I spent my last blog entry bellyaching about Subway, but a moment from this past weekend puts that brief inconvenience in proper perspective. Saturday afternoon I saw a few minutes of the Metropolitan Opera Simulcast of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at Tinseltown Cinema in Kenosha- and as I made my way to my seat next to Marshall, I caught a glimpse of a friend of ours whose daughter is a former voice student of mine and a teacher out on the East Coast. She flagged me down to say that her daughter had recently learned that she was almost certainly going to be laid off from her teaching position due to cutbacks through the district. (She and her husband recently moved, so I am sure she is towards the very very bottom rung of the seniority ladder in her new school district. )
That news felt like a kick to the stomach because this young woman is a stupendous teacher. . . and loves to teach . . . and I can’t think of anything more unfortunate than for her to lose the opportunity to do what she does so well. And it is beginning to dawn on me that this economic downturn and the massive job losses which it has already caused are doing more than just economic damage. People are not just losing their source of income – which is bad enough – but in many cases they are losing the chance to do what they have trained to do and love to do. . . and they are left to wonder whether or not they will ever have the chance to resume that work again. I think of that a lot these days, both because I love all three of my jobs – and because none of my jobs are what anyone would call Essential. I am not a policeman or anything of the like. I talk on the radio, I teach people to sing better, and I direct a church choir. . . and I am well aware that any of those jobs could go away and the world would keep spinning as though nothing had happened. But I would feel as though I had suffered an amputation and I can’t even imagine how painful that would be. Those thoughts are never far from my mind these days, whether I am teaching a voice lesson or interviewing an author or composing a new anthem for my church choir. Over and over again, I am thinking to myself “I love this work – it doesn’t even feel like work most of the time – and I hope I will get to do it for a long time to come.”
So assuming that this young woman’s fears come true, what would my advice be to her? I’m not sure – because I have never been exactly there before. I guess I would urge her to be patient in the face of this looming uncertainty. This may be a long, long haul before we find our way out of this difficulty- and I would implore her to hang tight to all that is most precious to her. I would remind her that life’s most powerful lessons are learned and our most profound growth occurs in the midst of our most wrenching losses. I would urge her to cherish the gift of music all the more, even if her work as a music teacher slips from her grasp for a time, and to find whatever opportunities she can to nurture her own musical gifts and the gifts of others. I would remind her that this pain is being experienced everywhere – and that as awful as it is, it would be even worse if she were suffering it alone. And of course, it is always good to be reminded that we are not alone, even in life’s darkest hours. A lot of this I know that she knows – but it is still what I would say to her.
And this is what I will say to myself – I hope – if this ever becomes my cross to bear.
pictured above: Working with some of my voice students at Carthage. I chose this picture because studio class is one of my very favorite moments in my week and most of the time it feels like I’m flying. This photo was taken during our final studio class of the fall semester, when – just for fun – I had them sing through my T.T.B.B. arrangement of “Rise up, Shepherd, and Follow.” Chanticleer, beware! The Berg Boys are breathing down your neck!