The Road Not Taken

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a film composer. Back in high school, flush from the first discovery of film music, I just knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Maybe it’s the chilly, rainy weather of the last few days or the wet autumn leaves floating in my backyard, but I’ve been thinking lately a lot of what is, what could be, and what might have been.

My high school years were filled with the sounds of Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. With dreams of big-budget films, sweeping orchestral scores, and Oscars in my head, I went into my undergrad years of college with Composition as my major. That lasted only one semester.

What made me change my major? I certainly don’t remember the details 30 years later. But if later life decisions are any indication, I’d say fear was the prevailing factor.

FEAR #1: My abilities

I’d never composed a note in my life. What if I didn’t have any talent for it? As my later attempts at composing for musical theater indicate, I sincerely don’t think I have the talent for composition. I’m mediocre, at best. Would I have benefited from actual training and study? Sure. But knowing the prejudice in academia against film music, I would have had to move to Los Angeles to study it properly.

FEAR #2: The unknown

I paid for all my schooling on my own. So financially, the option of moving to California was not doable at the time. Plus, I’d never been there. (Still haven’t!) Some people thrive in the unknown. I usually don’t. I like to have a plan and know where I’m going. And that lack of spontaneity has probably kept me from some experiencing some truly wonderful things. Occasionally, I’ll have no problems striking out on my own, like when I packed up and moved from Austin to Boston or Boston to New York without a plan. I was fueled by adrenaline and the thrill of going against the conventional wisdom of friends and family. But more than that, I think it was a feeling of “I have to do this, I have to try.” Maybe it was the lack of that overriding sentiment that ultimately kept me from pursuing the dream of composing for film.

I try to not let regret play a major role in my life. But there are moments when I can’t help but wonder What if…

What if I’d moved to Los Angeles at age 18…

Would it have given me more confidence in myself? Did staying at home where I was comfortable stunt my personal growth in some way? Would I have traveled more than I have so far? At least I’d have gotten to the West Coast, which I still have yet to do.

What if I’d pursued a career in film music…

Would I still enjoy listening to it as I do now? Or would it be a job? My years working in theater certainly squelched my enjoyment of going to the theater, and I wonder if I’ll ever get that back. Passions for other subjects have kept me from pursuing work related to them for exactly that reason.

I’ve always been envious of people who know what they want and go for it with seemingly laser-like focus. My life has always felt like it was afflicted with a case of ADD. It has taken odd twists and turns that I never could have predicted, and many that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I always thought I’d be in a different place by this stage in my life. Not necessarily better (okay, maybe a little bit better), but different. I don’t want to go back in time and I doubt there’s much I’d change, even the awful stuff. But, wow, the internal dialogue can really mess with your head.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I don’t know if the road I took was less traveled, but Robert Frost was right–my decision not to pursue a career in writing for film has certainly made all the difference. It’s not the only road I’ve taken, but it was a decisive path. Not bad or good, but all mine.

Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s a mid-life crisis, or maybe it’s simply the film music I have on in the background. But those are my thoughts on this chilly autumn Wednesday.

4 comments

  1. These games are fun—and somewhat dangerous—to play. “What if I’d…” “If only I’d…”

    I have these thoughts sometimes. Regrets that I took those piano lessons so lightly during my formative years and never really learned some fundamental skills. Regrets that I didn’t pursue formal music courses when I was in college. What if I’d moved to LA like I once thought I would? What if I’d followed my best friend to film school in Miami?

    I am still pursuing a musical career, but feel handicapped by decisions I didn’t make…if only I had!

    Of course it’s hard to know why our lives take the twists and turns they do. Certainly we have the free will to make decisions throughout our life, and need to own up to those—both the ones we did and did not make. But a lot what happens to us is also completely out of our hands. And I believe things ultimately happen for our good, even when it’s a mystery.

    Not sure why this stimulated me to philosophize. Good post though!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Tim. I find it interesting to hear what other people think about their lives, so thanks for sharing.

      I’m not so sure these “games” are “fun” (and was not a particularly fun post to write), but it certainly can be “dangerous.” I know these thoughts are human nature, but they can be frustrating. Maybe that’s why I wrote the post in the first place: to get some of those thoughts flowing out of my head and onto the screen (it feel weird to type “screen” LOL).

      I agree with you that we need to own up to our decisions. And as I said, I don’t regret most of mine. But they’re mine, and there is comfort and, dare I say it, pride in that. I also agree that whether or not it seems “good” at the time, it’s our journey and no one else’s, and there’s nothing “wrong” with where we are in life. It simply IS where we are in that particular moment.

      I have a horrible tendency to not exactly be present in the moment anyway. The mind seems to always be racing backwards or forwards. That’s when I miss out on life. It’s one of the many things I’m constantly working on. :)

      Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Hi Jim,

    Very honest post!

    I think there is a lot you could do in the film industry, not necessarily full-time.

    One thing that comes up to mind is offering your services as a consultant for music composers. Your knowledge of film music is amazing and I’m sure it’d benefit a lot of film composers.

    For example, you could offer your services as a film music editor: assist in the spotting sessions with the film director in order to choose where to start/end the music for each scene, maybe doing a temp score for the composer, translating the film director emotions into music language, etc.

    I’d love to have a collaborator as you for my composing work. Your years of knowledge on the subject is something that I personally don’t have and I’m sure there are a lot of composers that would benefit from it too!

    Just my 2 cents!

    Vincent

    1. Thanks for commenting, Vincent. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about work today in the film industry when I wrote the post, but you bring up some interesting ideas. I’m not sure how viable they’d be with me living in NYC, but they certainly give me food for thought. And if you ever want to hire me, you know where I am! LOL Thanks for your 2 cents…worth every penny. :)

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