September 8, 2015
As I walked in to work this morning, one of the members of the church I work for greeted me with the word, “troubadour.” I thought it was amazingly intuitive of him to spontaneously respond to the subject matter of my mental process this morning by thoughtlessly throwing out a label for me that I have worked so hard all my of life NOT to represent. Troubadour. It conjures up images of a strangely dressed, carefree musical vagabond with instrument, roaming from town to town with no home and no visible means of support other than the capacity to sing for supper. I’m quite sure he meant no disrespect, and although sticks and stone will break my bones but words will never hurt me, words do tend to be very sticky, and though they may not hurt, they can be extremely difficult to wash off.
Another one of those sticky words is “diva,” again, one that I have struggled with over the years as a performing singer and guitarist. The self-centered, emotionally rocky, tempestuous, gotta-have-it-my-way-female-who-must-be-obeyed image somehow just didn’t fit either, mainly because I could never get anybody to treat me that way.
So now that we have dealt with the extremes, what’s left?
Both of my parents were performing musicians and music teachers. Like troubadour and diva, they loved the music that they played and worked hard to be able to share it, professionally polished, with others. Unlike the troubadour, they kept a home, and traveled very little beyond the local community to perform, and unlike the diva, they gladly worked with and were subject to others, an entire orchestra in fact, to make beautiful music happen together. I grew up in that environment where people made beautiful music together.
For me, coming of age in the 1960’s, I think I spent most of my life vacillating between the images of troubadour and diva. I never was quite comfortable with the whole “on the road” thing, and as I said, I never was quite being able to get other people to treat me like the diva that I thought I ought to be. What I continually found myself doing however, in spite of these sticky labels, was acting like your basic run of the mill working musician who stays in one place and mostly makes music for the community that I live in. But because of those “sticky labels,” one that I am constantly running from and one that I secretly wish I could achieve, and never being successful at either, it has been easy to overlook the lessons that my parents, as working musicians, taught me over all of those years.
They taught me that the teaching, writing, arranging or performing of music is not to be taken for granted, though it may certainly be given as a free gift.
They taught me that a working musician, like any other professional, needs a hospitable environment, reasonable wages, an appropriate venue for presentation of work, and peers to work with.
They taught me that home is where music comes from, whether it’s on the radio, or we produce it ourselves, we need, above all, a stable and loving home to be able to make music.
So the next time someone accuses me of being a diva or a troubadour, they might be partially right, and they will be partially wrong, because what I really am is just a working musician, just like Mom and Dad.