I became an adult during the 80’s, when the our nation’s pursuit of happiness was conflated with the the pursuit of wealth. In my first job out of college, one of my ambitious 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.”
In my childhood, financial wealth was not the goal, but musical wealth was. That is, my peers and I were studying to be the 1% of the music world.
As it turns out, there are some strong similarities between both financial and musical wealth.
1. A shrinking percentage of people hold a growing percentage of the wealth. Financially, 1% of the US population has 40% of the total wealth. Musically, most children are exposed to music education in school or private lessons, but fewer than 5% will learn enough skills or develop enough interest to continue playing as adults.
2. There is weak correlation between happiness and wealth. Money makes a big difference when you are poor. But the differences quickly diminish after basic needs are met.
I see this same relationship in music. As a person moves from no musical skill to a nominal level of musical skill, 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 with music.
As a teacher, I want my students to develop a relationship to music where becoming “the 1%” is not the goal. Instead, I want them to see strong musical skills as a ticket to a world of self-expression, experiences and connections with others. That is where happiness lives.