I Retired! Sort Of

Posted by Steven Russell on Monday, September 11, 2017

On July 1, 2017 I retired. Well, “retire” isn’t a good word to describe what I’ve done. I’m still working. I needed a word that means quit one career to pursue another, and the only one I could think of was “retire.” I worked for 34 years as a full time musician in the Diocese of Trenton, first as a music teacher, then as a full time director of music in three different parishes over the course of 28 years. It was a fun career. I got to make a living as a musician, which is what I set out to do. And I made a decent living for 34 years as a musician.

I get asked all the time why I gave up on a career that was fun, engaging, profitable, and sustaining. The answer I first give is, “Because I didn’t want to do it anymore.” It’s true. I worked, essentially, for the same company for 34 years. Who does that nowadays? And there comes a time when you just have to do something else. I needed to quit and follow another path while I was still young enough to. I turned 57 just after my “retirement.” Fortunately, I can go on my husband’s health plan. That was probably the biggest factor in making this decision. I’ve been a yoga teacher for 7 years, and that helped provide for me the idea that I could do something besides music. But that wasn’t enough. I went to school for a year to become a Licensed Massage Therapist. That was the final step in preparing for my grand exit from the church music scene.

But I haven’t exited totally. In fact, yesterday, September 10, was the first Sunday since my retirement that I didn’t play in a church. I always planned to be a substitute organist after I left the full time field. Summer is a ripe time for subbing. I’ve played every Saturday and Sunday since July. What’s good about that is I get to play once, maybe twice a weekend. Not 8 times. And in my life as a full time church musician I went to mass more than any other person I know. Many, many more times. It’s something meant for people to do once a week, or maybe once a day. Not 8 times. That’s what I really didn’t want to do any more.

Getting to be a sub has been enlightening. I get to meet all sorts of different people in different traditions of worship. I get to meet and listen to brilliant women in positions of authority and influence. I get to drive up to churches with rainbows painted on their signs along with phrases like, “ALL are welcomed here.” I get to talk openly about my marriage to people who see that as a strength, and nothing I need to hide. It’s also kept me on my toes, so to speak, having to pay close attention to liturgical sequences I don’t know by rote. I have to concentrate on playing hymns and service music I may or may not have ever seen before. I have to adapt to a wide variety of instruments of various ages, and in various conditions of repair and functioning. The whole process has made me feel elevated, and very self-confident.

I love massage, as well. I will always, first and foremost, be a musician. An artist. But learning about the body, and being able to help people relax and heal has been thrilling. As a musician I may never see the effect my work has had. As a massage therapist I most often immediately see the benefits my work has on the body and on the person.

I plan to share more about my “retirement,” and the opportunities it has brought.


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