Being introduced to someone new by a third party is interesting and sometimes revealing. Of course, if introduced by one's children, "this is my dad" is acceptable because everyone knows a father is more than a sperm donor. I was brought up short last week though by one of my closest friends who introduced me to someone with, "this is Derek, he calls for ceilidhs". That surprised me. We were at a gig. One of his bands were playing. Yes I do call for ceilidhs not just with my own band, but also with several other smaller bands led by various members of the parent ensemble. Everyone else around the table knew that already. Three-quarters of tonight's band also play in my ceilidh band. Calling for ceilidhs, though, accounts, most years for about eighteen hours. So who am I for the remaining 8,742 hours?
We are often defined, outside of our families, by the job we do. For years that was easy. I used to be a lorry driver and labourer. Then for three years I was a student. Then I became a teacher. This became more difficult to describe when I moved away from the classroom and into advisory work. Everyone has experienced teachers, but who knows what advisory teachers do? When I was made redundant after fifteen years of this kind of work and became self-employed I didn't know how to describe myself. I was doing far more than working as a peripatetic class music teacher and, as the years went on I did less of the teaching. Presently one morning a week is the extent of my work in schools. I took my cue around the turn of the millennium from the director of a music charity for whom I ran a series of workshops and some interesting projects for a few years. "You're a musician now, mate," he said and I liked that. I didn't feel like a bona fide musician though. I hadn't been through a conservatoire education, I wasn't in a touring or full-time gigging band. My income was acquired through doing lots of bits of different musical activities. Most of what I did musically did not earn me money. There are days when I don't spend a couple of hours practising. I don't specialise in one musical discipline. I am not a "guitarist", or a "percussionist", a "singer", a "composer", or a "songwriter" or even a "dancer" and yet I do all of these and more as part of my professional life. I don't spend much time playing the instrument for which I have gained my "letters" so I cannot call myself a recorder player with any degree of authenticity.
I don't really know why it shook me to hear myself introduced as a ceilidh caller. I'm trying to work out if there could be some kind of snobbery involved; perhaps a hierarchy of activities. I guess I may even officially now be a musician. When I renewed my van insurance recently they decided to change my occupation from "music teacher" to "musician". I'm happy with that ... Specially since it actually brought up a quote that came out to cost less. I was not expecting that. I'm happy with it too because it fits more comfortably and means I don't have to try and rationalise that I am not being dishonest at such times. Music teachers may not be the people who drive round the country at 3am with a van full of p.a. equipment and instruments. They are, however, the people who manage to sustain, week after week, a dedication to improving the confidence and standards of their pupils. I could not do that. I've tried it and I'm not really good enough to know how to address problems that pupils encounter when playing instruments. Unless we are talking about playing the recorder I can only take them so far, barely beyond the beginner stage. As for ceilidh caller, there is no implication that I have to be musical at all. I would be proud to be introduced as a composer. After all I do have more than a hundred compositions registered under my name with the PRS and playing them adds a small annual sum to my income. Perhaps had I been introduced as an activist campaigner I would have questioned the description less.
Today, though I am a traveller. Greetings to you all whatever you celebrate at this time of the year.