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Ideas on Learning

The Pursuit of Financial and Musical Wealth

I became an adult during the 80’s, when the our nation’s pursuit of happiness was conflated with the the pursuit of wealth.

After growing up immersed in a musical world, I went off to college to study economics (University of North Carolina -- go Tarheels!). So, it is not surprising that I look for connections between the 2 worlds.

Gordon Gecko of 'Wall Street'

In my first job out of college at GE Capital, one of my co-workers could have been a spokesperson for many college graduates of that time when she told me, without a hint of embarrassment, “I have one goal. I want to be rich.” Though I had similar longings, I didn't have the same level of clarity she had about this ambition.

In my childhood, financial wealth was not the goal, but musical wealth was. That is, my peers and I were studying to be in the top violinists in our cohort. More than one peer declared their equivalent a goal to 'be rich' that usually involved having a great career playing violin as soloist or in a chamber group or symphony.

Joshua Bell (a musical .01%'er)

The chances of any violin student succeeding in that goal is quite slim. They are so unique, you could call them the .01% 'ers.

As it turns out, there are 2 strong similarities between both financial and musical wealth.

A shrinking percentage of people hold a growing percentage of the wealth.

Financially, 1% of the US population has 40% of the total wealth. (This metric and the direction it moves should concern anyone who wants to see a functioning society 50 years from now.)

Musically, the musicians that play professionally in the our symphonies may be the finest musicians to ever play. They have skills that, on whole, are superior to the players of previous generations. That's the good news.

The bad news is that, more often than not, students who aren't interested in playing professionally or were not able to succeed in the professional world are not learning the skills or having experiences that make them want to continue playing as recreational players in adulthood.

If musical wealth is the ability to play music with others at all stages in life, fewer and fewer people have the lion's share of that wealth.

There is weak correlation between happiness and wealth.

Money makes a big difference when you are poor. But the improvement to our overall happiness level quickly diminish after basic needs are met.

I see this same relationship in music. As a person moves from no musical skill to playing music with others, their happiness level — as it relates to music — increases a great deal.

As their skill set gets higher and higher, the marginal increases in happiness diminish. In fact, the burdens that highly skilled players feel often diminish their happiness.

Music is a discretionary activity in life. Important, yes. But discretionary. It's function, in my eyes, is to simply make life more enjoyable.

As a teacher, I want my students to develop a relationship to music where their musical success is measured by their ability to express themselves through music, the interesting experiences they have in music and the meaningful connections they make with others along the way.

In my own personal pursuit, that is where I found happiness.


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