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Developing Your Musical Craft

November 25, 2013 | 6 Comments

To the Host:

I am 35, and used to listen to the show when I was driving semi-truck. The music brightened my day, and reminded me how important it is to keep playing and writing my own music. What advice would you have for a young man trying to dedicate his life to his music and present himself to the world?

Steven Jones
Newman Lake, WA


Thirty-five is not so young in the music world, Steven, and I'm sure you know that. Eighteen is young, twenty-two is young, and thirty-five is sort of a gray area. My advice is to focus on the craft of performing, developing your musical craft, and put your original music on the shelf for a little while. Try playing music that people want to dance to, or hear in the background as they eat their dinners, or that has ceremonial weight (weddings, funerals), or that you could play in a public place and make people smile as they pass by. Music that will lift up the lonely. There are a lot of lonely people in the world and music can be therapeutic for them and right there is a big vocation. Think of people at the beginning and end of the life cycle, a roomful of 2nd graders squirming in their seats, a roomful of elderly in wheelchairs, and think what you could give them in 15 minutes that would brighten their day. That's a huge service and an enormous challenge. And those people are available for music. They need it, unlike most people in the middle years who are ferociously busy, distracted, hard to reach. At the age of 35, a person has lost some of that youthful ambition and drive to excel, but he has not lost the need to Be Useful.


Developing Your Musical Craft

As you yearn to develop your musical craft
You may feel like staff or passenger or just some waft
But, and, here's the thing,
you are the music
You are the one who crafts the wing
There's just no substitute
For the real thing
So, forget all bling
And, please, we implore,
Do and do and do explore!

What a depressing answer, GK. Try playing music that people would want to hear in the background as they eat their dinners? But I do agree that there are a whole lotta people who need hope, and that is a big vocation, indeed.

I guess I would add that you should continue to write music for your own enjoyment, and not worry too much whether you put it out in the world. One can enjoy a fairly rich Walter Mitty experience playing your own songs in the privacy of your own home. I would also add that it is important to explore music as a social experience, and that usually means playing songs that are familiar to other musicians, unless, of course, you have a family of musicians who are willing to indulge you in performing your original material...


Mr. Keillor, that is rather dark advice. I say yes, get out there and perform and learn the standards and get to know your instrument and your voice -- but don't give up on your dreams! Follow the muse! It may never pay off moneywise (or it might!) but, on your deathbed, you'll look back and say I did something beautiful and I followed a dream that had meaning for me. I'm following my dreams, but most of us who do need a day job as well. Lots of musicians and artists have a day job, even some who make extra or decent money at it.
At the end of the road, you'll be glad you followed your dreams, and the adventure inherent in doing so. The creative spirit speaks to each of us in different ways, and beckons to bring forth that thing that only we can give the world -- ourselves.

I totally agree with Emily! Sheesh, Garrison!

Some people ARE, moved to PLAY music - creating new music is not their goal. But for those that have a creative calling, playing only what others have written would be like limiting YOU to telling only stories others have written. NO!

Creativity, is not limited by age - as you should well know. Even if this guy was in his 60s (like some of us,) he should still be encouraged to create his own music. Age only adds experiences to draw on - it takes nothing away fro creativity.

I do agree that playing for people is vital, and not everything needs to be your own, but - SHEESH!

You are WAY off track here. Maybe you need a nap.

There are two schools here. There is the school which says "go out and do what you want for you." And that is fine; that is what changes society -- sometimes for better, and sometimes not.

But that is not the school sought by Steven. He asked "What advice would you have for a young man trying to dedicate his life to his music and present himself to the world?" And that is the school which Mr. Keillor replied in.


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