Art is not Limitless: Boundaries for a Musician
As a full time musician, I sometimes struggle to separate my professional life from my personal life. Music making and music teaching are deeply passionate endeavors, so the profession requires a strong set of boundaries to keep me safe and protected. Here are a few of mine that I’ve created over the years.
Yes, I am a singer and a pianist. No, I will not sing a song for you right now. I’m not a jukebox.
No, I don’t give refunds for cancelled lessons. Ever. But I’ll do my best to offer a make-up lesson.
Yes, I do need your wedding repertoire in my hands at least one month before the ceremony.
My practice time is sacred; I don’t share that time with anybody unless it is a DEFCON Level 5 Red Alert emergency. Maybe.
My practice time is private, so you don’t get to listen unless I invite you into that space.
My practice time is priority, because I don’t get paid enough to half-ass my job.
My practice time has an end, because I’m not gonna be able to fix everything in one session.
No, I will not teach private voice lessons to your 10 year old child. I will not be held responsible for potentially causing irreparable damage to a young voice. (This one is a highly contentions issue among voice teachers, but I err on the side of caution here. Perhaps this boundary deserves a longer article.)
No, I do not teach lessons on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.
If we are close, personal friends, then I will not teach your kid piano lessons. That can get real messy, real fast.
Yes, I wear weight-lifting gloves to the gym because my hands are my damn money makers.
If my body is sick, then I’m not making music. A cold needs sleep and NyQuil, not another rehearsal.
And most importantly:
Yes, I will graciously accept whatever happens on the stage, and I will say “thank you” to anyone who graces me with a compliment. Because no matter how long my little list of wrong notes may be at the end of a performance, I am still responsible to the people in my audience and whatever feedback they have to give me.
With a craft so deeply personal as music, I need to make sure that I am taking care of myself, because I cannot transmit something that I haven’t got. When I adhere to these boundaries — which is just another way of saying, “I have my limits, and I expect you to respect them” — then I am freed up to be all-in with my music, my students, and my audience. And then, when the music is done, I am free to be all-in with every other aspect of my life. Just as interpersonal boundaries help me to discover where I stop and you begin, boundaries with my music help me to discover that fine line between art and life.