Phil forwards me a letter from someone who thinks he would like to be a musicologist, and who desires guidance along this rocky road. Do I want to take a crack at this? Sure. For protection of those intimately involved, I will not mention any names. Here’s the other thing: I apologize if I repeat sentiments offered in previous blog posts, and (contrariwise) I warn you in advance that I’m not going to be offering a bland YOU CAN DO IT message. So:
You write as a dissatisfied 27-year-old, interested in musicology, who (initially) was not accepted for a music degree at Canadian Maritime University I and so opted to attend Canadian Maritime University II in music. Although you subsequently decided you should have been more persistent at CMU I, you enjoyed your time at CMU II very much, and subsequently finished an English degree back at CMU I. You are now working on a Music and Culture minor there at CMU I, which you also enjoy, and you tell me that you’ve gotten above 70 in all courses for the minor. You feel directionless, though; friends tell you to get a government job or something that would use your English degree, but you want to do music somehow somewhen. Can we help? What about music librarianship, and do we know any good Canadian universities for that?
What is clear, here, is that you are a young man with regrets. You left to attend CMU II but should have stuck with, you say, CMU I. You are not happy with the advice you have gotten from friends—telling you to get a job for which an English major might be qualified, or get a government job. You inform us that your—ah—love life it not what you’d like it to be. (However much this is on your mind, you should never volunteer information like this.) You’re feeling time’s relentless march, but still cling to musical aspirations—you’ve played bass in lots of bands, etc. And, ultimately, you say: “I am not getting any younger, and without pursuing my dreams, I have found that life isn’t much worth living!” Maybe Music Librarianship, you think, as a middleground between music and writing. Well, yes, maybe, but what do we know? And when you mention the musical accomplishments—playing in bands, good grades, etc., a Yank like me really has no frame of reference. I don’t know what “above 70” means (I’m assuming it doesn’t just mean better than 70%, because that’s not all that wonderful).
Now look. It seems me that you have received lots of advice you that you feel has not been helpful, and that you have not been satisfied with a lot of things that have happened thus far. If I may be so bold: given this impression, who would venture to give you any advice at all, now? As far as I can tell, you’ve been a student most or all of your life. Nothing wrong with that, but…sorry, I can’t help but ask: has the government been paying for this? Even a pro-education liberal such as myself cocks an eyebrow at a government this generous.
Musicology is something that makes me very happy, as does my job in particular, so I can certainly understand why that would be enviable. You are 27, have peregrinated from University to University, and are clearly (to paraphrase Shakespeare) out of mirth with yourself. I don’t know what to tell you about musicology, or music librarianship—the best music librarians command several languages, and I don’t know if you do or not—but it is a fact that if someone gives you advice, and you follow it and it doesn’t lead you to happiness, that becomes another entry on your growing list of regrets. One thing I am certain about, from your letter, is that it is time to change that pattern. It seems likely that another course—with its structure of Authorities and Learners, and Assigned-Tasks, Completion-of-Tasks, and Evaluation-Thereof—is (ultimately) well-charted territory, beginning to end, and won’t solve your problem.
My recommendation is to get out in the world—find some kind of job, keep your musical interests up on the side, work steadily on your writing skills and musical knowledge. What you need right now is to dig deep into your own independence, initiative, ambition, and drive, NOT yet another program. Perhaps there is a part-time gig available writing program notes, CD reviews for a website, whatever—these are credible things to do when you’re not working. You mention that you are not getting any younger, and that is true (who is, after all?), but it’s time for some experience Out There, now. Getting out of the Canadian government-supported education pipeline might, paradoxically, open some doors you are not habituated to looking for, and it might afford you some new tools to use in making yourself happy.
But no, I won’t give any advice about you and musicology, you and music librarianship, you and this or that Canadian university. It’s down to you, now, whatever choices you want to make, and you might just take a deep breath and make this decision on your own, and then go all out to make it the right one. Rear up on your hind legs and get something going. For decades, the people who have become successful are those who have forced it, with weirdly checkered backgrounds, atypical skills, and (above all) prevailing diehardism, as I called it years ago. Somehow, we squeezed through a crack, or forced out way in. If you want to get anywhere even remotely associated with music, you need to adopt this mindset and stop asking for guidance. What is more, prepare yourself for failures, reverses, and disappointments—if you can’t deal with those, music is not a good place for you. (I’m not saying you have to like failure; just withstand it and learn from it.)
Other choices tend to fall into place and make more sense when viewed from a perspective of motion and activity as opposed to stasis.
Thus endeth the sermon.