway. In fact, it’s a relatively recent historical phenomenon.
Obviously you wouldn’t want an eager have-a-go merchant doing your triple bypass using the contents of the cutlery drawer, some twine and a car battery, but generally speaking it’s rather silly to assume that people can only be good at one thing.
Why should we be surprised if someone comes round to fix the boiler and then sits down and knocks out some really good Chopin while you’re making the perfunctory cup of tea? “Six sugars please luv, and do you mind if I do a Nocturne on your lovely joanna?” “Well, as long as you wipe your feet.”
It’s sadly still worth maintaining the pretence that your every waking moment is music and your life is a whirl of glittering stages and recording studios. But be aware also that pigeonholes are a mental convenience for those with limited imagination. Not a very jazz attitude, really…
PS I related the following experience to the singer to cheer her up a bit. I once got gushed at during a break and asked all about myself. I mentioned that I was also a financial journalist – and the light instantly went out behind the guy’s eyes. In a second, I had been recategorised from “cool musician” to “boring suit”.