I’m surrounded by people whose professions are immediately, visibly useful. My roommate is a computer scientist. My father is an engineer. My mother is a doctor. Various other members of my family are nurses, teachers, researchers, ministers, librarians, and other eminently pragmatic (at least at first glance) professions. They contribute clearly evident good to their communities through their chosen professions. And somehow, I ended up a musician.
I should be clear that my family has never doubted the validity of music as a way of life, or its importance as a part of the world. Any uncertainty I may feel is internal; my family highly values music and other arts. Still, every time I make the choice to be a violinist instead of something else (so every time I take the violin out of the case), I have to ask myself why this is the most valuable thing I can possibly do with my time and talents.
It’s a question I haven’t been able to answer until recently, and even now I don’t have a good answer all the time. It seems like the gigs I want to play, premiering new compositions or tackling enormous string quartets, are often the ones that no one really wants to hear, whereas everyone wants a live violinist at their wedding or formal dinner but I’m often more of a curiosity than a source of artistic stimulation at those kinds of things. I hit a low point on Valentine’s Day this winter, when I was hired as a strolling violinist in a restaurant but ended up interfering with the hockey game that was also happening, so I was asked to stop. I was paid the initially agreed fee and fed a delicious dinner and free wine, but that’s not the point. If it were, I would certainly be doing something else.
So what is the point? I keep coming back to a favorite childhood book, Miss Rumphius. It’s the story of a lady who lives in a big house by the sea and travels the world. As a child, her grandfather charges her to “do something to make the world more beautiful.”
The word “beautiful” is a tricky one, but in this context it doesn’t just mean aesthetically appealing. Miss Rumphius also sowed friendship, caring, and accountability for the environment. My mother makes the world more beautiful by healing the sick and my father makes the world more beautiful by figuring out how it works. Making music is my way of making the world more beautiful, and by that I mean making it the kind of world that I want to live in.
Purely aesthetic beauty can be a vehicle for a deeper kind of connection with other people and with God. Spreading beauty has to be given and received with the right attitude: that it’s not about the audience celebrating the artist (or the lady planting the flowers), but rather the artist connects with the audience and through that connection celebrates the presence of God.
Erica Jacobs-Perkins is a member of Christ Church Cathedral. Having finished her studies at McGill in both English literature and music, she is heading off to Prague and then to Chicago for the next steps in her musical career. She will be missed!
But, before she goes, Erica will be making the world more beautiful at the Cathedral on Wednesday, May 13th at 6:15 pm as part of the Oasis Musicale concert series. Click here for more details.