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What does being a professional mean? My musings on the subject.

Hello dear readers! It has been another week of loving the harp and pursuing my best life. I hope this post finds you in the same place. I have noticed a current online discussion of what being a professional harpist means. I was not sure if I even wanted to join the discussion but I have given it a great deal of consideration and I feel I may have something to add to the discussion.

First of all, I looked the word up. In a nutshell, being a professional means you are engaged in an activity as your main source of income, especially when you are referring to the arts and athletics. It can also mean you belong to a profession such as a medical doctor or a lawyer. According to this definition, if you play and get paid, you are acting as a professional. I remember when I started working as a harpist at the tender age of 15, my teacher was adamant that I knew that I was doing professional activities and should be treated and paid accordingly. I believe that many share this same view and they should! If you are a student and are doing paid work, you should be compensated the same as anyone else doing the same work. The only criteria in the arts for a professional is that you do the art as your main occupation. That is all. There is no code of ethics, there is no higher authority to appeal to if there is conflict with a colleague, nothing, it is just if you get hired or not. It is a rather grim situation to be in. If a doctor or lawyer behaves in ways that are against their profession’s set codes and requirements there can be consequences. In the arts this does not exist unless the behavior is against the law.

If you equate ethical behavior with professional behavior there is a chance you will be sideswiped by behavior of another professional who does not share your view. I believe that as a professional one should treat others ethically but there will be others who call themselves professional who do not, instead they will choose the dog eat dog, do everything you can to be the top of the heap business approach where anything goes if you can turn a profit and can get away with it. That is how business works. I honestly wish it was different. I believe the arts flourish under a supportive community model of activity and that the hard business angle is quite destructive. Another angle on this is that amateurs and hobbyists can also be ethical beings with strong codes of behavior And that should not be forgotten, just as a professional can be an unethical being that is only looking out for themselves.

I do know that I try to behave ethically towards others, I believe that that is what a good person can do. There are good people, both professional and amateurs.

I know a great many people worry about those who have little to no training who are teaching. Yes, it can be shocking and it does not seem like the right order of things but this is a case where the student gets to choose. I think that it is possible that students who have no interest in classical training may very well steer clear of someone with credentials since they do not want that way of doing music or they are intimidated by those credentials. Maybe they just want to pluck around on their little rosewood harp and enjoy themselves. There is nothing wrong with this. True, it is a hard path to being a concert artist but that is not everyone’s path. On the flip side one does not need college degrees to be good teachers and have lots of experience teaching. If someone is getting students and you are not, look at what they are doing to get those students, are they a warm and welcoming person? Do they make learning joyful? Are their rates super low? These can all be factors as to why they are a chosen teacher. All any of us can do is hang out our own shingle, so to speak, and do our best work with the students we have. Be the best teacher you can to those students and do not spend your precious energy stressing about what other teachers are doing is my advice.

Here is a bullet list of things I believe are important for a professional harpist.

  • be on time

  • know your music

  • tune

  • treat others with respect

  • be clean and well presented in your person

  • respond quickly to correspondence.

  • know your worth and price your services accordingly.

Here is my bullet list of things that have little to nothing to do with being a professional.

  • age, ethnicity, body type, gender, or sexual orientation, hair color or chosen style of clothing. These are either just physical characteristics or personal artistic choices.

  • a college degree (although they can help you)

  • things that are expensive such as a fancy gold harp, high end head shots, expensive clothes, a fancy press kit. Anyone with money can throw it at their career. True, it can help, but you can be professional without them. Do your best with what you have and let your talent and dedication shine.

I know that this concept of professionalism is a very dynamic one that many are asking questions about. I hope the discussions continue And that we can move towards a world where we, as harpists, treat each other with mutual respect and make ethical choices about how we interact with each other.

Have a great week and keep on plucking along!

Kimberly Houser Taylor


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