When I Grow Up? Musical Journeys

Some of you may have seen this feature on BBC Breakfast today about 20,000 seven to 11-year-olds who’d been asked to draw pictures of the job they want to do in the future. This got me thinking about my own career aspirations at that age, and how these developed. What did you want to do when you grew up?

When I was at primary school, if you’d asked me what I wanted to do as a job, I’d have said I wanted to be a primary school teacher. In fact, if you’d asked most of us, that would probably have been the most-popular answer. In some ways, this isn’t surprising. At primary school in the late 1980s, early 1990s, we were exposed to very few other professions other than what our fathers did (because of course, in those days, most of our mothers didn’t go out to work). That aside, I can also claim some family connection to teaching; excluding my own mother, the three previous generations of females on her side of the family were all teachers, the earliest stretching back to the mid-1800s. It’s fair to say then that teaching is in the blood.

My great-grandmother (far left), Gertude Helena Hill, as headmistress of Cromford School, Derbyshire

When I went to secondary school in 1995, if you’d asked me what I wanted to do as a job, little would have changed, other than I’d probably have wanted to be a secondary school teacher rather than a primary one! In secondary school, we had careers lessons. The teacher in charge of careers was, in fact, no careers specialist, but rather, the CDT teacher. The careers lessons involved answering a lot of questions on a computer program (in the days when computers practically needed a choke to get them started), and at the end of the ‘quiz’, it told you what career you should pursue. Apparently, I was to be an archivist or librarian. In retrospect, the software was clearly onto something, but at that age, my only experience of librarians were grey-haired old ladies with glasses on a chain around their neck. It’s easy to see why I discounted that potential career option!

I also went through a phase of wanting to do graphic design; I even did work experience in the design department of the Walls Ice Cream factory where I spent the week making a scale-drawing of the office. Trouble is, this was, in the main, pre-computer days, and as I couldn’t draw to save my life, it was probably a flawed plan. I started giving piano lessons when I was in the Lower 6th, but I never considered it a career option. Indeed, despite doing so much music and it being such a huge passion, I never once considered that I’d make a career out of it. I certainly didn’t think that 17 years on, I’d still be doing it!

When it came to the top of secondary school, the expectation was you went to university. The school proudly displayed the destinations of leavers on the back page of the subsequent year’s Speech Day programme. Without any real idea what I wanted to do, and feeling, at that stage, that music seemed to be the only thing I was any good at, I decided to do…yes, you’ve guessed it…music. So it was, in September 2002, I trotted off to Bath Spa University College to do a BA(Hons) in Music. Suffice to say, it took only three months for me to decide it wasn’t for me, that I was totally out of my depth and deeply unhappy. That was the end of that. I guess that afterwards, you could say the rest is history, and all the various music and education things I’m involved with now, have all evolved gradually from that point.

‘What do you want to do when you leave school?’ is a question which often comes up when talking to my own pupils. Years ago, midwife, zookeeper and vet were the most popular career options; now, vet remains, but science, medicine and psychology appear more frequently. That said, it’s soul-destroying to come across instances where pupils have been discouraged from following music and arts subjects because they are perceived not to lead to a ‘proper’ career. Indeed, only recently a pupil was discouraged both by parents and their school from taking music at A-Level. Instead, they were encouraged to pursue a more ‘lucrative’ career such as law which would lead to a ‘proper’ job. It’s such a shame that even when, like me, music is their passion, they are discouraged by the expectations of society from ever believing it could be a potential career option.

But, there’s potentially a wider question to be asked here, and that is how we, as musicians and educators work to break down these barriers. How can we show that music is a valid career option? It’s true that relatively few musicians will go on to be professional performers, but as we all know, there are so many more opportunities these days. Once you accept that as a musician, you’re unlikely to ever have a regular salary and a standard 9-5 job, a whole world of possibilities opens before you. How can we equip our pupils with the skills to embrace that world?