A Letter To The Parents of Artists
Firstly, thank you. Thank you very much.
Secondly, please - enough with the ‘When are you going to get a real job?’ question.
There are so many reasons why one becomes an artist, and few are financially motivated. For non-musicians (or musician sympathisers), the life decision to undertake a career path so fraught with failure and unsurety is a puzzling one. Why would anyone want to spend decades of their life chasing an obscure dream that comes with no promises - except that it’s going to be a really hard slog?
These are the questions my parents struggle with. Both are from the Baby Boomer generation, built on the primary ideals of personal independence and freedom, hard work, and building a life for yourself in the American/Australian/British dream mould. By developing a career, one had the ability to make decisions, not be hostage to a benefits system, and most importantly, the safety of knowing that you and your children would be secure well into retirement. My parents followed this line successfully - they worked hard, and gave me every opportunity to follow my passion, by providing a good education, a loving family environment, and plenty of encouragement to always aim high.
Unfortunately for them perhaps, my passion turned out to be classical music performance.
And so, with the security and confidence they imbued in me, I embarked on this unsure career path. Whilst I cannot and will not be apologetic about being middle-class, male, and almost-white, without doubt this privilege has allowed me to follow this path with the utmost tenacity, knowing that at the end of the day, if all the hard work didn’t bear fruits, I would have the grounding and support to restart or redirect. There is no other description for this scenario than lucky circumstance; and being grateful and not taking this entitlement for granted is really the only appropriate response.
For non-artist parents of musicians, there still seems a chronic disconnect when it comes to the ideals of their generation in comparison with ours. As the irritating and naive-idealist character Todd Hayes puts it in the 2007 Robert Redford film, Lions for Lambs:
“… My parents, they’re always harping on about how they want to give me a better life than they ever had, and then they resent the shit out of me ‘cause I got the nerve to enjoy it.”
To the parents who worked and sacrificed for decades, in order to provide the security never gifted to you: what was it all for? It seems from conversations that it was to empower your offspring with all the tools to develop that same security, but with a massive head start - to make sure that their struggle would not be as arduous as it was for you. And this is truly such an incredible gift.
But I was in conversation with an aunt recently. Her entire life was devoted to my nephew (an only child). She stopped working for several years, instead overseeing his education, driving him to every possible extra-curricular activity, paying for extra tuition and the best schools, in order to give him the best opportunity to get into a college of his choosing. And he did! He subsequently went straight into the job force, and at quite an early age rose swiftly up the ranks in his company (something engineering/automation, I dunno), and by all accounts, is on that direct path to success. But when I asked my Aunt how John was doing? Her succinct response: “He’s super stressed. Always working.”
So I ask you: the lifestyle you provided us, was it only to create the next generation of stressed workers, who work and sacrifice for their children in order to allow them the best possible chance of success, who then complete the same circle by doing it all again? Or was it not to facilitate your children in the pursuit of passion that wasn’t necessarily afforded to you?
You might not understand what we do, and we definitely don’t make enough effort to understand the level of sacrifice you endured to enable us to make this decision. It is impossible to convey to non-musicians why we would sacrifice security for something ‘bigger’; the two lifestyles are completely incongruous. To the parents, I would implore you simply to trust us: not only did the security and education you provided us give the platform to pursue this career; for the most part, it also made us smart enough to make this choice - and also know where the line of capitulation is.
It might not be ideal, but you’ve allowed your children to pursue something they really cherish. And yes we’re stressed also, yes we’re quite often broke, but we are fulfilled in the pursuit. And if there’s a great debate between security and fulfilment, is the second option not the greatest possible reward for the efforts you expended?
Most of all, going back to the first point: thank you for everything. And sorry your Christmas presents will probably be yet another of our recordings.