blue collar meets ivory tower

I have mentioned that I DVR Doctor Who.  I’m sure I will find a way to write about the Doctor someday, but I have not yet been inspired with some brilliant connection between science fiction and conducting.  The other shows I DVR include So You Think You Can Dance, which will be making an appearance on Multiple Intelligence Monday; and, today, Dirty Jobs.

In case you live under a rock, I’ll explain that Dirty Jobs is an unscripted show in which the host, Mike Rowe, visits people at work and does their jobs with them.  “Dirty,” according to Mike’s definition, often involves actual dirt, but can also include difficult working conditions such as heights and/or small spaces, bad smells, hot or cold temperatures, dangerous equipment, uncomfortable protective gear, and plain old difficulty.  It’s very entertaining, 95% because of Mike.

I like Mike for several reasons, not the least of which is that he’s a classically trained singer.  He got into hosting Dirty Jobs after doing the voice-over narration of Deadliest Catch, the Alaskan crabbing show.  He’s also a person who can get along with anyone because he sees and values people’s humanity.  That makes him charming, funny, and engaging.

Tonight was the season premier.  It could have been just a clip show re-visiting previous jobs, but instead it was a clip show that interpreted previous jobs, including some new footage.  Mike used the work he has done to mock the poster platitudes about teamwork, efficiency, innovation, etc.  As each segment listed one of his snarky interpretations, I kept thinking, “that’s true for conducting, too!”  And he kept saying, “I know someone is at home at this very moment writing a letter to the network to complain…” and he’s probably right.  So I’m going to write a letter to not complain.

Dear Discovery,
I’m a lucky woman.  I love what I do–no, even better than that, my work is not what I do, it’s who I am.  I am a conductor.  My work is neither dangerous nor even uncomfortable.  It’s bliss to be able to do something I love and Dirty Jobs is a show that reminds me to be grateful for that even when it’s not ideal.  It also reinforces what I have posted before about my sense of responsibility to humanity, to use my work to make people’s lives better.  I want my work not just to be an indulgence for me to enjoy, but to produce something of value to others.  My rehearsals should be fulfilling to my performers, and the performance should lift the spirits of the audience members.  In the meantime, though, I do also enjoy it.

I don’t think Mike is dissing white collar America.  As someone with far more education than the Average American, I can represent white collar America–heck, white tie America–and say, “I get it and I agree!”

Even more, Mike’s re-invented poster platitudes and relate directly to conducting.

Don’t follow your passion.  Take it with you.
I have followed my passion.  But I don’t get to stand in front of a choir every day, and I don’t get to conduct the way I want every day.  I have to apply my love for conducting to all the work of being a conductor, which includes some tedious, boring, annoying crap.

Also, being a professional artist has meant being unemployed.  After I got a master’s degree in conducting, I couldn’t find work for nine months, and even then all I had was about about fifteen hours a week of work in music.  Not being independently wealthy and wanting to eat more than rice and beans, I got a job at a jewelry store.  Zales.  I ended up quitting eighteen months later because I learned that Zale Corp., based in Texas, refused to provide health benefits to legally married same-sex spouses; but, when I started, I was lucky to find a store where the manager was smart, reasonable, and competent to a level that was far above the average I had experienced.  I’ve worked with people in the top of their field who were jerks and thoughtless boneheads–the movie Office Space is funny for a reason, you know?  The other sales people, also, were fabulous, and we’re still friends to this day.

I learned that being my intense, verbal, brainy self was an effective sales technique.  And other sales people being themselves–funny, personable, warm, professional, whatever–was just as effective.  Customers responded to authenticity, to honesty, the passion of an individual to be her best self.  I discovered that I could bring my passion even to this job that had nothing to do with my field of expertise.

Beware of experts.

Conductors are expert musicians.  But they are musical generalists.  Conducting, I will dare to say, demands a wider knowledge base and more varied skill set than any other musical job.  Theory and analysis, history, pedagogy, leadership and all that goes into that, the physical skills of making intelligible gesture, etc.  Within the realm of music, we have to know a little bit about a whole lot. 
Work smart AND hard.

There are no shortcuts.  The better prepared you are for a rehearsal, the smarter you can run it.  But that preparation is just plain old work.  Read, analyse, interpret.  You have to have, as Dr. Renshaw described it, “the integrity to sit down and do it.”

Teamwork is overrated.
A conductor spends a lot of time alone.  Most of our work is done at a desk, table, or piano with a score and a pencil.  For every hour of rehearsal, conductors spend even more time preparing.  But, of course, our preparation allows us to rehearse efficiently.

Efficiency is for robots.
And for all my planning, no rehearsal ever goes like I plan.  Because I work with people.  I work with art.  It has to be flexible, it has to respond to the moment, and it has to have time and space to allow for spontaneity and breath.  To do it right, I can’t always do it quickly.

Imitation is hot.
I should hope so.  My work depends on people seeing what I do and doing it themselves.
Stay in school, but not too long.
Oh, Mike, I wish!  I spent four years in undergrad, one and a half in my master’s program, and the doctorate will add another four or possibly five.  Luckily, I love learning and I’m good at school–my affinity for rules serves me well in that regard.  But I am looking forward to being done!
So, thanks for Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs.  
With a special shout-out to the Zales ladies, 
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One Response to blue collar meets ivory tower

  1. Pingback: most-watched high school choir sings about the sexual objectification and *this* is the controversy?!?!?! | Thoughtful Gestures

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