It’s been a year since I decided to quit my job and dedicate myself fully to music. It’s been a year since I sat down with my parents and explained to them I was leaving behind a good software job and benefits for something that will, at best, only pay a fraction of my previous salary. It’s been a year since I had to explain to my colleagues, whom I greatly respected, that I was going put a hold on my promising software career in order to pursue something that gave my life a deeper meaning.
Not many of them understood. A lot of my colleagues said things like, “Will just wants to be a rockstar,” as if this difficult decision was all about something as shallow as fame. My mom, although supportive, expressed disappointment. My father, who was very proud of me for making something of myself in the software business, wasn’t able to look me in the eye for awhile. It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life.
As I look back, I recall expressing a desire to pursue music composition as far back as my senior year of high school when I wrote a choral piece for my choir. Most people mentored me against that field, however, because there isn’t much money in it. I think this was in part due to my other interest in computers, and when comparing music and computer science in terms of financial compensation there is only one clear winner. So, I took their advice. Eventually I began to accept that music wasn’t an option, but I continued to harbor a feeling that something was missing in my life. The feeling continued to linger through college and then at my first couple jobs after graduation, and it was making me seriously depressed. I had followed everyone’s advice, and I was successful and had a bright future ahead of me. Why wasn’t I happy?
At some point along my computer science journey I had forgotten about my passion for writing music. And when I started it back up again in 2014, it was a profound revelation. It filled that void, and gave me a powerful sense of purpose. This was what was missing.
Now, imagine that for a second. Whether your thing is music or not, imagine going through life for a number of years and having it feel utterly incomplete, and you’re sad and miserable because of it. You’ve tried to figure out what’s going on and failed, over and over. Then you happen to try some thing and it provides you with such an incredible sense of fulfillment that it feels like you’re not doing this just for yourself, but for something greater, something that can have a real and lasting impact on the world. How do you continue to deny yourself that thing? When you feel that strongly, how does it not become your life’s work?
Well, that’s what writing music means to me. By the time May of 2016 rolled around, I was fully engaged in music and had essentially been working two jobs for about 9 months straight between software and my music-related stuff (writing and recording music, performing, booking shows). I was exhausted trying to keep up with both and had to choose one or the other, and I chose music.
Since then I’ve written my first video game soundtrack, begun a second soundtrack, written and recorded several new songs for my next album, written several classical pieces, and returned to school finish my music degree. I’ve also begun to convince the people close to me how serious I am about this craft in the consistency and quality of my work.
But, I’ve also done something else.
In December 2016 I finished my first choral work—an acapella six-part arrangement of the classic spiritual “Deep River.” It was originally dedicated to my good friend and former choral director William Bennett and his Cane Bay Choirs of Summerville, SC, but it was also discovered and performed by Rob Taylor and the College of Charleston Concert Choir (in which I sing tenor!). I was overwhelmed by both performances. People were publicly performing my music, something I had labored over, working so hard on it that it feels like a piece of myself was given up for it. What an amazing feeling of accomplishment. It’s moments like these that make me feel as if I’ve made the right decision.
In a journey that began with a high school choral piece has, almost 9 years later, come full circle.
It’s been quite a year.