OPINION: An office job is my new reality while music career takes a break
- Credit: PA
Professional musician Charlotte Evans from Norfolk explains why she’s had to put her career on hold due to coronavirus
“Climb every mountain, cross every stream, follow every rainbow, ‘til you find your dream.”
So says Sound of Music’s Mother Superior, along with a host of other motivational orators, including Winnie the Pooh, and probably your mum. But how do you know when enough is enough? How can you tell whether you’re on the brink of stardom, or naively hurtling into another year of struggle? And what do you do when a global pandemic shuts down the entire arts industry and makes your profession “unviable”?
The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a monumental toll. With over a million deaths worldwide and the collapse of industries and economies, the world we find ourselves in at the end of 2020 is in many ways unrecognisable.
Whilst acknowledging this, the arts sector has rightly made some figurative and literal noise this month, focussing a spotlight on the devastation facing our theatres, venues, and performers.
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Frustrated by Rishi Sunak’s comments regarding retraining for new jobs, artists have pointed out that they’ve often already trained longer than any doctor, politician, or lawyer in the country – from specialist lessons in primary school to years of continued practice after graduating. There are no days off, because stamina and technique must be maintained just like elite athletes. So it’s not quite as simple as getting a nine-to-five job and riding this out, especially given the nationwide shortage of said nine-to-five roles.
We hear a lot about the benefits of the arts, but very little about the sacrifices involved – from giving up weekends, to accepting you may never qualify for a mortgage. The cost of “living your dream” can often seem overwhelming – financially, emotionally, and physically. So, all things considered, I’ve been contemplating breaking up with music for a while.
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I suppose in many ways I was waiting for a sign: a burning bush and an ethereal voice saying “GAME OVER.” A global pandemic which shuts down not just the music industry but the entire world could well be regarded as this sign, and so, having finished the summer term’s Zoom lessons, I jazzed up my CV, booked a careers advice appointment, and fired off my first few “real job” applications.
This month, I got my first job offer, from the UK Civil Service.
It is in no way a dream job – there will be no playing of beautiful solos on famous stages, no European tours, and no long sequinned dresses. There will be no stage doors, no green rooms, and no after-parties.
What there will be is a stable income, sick pay, and security. And while this isn’t what I imagined at the age of five or even 25, it does help me to imagine myself at 35 – maybe with a cat, and a car, and even a mortgage (!)
So – performing colleagues, I salute you: whether you are sticking to your guns and riding this out; whether you are seeking a part-time hustle to get you through; or whether, like me, you are abandoning your dream in order to find some peace and security. My decision was years in the making, and isn’t a choice you arrive at overnight after taking the government’s career quiz and discovering you should have been a boxer or a pastry-chef all along…
The good news is your “unviable” arts job has equipped you with a whole heap of transferrable skills™. By performing in orchestras, you have developed outstanding teamwork. In attending auditions you’ve learned to deal with rejection and to improve yourself. Through rigorous practice you’ve gained discipline and self-motivation. By invoicing, networking, scheduling, and advertising, you’ve been your own accountant, marketing manager, and head of logistics all-in-one!
Performers thrive on getting lots of stuff done with competing deadlines, and prioritising tasks to deal with unexpected setbacks. We also excel at communicating – whether teaching kids to tap-dance or moving audiences to tears. Chances are you’ve also held down multiple part-time jobs over the years? This shows determination, adaptability, and time-management – performers do this better than anyone.
If your performance career has taught you to throw yourself in; to deal with rejection and difficulty; and has shown you the reward of teamwork and perseverance; then you are well-equipped not only for the job market, but for life.
Whilst music will no longer be my daily bread and butter, I will never lose the countless lessons it has taught me. I am a musician, today and yesterday and tomorrow, in everything I do and will do… so perhaps this isn’t really a break-up. Perhaps, in the immortal words of Friends’ Ross Geller, we are just “on a break”.