Simple, and not so simple, gifts

Some artists earn a living related to their creative passions while others are employed in totally different worlds - yet all ca

Some artists earn a living related to their creative passions while others are employed in totally different worlds - yet all ca

August 25, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

When Mark McCoy was completing his first symphony - "Symphony for Salem" - he left his day job on a Friday evening and went home to compose.

Some time later, he realized he was hungry and looked at the clock. It said 9:00, and he was surprised that he had written through the night. Only when he looked outside and saw evening darkness did he realize that it was 9:00 - the following night.

"I lost a whole day," he thought.

But the day was not lost, McCoy says. Unaware of the fleeting hours as he created, he says it was the best time.


McCoy, chairman of the Department of Music and Theater at Shepherd College, has a "day job" that matches his passion. He goes home from work and does more of the same thing.


Humans have an "uncontrollable desire" to create, McCoy says.

French philosopher Rene Decartes said, "I think, therefore I am."

McCoy takes it a step further: "I am, therefore I create."

"I must create," he says emphatically.

Creating is what sets humans apart from other creatures.

Humans have come up with some pretty good, very useful, inventions, McCoy says.

"Fire was a good idea. The wheel was another first-rate idea."

But why were we drawing on the walls of caves? There is no comparable practical benefit there. Yet, like moths drawn to a flame, humans pursue art. They create.

For McCoy, creating - making music - is a very obsessive thing. His day job is in the field of his obsession, and some artists earn a living in work related to their creative passions.

Others are employed in totally different worlds - yet cannot imagine living without the opportunity to create.

By day Joy Bellis is an investment banker. But a few times a week, when night falls, Bellis sings jazz - in New York City clubs and restaurants.

Jean Inaba is changing day jobs. She has worked as a producer for National Pubic Radio's classical music programming since 1986, and is about to begin a career in horticulture. She also may be heard Sundays on WETA-FM radio - between news programming, introducing music.

But on several Sundays a year and several Saturdays and assorted other times, Inaba travels to Hagerstown to play her violin with the Maryland Symphony. She has been a member of the orchestra since 1989.

Rachel Hall is a mathematics professor at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Karen Hirshon manages the University Book Center and Linda Littleton is a computer programmer at Penn State University in State College, Pa. Together they are Simple Gifts, "three women playing 12 instruments," a folk-ethnic music trio that performed a Mountain Green Concert in Hagerstown last February.

Heather Schaff has a day job as a graphic designer at Robson & Kaye, a printing business in Chambersburg, Pa. She has some opportunities to be creative at her job, but not enough to keep her from painting - in acrylics and oils - outside her work week.

Ideas for Schaff's paintings come from everywhere - things she sees, things she dreams. "I think about it all the time. It's always there," she says.

For Bellis, art came later.

Bellis' 1995 James Madison University degree in finance/fnancial engineering landed her a job with Oppenheimer & Co., an investment banking and security brokerage firm in Manhattan. She routinely worked 60-hour weeks, including some weekends.

She had taken some voice lessons as a kid growing up in the little country village of Riegelsville, Pa., and had done some high school musicals. In 1997, "just for personal fulfillment," she started taking singing lessons. In June of 1998 she went to work for a smaller company and kept singing. She received encouragement and performed at some open mic venues. She was hired to perform at a Chelsea club, later got more gigs and struggled to balance her full-time job with her singing. Her very supportive boss came up with a proposal for her to work part time.

Why does Bellis sing?

"It makes me really happy," she says. She gets really depressed whenever she thinks about not being able to sing.

A blessing and a curse

Inaba, who was born and lived in Hawaii until she was 9 years old, learned to play the violin on an old, too-big instrument her mother found in the attic.

"I learned the hard way," she says, before the advent of the Suzuki method of teaching young children. "I had to be bribed to practice," she says.

Her family moved to College Place, Wa., and Inaba studied with a really good teacher. She majored in communications in college, working toward a goal of doing classical radio. Her minor was music. "I love all kinds of music," she says, but grew up "pretty much steeped in the stuff" of classical music.

Inaba says she loves playing in the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. "It's satisfying intellectually. There is so much substance - so much to listen for. When you are playing in the middle of the orchestra, it's fantastic," she says.

Juggling day jobs and the need to create can be complicated.

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