Are You a City Mouse or Country Mouse At Heart?

The question of where one prefers to live is as old as Aesop himself. The City mouse scoffs at the simplicity of Country Mouse’s life but the Country Mouse prefers the safety of his quiet life (rather than be attacked by dogs in the city). Somehow though, this question doesn’t seem to come into play in the music world. We musicians don’t always put much thought into where we are going. We go after the gig first, figure out our surroundings later.

When I was a fellow at the New World Symphony, I was surrounded by colleagues who dreamed of playing in a major orchestra and living in a major city. We were encouraged to take every audition that came up so that we could get more and more experience, and at virtually every audition, a NWS fellow would win.

Off they went to places like Nashville, Savannah, Naples, and San Diego. They were excited to be moving to “their first job”. You know, they one they’d have BEFORE they won their spot in New York, Chicago, Philly, or LA.  Off to gain some experience and carry on auditioning.

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Photo by Nick Fewings for Unsplash

And some of them DID eventually land a job in the city of their dreams. Others found that it was difficult to maintain their new full-time position AND continue to prepare for auditions, or get the time off needed to take the audition in the first place.

10+ years later, many of them are still in those places.  They’ve fallen in love, settled in, made a life there.  And some of them wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Others are miserable and wondering why they’re not in New York City like they planned. But on the other hand, some of my colleagues who landed jobs in New York are finding the energy blinding, too much, over-stimulating.

I myself left New World with only a couple of auditions under my belt.  Deep down, I knew that I didn’t want to be an orchestral player, but I remember flying into Minneapolis for my first audition.  It was April and it was snowing.  Before my plane even landed I remember thinking “I do NOT want to be living in a place where an April snowstorm is considered normal”.  Needless to say, I left Minneapolis without a job. But I also decided to leave NWS to head back to Boston, telling my boss that I’d rather be a struggling freelancer in a city I loved than have a steady job in a place I didn’t.  He smiled and gave me his blessing and told me to call him when I needed rent money (lol).

This geographic misalignment is something I see time and time again in the music world.  Yes, of course, there are musicians living in NYC who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. They thrive on the stimulation, the option of seeing one of 1000 different concerts any time of day, any day of the week. And there are those who landed a seat in a small town orchestra, or in a rural university town, who have found that the slower pace suits them perfectly.

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But I have all to often run into colleagues who are in the wrong place (at least at the wrong time).  The country mouse who stayed in a big city after college and is unhappily living a frantic freelance life, or a city mouse heading daily to an orchestra job that doesn’t fulfill them and leaves them wondering, day after day, how it is that they’re still there.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to choose the kind of place we wanted to live and shape our career around THAT, rather than the other way around?

What if we were encouraged in music school to consider what kind of environment makes us truly happy and feel most alive?  Because that might make it clear that you’d prefer to freelance in Boston, or that you’d be living your best life in a craftsman style home in Kentucky.

I never would have guessed that the man I would fall in love with and marry would be living in Bermuda, but I will say that when I was principal cellist of the Key West Symphony, flying in from Boston 4-5 times a year for concerts, something felt “right”.  I knew that I felt most at home and most creative in a quirky island environment.  So to me, Bermuda made perfect sense.  It was meant to be.

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And as soon as I moved here, my career started falling into place in ways that I had previously struggled to make happen.  I started playing the kinds of concerts I wanted to play, with the people I wanted to play with and opportunities started falling into place. I realized that all I really need is time to practice and access to an international airport.  Bermuda gives me both.

What about you?  Are you living in the right place?  Are you living the right career? Or are you in a place that you landed in by default, with a career that you fell into by accident?  How can you start to put things together in a way that makes sense for YOU?

4 Comments on “Are You a City Mouse or Country Mouse At Heart?

  1. I am such a city girl! 14 years in Grand Rapids, MI was lovely in many ways. But after moving (home) to Boston 25 years ago, there’s been no looking back!

    • I’m so glad you ended up in the right spot! (For many reasons :-)) I’m curious–was the move from MI to MA specifically to get to a larger city, or just luck?

  2. Glad you ended up in the right spot Kate, and especially with my lovely son Paul xxxxxx

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