One of the most talented singers I’ve ever met is my sister, Kayla. For those of you that don’t know her, Kayla is a graphic designer by day and a kick-ass spiritual medium by night – or evening – or whenever her busy schedule allows. She is a dedicated mother and she is also an amazing singer.
Kayla and I chose different paths in our twenties. I chose to pursue a musical education and Kayla chose to pursue a degree with more practical applications: professional and technical communications. Neither path was right or wrong. Neither path more right than the other. Each path individual and personal to who we are.
We were buddies in singing. If you lived in Southwest Montana and followed Class C sports at all between 2007-2009 (I’m speaking to all 50 of you) you likely heard Kayla and I sing the national anthem at sporting events as a harmonized duet. In high school, we sang in every solo and ensemble festival and rocked out at our high school’s spring rock concert every year. (Kayla has an amazing rock scream that rivals Sir Paul’s in the Beatles, Hey Jude.)
So why does all of this matter?
Like many people I know who didn’t formally pursue music in collegiate study – Kayla, the amazing singer – has often asked me over the years, (often indirectly, through shy questions or shy excitement) if she’s a real musician. If her passion is valid with minimal formal training and an audience that’s mainly her kids, dog, cat and husband.
“Can I still be considered a musician if I didn’t get a degree in it? Is it weird to take voice lessons in my position? Can I still think of myself as an artist if I don’t sing for anyone?”
Maybe you are like my sister Kayla, or maybe you are an amazing guitar player. maybe you are just learning an instrument or maybe you are nervously eyeing one wishing you played it more. Whatever season of life that you are in, whether you are new to music, have a curiosity for it, or just love to belt out Beyoncé in the shower – you are a musician and you don’t need validation from anyone to think so.
(But if you need it, consider this article your formal validation. *Ding* – you are a musician.)
Louder, for the people in the back, “YOU TOO ARE A MUSICIAN.”
I hope you enjoy the otherworldly excitement that comes with playing music. I hope it brings you immense joy and I hope you never let that joy leave you. I hope it allows you to release your grief and tackle your inner demons in the magical way only music knows how. I hope your playlists help you process your emotions, bring you joy, make you angry, have you screaming and singing and dancing along with every word in your living room while your dogs and plants wonder what the hell is happening to you.
I hope you that you pursue it in the way that you can. Taking voice lessons in your 50’s (shoutout to my mom!) picking up the guitar in your later adult years (shoutout to my friend Crystal!) or picking it up as a 17 year old, learning the banjo because it looks like fun, or “finally” taking those piano lessons you’ve been dreaming of since you heard Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
It doesn’t take a music degree to be a good musician.
Good musicians learn from vibing with good teachers. Whether that be with your neighbor teaching you guitar or a prestigious musical professional. Good music learn by developing their craft in the way that adds depth, beauty, ease and fluidity to their music. By defining their boundaries and breaking them. By spreading joy and love and passion into every note they play.
Whether that’s punk, screamo, Jazz, hip-hop, opera, rock or whatever floats your musical boat – I hope you go forth with validation and joy and passion and pride and play your music for us. Knowing that we are all welcome to express ourselves through the safety of music – and we are all worthy of the magic of “getting lost in the music” as we listen or play.
No $45,000-or-more piece-of-shiny-printed-paper-signifying-you-were-privileged-and-stubborn-enough-to-jump-through-the-bureaucratic-hoops required.
As a special note to musicians that dropped out of their music degree to take care of themselves or pursue something more suited to their mission in life- I hope you can repair the wounds (if any) that took you out of the program and play for us (or your cats). We love and need your music too.