Can you still call yourself a musician if you don’t have any gigs? My vocalist daughter wondered this out loud during a recent conversation, in which I informed her that yet another one our gigs together had been cancelled due to the virus. In answering, I tried to be Confucius-esque, asking if a hammer remains a hammer as it waits on the tool shelf. Ah, so I'm no great master of wisdom sayings, but my daughter's question is legit.
How much does what we do inform our identity? If we stop doing it, do we lose our identity?
For many, identity is tied up in a person's work and musicians are not exempt from that. Musicians may choose music as a career because it occupies a large portion of their day anyway. Many of us hear music in our head all day long, and sounds (musical or not) have an effect on us. Our brains may be working to both simultaneously enjoy and analyze what we hear during every waking moment, and even sometimes as we sleep. We wonder about musical ideas and kick them around in our brains even if it's just an abstract mental exercise. We may or may not enjoy the grueling, tediousness of practicing, but we love the results enough to continue doing it.
Those things still happen to musicians whether, as professionals, we have gigs or not. For the musician, music is not just a job or a way to generate income. It is a deeply ingrained, lifelong passion that cannot be extinguished. That sounds sappy and cliché, and I hate saying it, but in this case it’s true.
It stinks that there are almost no opportunities to perform right now because of the pandemic. But when it passes, musicians will return to the stage. If it does not pass, we will keep creating music anyway, and we'll figure out how best to share it with people. No matter what state the world is in, people will always need some form of art and entertainment. Even if they didn't, musicians and artists would still do what they do because they can't help it, it's part of who they are.
A hammer is still a hammer with or without nails to pound. And musicians are still musicians even if they don’t have any gigs.