When Passion Becomes a Commodity

I love music — singing, playing, and watching conductors are all parts of that love, among other things. I sing because it changes my world, however temporarily; I sing because it brightens my day, soothes my soul, and heals my wounds. I have a passion for the music that I don’t have for many other things. Music and I have a great reciprocal relationship: I tend to it, and it tends to me.

As I think about pursuing a career in music, I must ponder the question: what happens when music becomes a commodity? What happens when a person sings or plays so much that the music no longer brings her that joy, that meaning, and instead brings her disdain and arrogance?

This past weekend I had the great opportunity to speak with many different people about their thoughts on music. I was intrigued (I will perhaps write later about last weekend, but I don’t have time for that right now.). I had the opportunity to watch a variety of conductors and musicians perform works that shed so much light on the world in which we currently live. The perfect harmony of the old and the new, in song. When speaking with one woman why she didn’t want to perform with us in Carnegie Hall next week, even though she would have been able had she wanted to, she responded, “When I perform in a choir, I get paid to do it. It’s not worth my time to sing a choir if they’re not paying me.”

This came as a shock to me, honestly, as I am still wide-eyed about the fact that I even have the opportunity to sing in Carnegie Hall once in my life. Now, don’t get me wrong: I have a lot of respect for this individual, I do. She’s wonderful and efficient, and given that the concert is a lot of Jewish music to sing for someone who isn’t Jewish, perhaps I can understand why the music wouldn’t have as much personal meaning for her as it might for me. On the other hand, her statement did get me thinking, as statements often do (and taken out of context as they usually are). The reader of my previous writings will remember that often an utterance I hear sparks a response that was almost completely unrelated to its original context.

“When I perform in a choir, I get paid to do it. It’s not worth my time to sing in a choir if they’re not paying me.”

Such an unfortunate point of view! You’d think that music is something to be passionate about, something one does because, like I said earlier, it is uplifting and powerful and all-around a spiritual experience. You’d think. Well, amend: I think. I honestly don’t know if this woman is typical of musicians all-around. Most musicians I have met will make music on the job or off the job. What happens to someone that something they love becomes a commodity and that’s it? That it is only an essential part of their identity because it allows them to make money and nothing else? How could that happen to someone?

I have no answers, only questions. Unanswered questions. I’ll keep pondering, I suppose.