Inner Struggles of Being an Artist


It seems so long ago and just yesterday- Oct. 1, 2012. I hopped off the Amtrak train at Penn Station with 4 duffel bags, a clarinet, and a laptop. I opened the heavy glass doors into the flood of the city, the blaring sirens, scurrying people, and haze of lights. All at once, I knew I was home.

Up until that moment, I had been a Montana girl, raised on the prairie, in a small town-population of 2,000 people. Music led me interview for a sales position at the New York Philharmonic, which I was hired for, but turned down for the sake of jazz. I worked for almost 2.5 yrs as a waitress and busser at the Jazz Standard, where I saw countless acts and then found my way to teaching clarinet, voice, and piano lessons at Larchmont Music Academy, and then finally to the legendary Village Vanguard (as a waitress not an act haha).

As an artist. It is very easy to get swept away with the fear that you are doing something wrong, that you are not good enough, that you will never make it, that you will never be able to pay rent with your craft. It is a crippling kind of fear. This state of mind calls on your whole being to listen to your heart over your head, which is extremely difficult over the tumultous noise of naysayers.

I never thought that I would leave the vein of jazz, petrified by a world outside of the music and musicians that I had grown to love and admire in New York's jazz scene. I found myself in constant flux, floating from one instrument to the next, certain that the next would surely be my "true" calling. I abondoned singing and music altogether for a short period, to try my hand at artwork. I created a jazz artist series during Hurricane Sandy-my week off from any kind of pressing employment. But, music found its way back into my life with the startling realization that I could never be myself or happy without it.

I spent some time at home recently and returned with a stomach full of uneasiness. I had always left NYC only to return with great hope and rejuvenation to this horrible beautiful brute of a city. I feared that I was possibly not meant to be here. Perhaps my time had come to retire the reality of living out a dream? Perhaps I was meant for something that did not require me to be larger than my solitary self? Perhaps I should go back to where I came from and never look back! I struggled with this fear for a solid week-parrying the blows of defeat with flickers of desire to perform, to achieve. "You're being selfish!" my mind would hiss. "You have lost your vision. You have nothing to say!" It's hard not to listen.

As luck would have it, I am blessed with amazing friends and mentors. I took the B train to Brooklyn to have my weekly voice lesson. I was a few minutes early, much to my surprise! I ended up walking in on the last few moments of a young man's lesson. He was visibly nervous about my presence, shifting his weight in his chair. I waited to hear him with curiousity. I busied myself averting my gaze in the small room with my beloved teacher and the old brown piano.

"Again" my teacher said, singing the example first. The young man sang weakly and faltered and fumbled. I had been here before! I was HERE NOW!!!! I could hear the struggle in his voice and in his mind as he fought the self conscious thoughts that I'm sure prickled the edges of his brain. I heard him reach for the notes only to slump down around the ankles of the sound. I felt it. I knew this life, this fight, relinquishing to fear. Then my teacher said something that blew my mind and summed up the very battle that I had besieged me this week. He said, 'You must put intent behind those notes! You must tell them to come out and to intend for them to do just that! If you don't, they won't happen."

In that moment, I realized that the reason I had been anxious about returning to the city was because of my reluctance to fully commit and to live out my artist's life with the full "intent" to make it, to succeed, to be happy, to perform, to make people feel something, to free my heart, to allow for the unknown! I was afraid, because this meant I had to fight on my own, to take charge of my own career- a path that feels lonely and daunting a lot of the time. I had to step into myself and "intend" to follow my heart and my voice, without the promise of anything but an amazing journey. I learned an essential lesson from a young man that was trying to find his voice. I was reminded of the struggle, and I "intend" to see the fight through to the end.

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