Heard a teen singing in the talent show at the Alameda County Fair last week. Her voice was one of those rare gifts, full of resonance and richness as she sang to the sparse crowd stuffing their faces with fried foods. I was walking past with my family and her voice stopped me, as it did the diners the moment she started singing. Maybe 16, in ripped jeans and a tiny t-shirt, she sat onstage and strummed her acoustic and sang like an angel, everything from Greenday to a few of her own beautifully melodic tunes. I, my kids, my DH, and the entire crowd hushed as we listened to her singing. She captivated all of us for maybe 20 minutes until her set was up. Two older teens took the stage after her, and sounded pretty much like most rockers. Everyone went on with their eating and I walked away with my family to explore the rest of the fair.
Later on at the fair I saw her walking with her family and briefly stopped her to gush over her voice, assure her of her very unique talent. Her proud mama told me her daughter plays all the time, and in fact her daughter agreed music was her passion. Her dad chimed in right then that his daughter was a diligent worker, strove for excellence in most everything she endeavored, and as good at math as at music. He proudly informed me and my family that she was slated to pursue the sciences in college, and his daughter confirmed she had plans to become a doctor.
Been thinking a lot about this girl the last few days. A voice like hers comes along once every million (or more) people. And while the pursuit of music is a risky one, with her voice, success would probably come a lot easier to her than most. In her ripped skinny jeans and tiny T, she had the body, and the stunning face to solidify the star image, making her chances of success in music even better! Yet, by all common wisdom, becoming a doctor not only made her parents beam, but is perceived to be a greater gift to society at large than music.
I’ve been on that page myself. I mean, what is the point of a painting, or a song, or a piece of fine writing anyway? It’s not like curing cancer. A painting sits on the wall. It doesn’t help anyone, cure anything. A song, well, we may sing along with it, lift us up when we’re feeling sad, or share it when we’re happy, but it’s not going to extend our lives, like being a doctor will. And fiction writing, ah, what is that worth other than a few hours of entertainment. It’s not going to change the world or anything, right?
Spent my lifetime searching for my value, if I have any, so very often feeling like I don’t. All I’ve ever really been is an artist (in one form or another, drawing, designing, building, writing). And unless I’ve use these skills in the commercial arena such as advertising or marketing, I’m left with little recognition and even less income when I practice the fine arts. So what the hell good are the arts, anyway?
Society measures our value by our perceived contributions. Doctors, professors, executives make a lot of money by the perception that they give a lot to society as a whole. Value of medical pros is easy to understand, caring for the sick, curing disease. Teachers, who are actually paid quite a bit only working part time yet making full time salaries with benefits and pensions, are not only rewarded financially but sociologically with accolades and kudos from the media, politicians and society at large. High level execs manage businesses that employ many, ostensibly.
Telling people about this teen singer, and asking what is the most contributory path this girl should take—doctor or musician, hands down the answer is “doctor.” Understandably, achieving success through music is difficult at best, but that was not my question. Assuming she could become successful with music, most people still insisted a doctor saving lives, potentially curing cancer was of greater benefit to society. Me, too, until asking my infinitely wise 11 year old daughter this question.
“She should do whatever her passion is,” she told me on the way to drop her off for a week at Girl Scout camp last weekend.
“What if she has a passion for both?” I asked. “I mean, if she could potentially cure cancer, wouldn’t that be of greater value to the world then music?”
“It’s her choice because both are equally valuable. Music can stop wars, soothe feelings, be shared across the globe to build bridges between people where there were none before. I mean, look at all the concerts that raise money for hurricane victims, or money for medicine for poor countries. Music helps me deal with my feelings everyday, keeps me in touch with what I’m feeling, reminds me I’m not the only one feeling like I do. It connects me to everyone, knowing we’re feeling basically the same things.”
Every part of me was humbled by her insight. Not only was she validating the Arts, my daughter was validating me.
“Sure, curing cancer is important. It’s why I want to be a doctor. And I love music too, but I’m not great at it, and probably never will be. But that girl at the fair was, is. And if she can turn the world on, like she did us, and all those other people sitting there, than maybe she should do music instead, no matter what her dad said or wants her to be.”