This was the plan: Put in 20 years playing trombone in the Air Force (which would have allowed me to draw a pension), and then find a college teaching job until I decide to retire. At this point in my life, I would have been playing in the Air Force for around 17 years. I probably would have owned a house by now, and I would have made a lot of college connections through presenting masterclasses and performing recitals.
That was the plan, but a lip injury put a stop to all that. Today, I'm 44 years old, living in a basement studio apartment, starting over on a completely different instrument (guitar), struggling to find good paying gigs, and often having trouble making ends meet.
So why am I so happy? If I were the kind of person to dwell on the past and keep second guessing myself, I'd probably be miserable, but the past is the past. The only constructive thing I can do about the past is to accept its lessons.
The main reason I'm happy is that I'm doing what I love to do.
Material things don't make me happy. A new guitar or amp will temporarily thrill me, but they don't make me happy deep down. Would I like to have a house or a large bank account? You bet! But it's not high on my priority list. What is high on my priority list is making music. Fortunately, this doesn't require a lot of money or a large home. I can make music just as easily in my small apartment as I can in a mansion, and practicing, not money, is what will make me a better musician.
Maybe someday I'll be able to afford a house, or maybe I'll continue living in a studio apartment for the rest of my days. Maybe I'll stay in Atlanta, or maybe I'll be lured to another city by a steady gig. Maybe I'll find work performing on cruise ships, or maybe I'll develop a respectable private teaching practice and stay put. Whatever the gig, wherever I am, as long as I'm making music, that'll be enough for me.
So what makes you happy?
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.