True Calling

gillespie_dizzy_450pOne of my mentors is a pianist named Mike Longo who worked with Dizzy Gillespie for many years; he’s part Yoda, part Henny Youngman, and all BeBop. I sing with his big band and study jazz piano, rhythm and harmony with him as well. Mike’s as fluent in species counterpoint as he is in the language of blues and bebop. He’s as apt to quote Stravinsky as he is Baha’u’llah. You get the idea.yoda

One day I arrived at my lesson wondering just what the hell I was doing with my life, anyway. Broke, tired and utterly convinced that I’d never “make it,” I was lost in the perpetual hustle of trying to stay afloat as an artist in New York City. Living hand-to-mouth felt bohemian and romantic in my early 20s; by the time my 30s came to call, scrambling for rent just felt exhausting.

“Well,” Mike began, stroking his goatee, “you didn’t choose music; music chose you. So now you have a choice: you either say ‘yes’ to it and be a musician, or you say ‘no,’ do something ‘safe,’ and be a frustrated musician. But either way, you’re a musician. That part’s not up to you. Dig?”

I wish I could say that, shortly after Mike’s words of wisdom, a “big break” descended from on high and made me a Cinderella story. Ha. I’ve sung countless weddings, worked at a restaurant, taught private voice lessons, and given my heart and soul to gigs that paid nothing. None of this is likely to change any time soon. What has changed is my definition of “making it.” “Making it,” for me, means spending the majority of my time engaged in the pursuit of truthful, authentic creative expression rather than trapped in a cubicle, watching the clock.

bad-economy

People have remarked over the years that I would do well to have something to “fall back on,” something more “secure,” and then I could do music in my “spare time.” Safety. Security. Such comforting ideas. Yet when the economy collapsed, IRAs dwindled and jobs disappeared.  Many of the traditional markers of success and security vanished.  People who spent years pursuing the comforts of a “safe” job and “secure” retirement had their lives turned upside down.

The truth is, safety is an illusion. There is no such thing as security, nor is there any such thing as “spare time.” All we’ve got is this day, this moment, this inhale. And all of those things are on loan. So why not, as Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss”? What’s your true calling?

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17 thoughts on “True Calling

  1. wonderful

    keep this up and demand for your blog will be such that you have to give up music and spend all day writing in a cubical.

      • HA! Thank you so much, Eric. The thing is, and this may be a topic for another post, but I believe that anybody, in any job, in any field, has the capacity for great joy and creativity. We’re just brought up to believe that our “jobs” and our “lives” are separate entities. In fact, they’re one in the same. My accountant is a CPA with a PhD in German theatre. He’s fascinating and hilarious; he brings his theatrical curiosity to his job at the accounting firm and his clients love him. At least, I do. Food for thought…thank you so much for reading!

  2. Thank you for the refreshing and reaffirming words on a committment to living a passionate life. My ‘art’ is physical conditioning and my lifestyle reflects my ideals of incorporating play and beauty into my training. I have never ‘made it big’ I am not the most business savvy person…but on a daily basis it has been reflected back to me that I ‘have the life’. The standards of ‘accomplishment’ have become less material to me as the benefits of my experience have become apparent. It is expressed through the vitality and youthful vigor I feel I have maitained as I move into my 40s. In the end the only thing that I feel I can truly hold onto are the experiences I have had and the skills I have developed. Everything else is highly transient; people places and things.
    I hope you continue to pursue your passion. You will continue to grow as a dynamic vital human with something more to contribute to this world than ‘security’ and congestion.
    Cheers
    Travis

    • Travis, nice to meet you. Thank you so much for these thoughtful words. I totally agree with you: our love, our experiences, and our life lessons are the only things we can really keep in this life. The rest is just “stuff.” Thanks so much for reading!

  3. Hi Hilary..Great blog..I plan on checking in on it frequently. There is a wonderful quote that is attributed to Goethe that goes “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” It seems that you are on you are passionately on your path. Best to you! Jill

  4. Hilary, I just love your singing, that’s all. I love your voice, the very sound of your voice. I loved it from the first phrase that Jim Clouse played for me in his studio. I really can’t believe that you haven’t found MAJOR success by now, but I’m SO glad that you continue to keep your inner balance and “follow your bliss” despite the endless challenges that a creative musical life present. I’m also very happy that you alerted your myspace friends (me included) to the existence of your blog. I have to say I always wondered what you think about, what you’re into beyond the obvious. Hilary: all the best to you! Steve Lampert

  5. wow, so many awesome comments! i just wanted to throw in my props too. i so connected with what you said. as someone once said “nobody said art was easy”.

    i even referenced you on my latest post!

    have a great weekend… oh, and your salad sounds delicious! i’m totally making it.

    xo,
    brooke

  6. Thanks Hilary. I really needed this boost today. I’ve been feeling really out of sorts lately. I’ll even go as far to say a little depressed. I have so many goals and aspirations in mind but all that comes to the foreground is lack. It’s not a place I like to be. Your post has definately eliviated some of that so thank you. Thank you for reminding me that life is perfect the way it is and everything else is an illusion. Today is what I make of it regardless of where or who I am.

    “It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on memory alone…but to bring the past for judgement into thousand-eyed present, and live ever in the light of a new day.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

    • What a beautiful Emerson quote! I’ve never heard that one before! I am reminded of a quote whose author escapes me: The beginning is always today.

      You have a tremendous amount to give–never forget that! Head high, onward and upward. xo

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