The self-doubt is settling in.
This is not a pity piece. I’m not sharing this to invite waves of well-wishing from all my friends back in Bloomington. I just need to dwell a little bit on the challenges of entering a new job market.
I have no idea what I’m doing here. The possibilities seem endless, which is more overwhelming than exciting. I expected it to be hard knowing where to start, so that hasn’t come as much of a surprise. But the sheer volume of what Boston and its surrounding area have to offer, and what it demands, has thrown me a bit off center.
How do I present myself? I’m a pianist. I also consider myself a writer. More often than not, I’ve been a music-director. But I’ve also been a stage director, a producer, and — randomly enough — a follow-spot operator. I’ve been a performer and an educator, an office assistant and a non-profit administrator, a barista and a babysitter.
I’ve done all these things in a small town in the Midwest for more than a decade — and I now have to translate them, somehow, into a coherent narrative that makes me an attractive hire for the multitude of arts organizations that exist in the greater Boston area.
I’ll get right to the most significant part of the problem: I sincerely believe, at some level, that I’m just faking it.
I was a failed piano major. Yes, I was good enough to get into the IU School of Music (it was not “the Jacobs” in those days), but that did not guarantee I deserved to stay there. Which I did not. I was never going to devote myself to the many hours of daily, solitary practice necessary to master the repertoire expected of a successful student of piano performance. And this became clear to my professor fairly quickly. Why he kept me in his studio for as long as he did I’ll never quite know (I do know, actually… he thought I was “charming”, but I really can’t get into that right now…), but eventually, midway through my junior year, he said to me words I’d been dreading, but expecting nonetheless, for some time: “Eric, I don’t think you should be a piano major anymore.”
He was right, of course. My heart, and mind, were simply not in it. My gaze, in the romantic parlance, had wandered. I had allowed myself to be drawn into the exciting, seductive world of… theatre.
I know exactly when it happened, too. As I’ve written before, I’d wanted to get involved in theatre for years, but I didn’t quite know how. I wasn’t that strong of a singer, I definitely couldn’t dance, and the prospect of acting continues to terrify me to this day. So performing onstage didn’t really seem like an option, even thought it was the only one I could think of. Then, one weekend early in my freshman year at IU, I attended a student production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and spent most of the evening watching the conductor. I still remember thinking, halfway through the overture, “That. That’s what I can do. I can be a music-director.”
Since “music-direction” isn’t exactly a degree program, I had to lay out a roadmap for myself that I believed would help me acquire the repertoire of skills I would need. Conducting classes, of course. Lots of accompanying in the voice department. And, most valuable, observing other music-directors in action. Which is why I enthusiastically jumped into the pit orchestra sophomore year for a local theatre’s Into the Woods, followed quickly by another pit gig for a student production of Chess. There was more accompanying, a stint as assistant music-director for Guys & Dolls, and, finally, spring of my junior year I was asked to music-direct my first show.
It is not a coincidence that my piano performance degree reached its lowest point just as I was achieving my long sought-after theatrical goal. Moving on…
The fact was, in spite of my steady progress towards becoming a music-director, once in that position I still felt I had no idea what I was doing. It actually took a lot of cajoling to get me to take it (The Rocky Horror Show) because I didn’t really feel ready to take on a show of my own. I’m enormously grateful I faced down that fear and plowed ahead (there’s a lesson to be learned there, I know), but I was, for much of the time, completely faking it.
And that pattern has only repeated itself time and time again, as I’ve been placed in charge of a group of children who are supposed to write their own musical… or had to compose a new score for an upcoming play… or suddenly left with primary-caregiving responsibilities for an elderly conductor…
I almost never felt like I had any business doing it. But I said yes, and so I just moved forward with a smile and learned what I needed to along the way. Which is why I can navigate the inner workings of Medicare and choreograph the closing number of Grease.
But how to convey all that in a standard resume/cover letter combo?
All I’m left with at the end of the day is a fundamental love of music, and a desire to share it with other people. I keep telling myself that as long as I have that, then I can learn whatever else I need.
But what if I’m wrong?