After another uplifting day of singing, dancing and playing with children, I commented to
our Interns: “It’s criminal that I actually get paid for this!” And then quickly added, “And also criminal that I get paid so little for it!” And both are true.
As for the first, we have a notion that work must mean a certain amount of drudgery, forbearance, stoic resolution to show up each day and do the job. If it’s too much fun, something must be wrong. Well, there is a fair share of dragging myself through report card writing, business items at staff meetings, negotiating schedule changes, loading and unloading a van with instruments, looking for the bass bar mallets. It's not all "Yeehaw!" every minute. But still the dominant tone from the moment each class walks through the door to the moment they leave is a sense of wonder that teaching can be so dang fun!
On the other side of the fence, my pleasure in this work comes from an unrelenting dedication that took some twenty thousand hours of study, fifty thousand hours of practicing instruments, sixty thousand hours of teaching. The pleasure grew from a rigorous training every bit as deep and broad as a brain surgeon, but afforded 1/10 the dignity in the greater culture and 1/10 the salary. To simply perform this job, I needed to know about music of all times and many places, some dance, some drama, some poetry, some storytelling, techniques and repertoire for dozens of instruments, a bit of neuroscience, a lot about child development, for starters. To do it well, it helped to study psychology, anthropology, history, culture, myth, ritual and more. And to understand the things that are just right for kids at each age and present it in just the way they’re prepared to understand—and thus, get fantastically musical results performed expertly by happy, free and spontaneously inventive kids—well, that takes yet more of all the above and the ability to find the threads that tie all these disparate fields together. If salary reflects the depth of training, the necessary skill level, the long-term growth of understanding and even wisdom—not too mention the importance of cultivating the intellectual, imaginative and humanitarian promise of the next generation— then it seems clear I am severely underpaid.
But hey, I’d much rather enjoy the payment of life amongst happy children than the big bucks. I’ve managed to earn enough to be reasonably comfortable in an expensive city and though I wouldn’t turn down the offer (that will never come) of back pay for the quality of work I’ve actually done so I can help my kids buy houses in San Francisco and move the grandkids closer, I’ve been fortunate beyond most people’s expectations to love each day of work as much as I do.
Five days of no school ahead and that will be fine, but I’ll miss the kids! Hooray for that.