There was a while there, back in high school, when I could’ve been a musician. A legit career musician. I played the flute, and — excuse me while I spew out this toxic brag — I was really good. I actually won an award one year for getting the highest mark in Canada on my grade… 5, maybe? 6? — playing exam.
I don’t know why I didn’t choose to take music in university. The thought of auditioning didn’t even cross my mind, even as I had friends go through the ordeal at the same time as I was applying for a cushy English department placement at various unis. Music was just never the thing I was going to do. I wasn’t persuaded or dissuaded by my parents; we didn’t even really discuss it, but I know they they would have been supportive if it’s what I had wanted to do. I really can’t figure out why I didn’t do music in school.
It’s a decision I think about every once in a while because, in hindsight, it seems like a major decision. At the time it wasn’t even a decision to be made, a total non-decision, but with the benefit of time and space and a tinge of regret, it seems like a huge decision. Of course, I find myself playing the ‘what if’ game. Sometimes when I see young people playing music, I get very jealous and a little sad. I I feel like Marlon Brando sometimes, ready to scream “I coulda been somebody, I coulda been a conductor!”
Playing ‘what if’ is hard because, beyond getting in to university, I don’t know what I would have done with music. Would I have met the right people at the right time and in the right place and have had a wonderful orchestral career? Or would I have rotted away in London (the one in Ontario; I would be happy to rot away in England) as a mildly talented nobody who filled in for better flutists because of last minute emergencies? Would I have abandoned playing for teaching high school students?
I search for reasons I didn’t ever really consider music as a life path. I hated theory, so maybe that was it. I wanted to study literature, too, so maybe English just seemed more practical. But if I’m being honest, I know that that dark, haunting spectre money. I remember thinking, the few times someone did mention music in university, that there’s not much money in music, so why bother?
But after all these years “why bother?” seems like the most ignorant thing that has ever crossed my mind. (It’s not.) Why bother? Why not bother?! Even after all this time, I love music. I love classical and baroque and modern and romantic — oh my god, how much I love the Russian romantics — and I even begrudgingly love Schonberg at his most atonal. (The first time I heard an excerpt from Pierrot Lunaire — it was “Der Mondfleck” — I thought it was a hoax.) There is nothing on earth more miraculous than the sound of an orchestra. How could I have given that up for poetry and post-structuralism? It seems crazy. Until I consider the alternative, giving up English or international affairs. An impossible choice.
I’m not so good at the flute anymore. I got braces in university and stopped playing every day and I didn’t even bring my flute to France with me. But I miss it. I suppose it’s not too late to restart lessons and commit myself a little bit more. Maybe when I get back to Ottawa. I’d like that.