My Musical “Why” and the Nitty Gritty Details

Diana was right… Creativity and blog post inspiration will hit at the most obnoxious of times, and holiday travel prep is no exception! Lately I have been following several blogs and podcasts which address creativity and how to find daily motivation in larger life goals. A year ago, Helene Sula started encouraging me to find my “why”, and for awhile there I thought I knew what that “why” was. But I didn’t. I was compromising by thinking of safe ways to make an attempt to make my dreams work without leaving my comfort zone. Well, the brain waves hit me just a few days ago through my daily goal journal, and I realized I was settling. I rediscovered a method that I used as a postgraduate student in Ireland; one which I want to incorporate into how I affect the people around me, whether they are listening to my music, coming to my gigs, or following along with the journey on my online network.

Fiddling from a young age! I still love wearing hats…

You’re probably wondering by now who these people are that I just name dropped in my first paragraph. Well, about a year ago I discovered American expat and full time travel/lifestyle blogger, Helene Sula, on Pinterest. She frequently posts a variety of tips for making a living full time while traveling all over Europe — so naturally, my inner travel bug perked up and I became curious about the multiple ways I could make a living that would allow me the level of flexibility I would like for traveling with my music. I joined Helene’s “Instagram for Success” course to learn about different ways that I could market myself online, and through this course and the approaches it teaches, I have found so many more musicians that I would most likely have not come across otherwise. One of these awesome people is Diana Ladio, who has an amazing travel and music blog called “Driift,” which she started right around the time I was debating firing up my old blog again. Each of her posts provides so much valuable content, whether it’s traveling musician hacks or deep, reflective insight on being a musician with a constant travel schedule. While I don’t travel nearly as much as she does, I find her posts extremely helpful and I incorporate a lot of what she writes about into my daily lifestyle. If you’re curious to read about her life on the road, particularly the post on creativity that I referenced above, please click here for a link to her website.

There are many people this past year who have had a positive impact on how I approach my life, but for the purposes of this blog I will mention just one more person: Rachel Hollis. I only recently started listening to her podcast, “RISE,” but I’m already hooked. She suggested making a list every morning from your perspective in ten years — meaning that instead of writing “At age 34, I will be a top notch musician,” you write “I am 34 and I am a top notch musician.” Or something along those lines. She tells you to dream big, and to not let fear modify your dreams. And for the longest time, I was not following that advice. I fell prey to the “starving musician” concept, where I didn’t believe I could make ends meet as a full time musician, even though making a living playing my fiddle is my true dream. However, I’m still practical about it, and during these next ten years I plan to hone multiple skill areas that will allow me to draw on more than one source of income to make this lifestyle work for me. I love to write, I love to help others with travel advice, and I love to travel to name just a few things. All of these are elements of my life to some degree now, and I am grateful that I have a 10-6 job that is about as flexible as your steady day jobs get. But it won’t always be this way, and eventually I’ll move on. When that happens, I want to be ready, and I want to have built my self-supporting freelance lifestyle up to the point where it’s a feasible means of making a living. So there you have it: my personal goals in a nutshell. I’ve been afraid to share them up until now, but if it’s one thing I’ve discovered this year, it’s that I need to stop creating potential setbacks in my brain and be open to sharing what I want in life — I think I’ll be much more likely to come across the opportunities I’ll need for this lifestyle if I’m open about it, do you agree?

In my happy place… photo credits to Laetitia Levassar, a fellow traveler in Ennis!

If you are curious why I have been more active on my Instagram and Facebook music page, it all links back in to Helene’s course that I started back in January of this year. I live in northern Michigan. The closest traditional Irish music session to me occurs once a month, if at all. It’s a four or five hour drive to any big city with more frequent sessions and an airport with more than ten gates. We get good musicians passing through our area on tour, but not on a weekly basis. The point I’m making is that it’s very easy for me to feel disconnected from the musical community that I’ve been exposed to since that first summer at the Swannanoa Gathering in 2013. I use my Instagram and other communication platforms to keep in touch with the rest of the musical community, and to break out of that isolated feeling that is so easy to fall into in a small town. It is my way to connect to the outside world, to reach beyond geographical borders and get my voice out there. I enjoy my solitude and the times when I can disconnect and breathe, but having lived in Cork city for almost a year, I discovered that I need that thriving life full of opportunities (and sessions!) just as much as (if not more than!) that quiet introverted time.

But that’s only part of my “why” — my purpose in being in this world, my life mission if you will. When I made my 10-10-1 list, I spent a good week and a half changing how I phrased my dreams until I found something that fit. I’m sure it will keep changing, but a few days ago my phrasing for that day set off a lightbulb in my brain, and I found the approach that I want to take with the content I share with the world.

I had a gig recently where I took the audience on a journey through my musical travels starting with the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina, and going through tunes I learned Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton. I was able to incorporate an educational element into my performance, which directly connected to my studies in ethnomusicology: sharing details in order to give a better idea of the big picture. I grew up in a fairly sheltered and quiet environment, which I will always cherish as fond childhood memories. But eventually the time came to get out into the world and broaden my horizons, and I am so grateful to have been given these opportunities to do so. To study someone else’s way of life, to put the effort into getting to know details instead of a sweeping generalization has been the greatest gift to making me the person I want to be. This thirst for knowledge, for fully immersing into that nitty gritty detail is most definitely something I get from my late grandfather, William McGill. I remember reading stories about the scholarly side of him, diving into one subject and really getting deep into the details in order to master his understanding of it. I want to do the same. I believe in immersion, in digging myself deep into Irish traditional music to come away with a mastery of its nuances and its very essence. I want to take my audience/followers on that constantly evolving journey, to give knowledge and receive it, and to encourage those around me to approach all of those less-understood aspects of life with an openness and depth of thought.

Michigan will always have a special place in my heart. It’s already shaped me into the person I am today, and I have made many connections there that have opened doors for me.

My goal isn’t to be the perfect musician. My goal is to be the most top notch musician that I can be, without comparison to others. It’s more about a sense of fulfillment, of knowing that I am giving my career my all, and making and maintaining valuable relationships along the way. It is learning about the details so I can then turn around and share these details with my audience, particularly stories and special moments that separate Irish music from the broader Celtic label. That is what ethnomusicologists do. We study details, we learn as much as we can about a culture, and then we go back to the big picture to discover how one patch fits into the larger quilt. Due to its massive scale, mass media tends to generalize a lot of these details, to the point where labels like “Irish” and “Celtic” are inseparable to anyone who hasn’t been exposed to the different music styles. So another part of my “why” is to combat that. It’s to spread a message to people, to encourage them to think beyond what we’ve always been told, or what is commonly told to really think and interpret for ourselves. Because if we can do that with music, what is to stop us from incorporating that way of thinking into other elements of our lives?

While I may have had a breakthrough in my way of thinking, I know this is only the start of a long learning process of finding my purpose in the world, and finding the best way to serve others through my music and writing. However, I really wanted to get this written down, and I wanted to share it with you all, my readers, because the more I write it, the more I will truly live it. I don’t want to go through life just settling and believing that someday I will change the way that I approach my dreams when the time is right. Well the time is right, and it is right now. And I hope you all will continue to stick with me through this journey. Having looked back on this year, I am seeing so much growth from where I was in December 2017, and I want to continue growing and living a life of fulfillment, positivity and gratitude. On a daily basis, it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s those baby steps that are building up and making new possibilities happen. This year I reached out and became more present on social media. Next year I will add to this, and I will also learn the ins and outs of financially running my own freelance. It’s all a process, but I am excited for it. I hope that I can provide something valuable for you all, just as I hope to continue learning from you! Thank you for being here for me!