I spent this past summer re-thinking why line upon line exists and what line upon line does. After seven years, my go-to answers to these questions had begun to feel incomplete and uninspiring. With help from two dear friends and mentors on our advisory board, Matt Hinsley (Austin Classical Guitar) and Craig Hella Johnson (Conspirare), we discovered some more fulfilling and invigorating answers.
After spending so much time thinking about why and what line upon line does, the ever-present question from rideshare drivers, airplane seat mates and new acquaintances, “what do you do for work,” seems like it should never be easier to answer. But, it has proven difficult to tell someone I’ve never met before and might not see again, that I, with two of my best friends employ percussion instruments for fervent, communal experiences that we believe are essential for human beings to thrive. Telling someone that we play music we love in a welcoming atmosphere, champion the composer’s craft, create and collaborate both intra- and inter-disciplinarily, and share experiences and perspectives, seems a little…TMI, even if it is (to me, at least) a more interesting answer.
So here’s roughly what happens instead:
Inquirer: What do you do for work?
Me: I’m a musician.
Inquirer: Ah, what do you play?
Me: I play percussion in a percussion trio.
Next Question option #1:
Inquirer: Oh, what kind of music do you play? Are you like ______________?
Fill in the blank with any of these, in no particular order of frequency: a drumline, Stomp, Blue Man Group, some sort of ethnic/world percussion music
Me: Not really. We play art music. Composers write for us and occasionally we write music as well. But just instrumental, no singing.
Next Question option #2:
Inquirer: What kind of percussion do you play? Is it like ______________?
Fill in the blank with any of these, in no particular order of frequency: drums, xylophone, some sort of hand drum
Me: Really anything you can hit, it’s super open-ended. We build some of our own instruments too.
Inquirer: Oh, ok. Cool.
Here’s what is most unsatisfying about this classic exchange: at the end of the conversation, very little clarification has taken place. In fact, I’d wager that confusion has increased instead. I’ve been “playing drums” since I was in middle school, playing small ensemble music since undergrad, pursuing a career in small ensemble music since graduate school, playing in line upon line for 7 years, and I still can’t explain what I do to someone quickly and clearly.
Why is that?
Here are a few ideas.
- I just don’t have a very good answer.
- It could, in fact, be very hard to describe what I do.
- Frame of reference is lacking/what we do is still new in the big picture.
- All of the above.
But what if I felt confident responding to the “what do you do for work” question with the answer “I’m a percussionist in a percussion group” with no explanation required. That’d be a dream world. How do I go about making that world a reality?
By playing shows in the City of Austin, and in as many other places as we can. By thinking of ways to bring in people that might not, of their own initiative, come to our shows. By engaging with concert-going folk who then, in turn, may be willing to advocate in their own circles and share with their friends. By encouraging percussionists to create and grow new outlets in their own communities.
Simultaneously, I’ll tweak my answer to the “what do you do for work” question. Think of more accurate comparisons, new descriptions, visualizations. Share the type of places we play shows. And do it as positively as I can, viewing those moments as opportunities.
It will be a marathon, not a sprint. I’m looking forward to it.