I Quit: Realtalk as a Professional Musician

Winter in Chicago is always a time for “holiday pants” as my dad used to call them. It’s when you feel empowered to do absolutely nothing save eat and sleep, and inevitably after a couple weeks, you have need for “holiday pants”. 

Great Kathryn, you say, but have you noticed it’s currently the opposite of winter (for those of you on the topside of the globe)? I haven’t suddenly run away to the southern hemisphere (yet…hmmm). I was reminded of “holiday pants” because with the warmer weather comes the effort to put holiday pants away via exercise and productive life choices. This morning was a designated gym day, and I could not shake how little I wanted to “gym” today. My boyfriend was certainly the initiator in getting us out of the house, on our walk, and to said gym, despite my grumbles and grouches. I can’t say any PR’s were set today, but I’m glad I went. Thanks babe!


Anyhow, now you know, I hate the gym sometimes just like everyone else and exercising can be a serious struggle that involves grumbles and grouches and supportive people around me that remind me to make productive life choices for the sake of my muscles. 

There is a Bow & Hammer point to my musing (although I know my “holiday pants” gym routine is about to go viral). If you replace “exercise” with “creative initiative”, “productive life choices” with “practicing”, “gym” with “being a musician”, and “muscles” with “career” (are you lost yet?), you get this statement:

I hate BEING A MUSICIAN sometimes just like everyone else and TAKING CREATIVE INITIATIVE can be a serious struggle that involves grumbles and grouches and supportive people around me that remind me to PRACTICE for the sake of my CAREER. 


I walked into rehearsal one day after a particularly difficult but productive stretch of Bow & Hammer growing pains, and confessed to Elizabeth that when I woke up, I wanted to quit the duo, and now what? Thankfully for me, Elizabeth heard me to mean that I needed to talk through some fears and feelings. As it turns out (*spoiler alert*), I’m not quitting Bow & Hammer, and still find what we do to be more sincere and priceless than the love-child of Pure Michigan and MasterCard commercials. 

But the pressure! The pressure to be “creative”, “gifted”, “talented”, and “effective” as a musician, to “speak through music” and “think outside the box”; not to mention the crushing expectation to strive for “perfection”...it’s unbearable. Top that off with the unintentionally guilt-tripping belief that professional musicians are (and therefore should feel) lucky because they “do what they love”, and you have the perfect cocktail for serious depression and isolation, often self-medicated by unhealthy and sometimes fatal habits. 


This could go a thousand different directions, but I really want to just state one. Before being lucky and gifted creatives, musicians are humans. We have a unique communication tool which is prepped through hours upon hours (upon hours) of training (in music’s history/notation and on the instrument). Hopefully we use it to affect somebody’s world in a positive way. But it is SO important to remember that we are not just our instruments. Pablo Casals (and Yo-Yo Ma) was spot on when he said: “I am a human being first, a musician second, a cellist third.”

Our instruments can only be as beautiful as we support ourselves and each other to be first.

Musicians may be lucky, and they do “do what they love”, but they need support to be a thriving human just like everyone else.

The critical thing I needed to know from Elizabeth was that I still had higher worth as myself than simply as “Bow”. Bow & Hammer (and perhaps on a broader perspective, life) is priceless because of who is involved and how we invest in it. 

Lastly, if anyone wants to help motivate me to the gym, bagels or tacos help.