Her first few softly spoken words did not foreshadow the force that is Dana Fonteneau. She filled up the stage pacing left and right, her hand gestures were bold, her stories were wild and she wasn’t afraid to laugh at her own humor. Small, red-headed and spunky, Fonteneau captivated me with her presentation on the whole-hearted career. Judging based on the comments, questions, and enthusiastic head nods in the audience, I was not the only one captivated.
Her presentation was well timed and tailored to the predicament my peers and I find ourselves in. Students tend to either think a career in music is impossible, so don’t actively work on it, or they think something will fall into their lap as they graduate, so they also don’t actively work on it. The problem, as Fonteneau pointed out in her presentation, is in our concept of what a career is. Many of us think of careers as destinations, as places to arrive. But according to Fonteneau a career is instead defined as a “series of decisions you make to do what you love and get paid a fair exchange for it.”
If this is the case, if a career is the process of decision making itself, then most of us are at least ten years down the paths of our careers already. Where was the decision to begin playing an instrument? Is there a decision every day to pick up the instrument to practice? When did the choice to participate in orchestras, festivals and masterclasses happen? Who chose who to study with who? Why is chamber music on the schedule this semester? All of these decisions, from the significant to the insignificant, indicate the paths already being walked within a career.
I feel very fortunate to have identified and be doing the work that I am most passionate about. Teaching private students the fundamentals of violin skills and preparing them for a future with violin brings so much joy to my life. Dana Fonteneau asked us to consider the signs our bodies provide for happiness with our actions. If we are lethargic, have stomach pain, trouble sleeping, no motivation, experience social conflict, and self medicate we probably aren’t doing what we love. On the other hand, if we get glimpses of nervousness, increased heart rate, excitement, great friendships, vibrant memories, and it-just-feels-right-ness then we are on the path toward what inspires us. Our careers are far more complicated than that. Sometimes we will have to do what we don’t enjoy in order to ultimately do what we love, but Fonteneau tells us to listen with a sensitivity to the clues we often ignore.
Every day that I teach is a day that I smile. I want to be the best teacher I can be for my students by mastering the art of sequencing, communication, and my own skills on the violin. I already know that I love the daily work of violin practice, planning lessons, communicating with parents, instructing, and reflecting on all of this work in order to get better at it. I spend my extra extra hours teaching private lessons and at String Project early on Saturday mornings. My version of pleasure reading is Dr. Suzuki’s Nurtured by Love and Edmund Sprunger’s Helping Parents Practice. I walk out of Dr. Duke’s class on the tips of my toes, inspired, mind reeling considering all of the ways to implement what I’ve learned. I use my commute time on foot to think through my bow hold, vibrato, and scale sequences. My physical, emotional, social, and intellectual well being is fed by the work I do in teaching. If I find myself stuck, or eventually experience negative clues in my body, then I will course correct, as Dana Fonteneau recommends. But right now, in this moment at The University of Texas in Austin in the Fall of 2016, I know that I’m already pursuing the work that I love to do.
The fear that I have moving forward is that I am not taking the optimal route to doing what I love. With the clarity of my inspired vision, knowing that I want to guide my students to a deep understanding of their capabilities, I want to make sure that at every step along the way I am making the career decisions that keep me on the track of doing what I love. I am teaching already because it is what I love to do. But should I instead use the majority of my time to continue studying the violin myself? Should I use the rest of this season of my life to devote myself to excellence in chamber, orchestral, and solo playing? Or should I go the opposite route? Do I have enough of an understanding of the violin to be a model for my young students and should now take a deep, deep dive into the world of teaching? The only certainty I have right now is that I can’t be certain of the best route as I attempt to navigate it.
The best I can do is to continue listening sensitively to what my body tells me, to seek mentorship and accountability on my journey, and to keep my eyes fixed on the inspired vision that brings me joy.