Of Tubas and Toilets: how Crohn's has shaped my career as a musician

The last three semesters of my graduate degree involved upper level music education courses that all started with my three least favorite questions: “What’s the goal?” “Where would you like this degree to take you?” “What are your career goals?” My answers always varied depending on my level of comfort with classmates and professors, knowing that I really couldn’t count on any answer I gave. 

My original plan during my undergraduate degree was to be playing tuba as much as humanly possible.  I started auditioning for orchestras, I played as many gigs as I could get, and never left the practice room.  This lasted 7 whole gloriously hectic months.  My symptoms, which had been undiagnosed my entire life, started getting bad again early in college.  I started canceling gigs, staying in bed longer, and traveling less and less.  Unfortunately in the hyper competitive music world, this meant the phone stopped ringing and I stopped trying.  I started teaching privately out of necessity; it paid well and for the most part I could make my own schedule. 

After graduation my husband and I moved from New York to Texas for graduate school, where my health started declining quickly.  I was teaching almost full time at this point, and decided to take a leave from school and continue to work as much as I could.  During this time I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which was then changed to Crohn’s disease, and started a few different treatments.  I missed so much work during this process.  I was positive that I was going to lose my job, which miraculously didn’t happen.

My job is a little different than most teachers.  I’m a contractor hired by the districts to teach private tuba, euphonium, and trombone lessons (these are one-on-one lessons with students), low brass ensembles, and masterclasses.  If I’m with a group I have the entire class period with the kiddos, when I teach privately each student gets a 30 minute lesson.  Being a contractor means I have no job security, no benefits, and I rely on the student’s parents, the booster clubs, and band budgets to get paid.  So far, I’ve been extremely lucky with parents who are really understanding of what is happening in my life. 

My largest struggle is spending so much time running back and forth to the bathroom (which aren’t always faculty bathrooms) that the student’s lesson has to be rescheduled.  I love my students, and enjoy my work when my body isn’t fighting with me, but I know this won’t and can’t be a long term career for me.  I’m finally not terribly bitter about losing my future as a career performer.  I have many other interests, but due to my education I’m not qualified to do much other than perform or teach.  When I was 18 my dream was to be a professional orchestral musician, traveling constantly, learning, and playing my instrument.  My illness took me on a different route that I ended up loving, but it also opened my mind to pursuing something outside of my education that may ultimately be a better fit. 

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Casey was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 22, which ultimately was changed to a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease the next year. She found the GWG organization and forum during a late night search for a support group geared towards women and is so grateful for the online community that she is now a part of! Casey holds degrees in Music Performance from the Crane School of Music and University of North Texas, and is currently an active performer and teacher in the DFW area. In her free time, Casey loves to cook, garden, and spend time with her amazing husband and three adorable fur kids!

Kristen SandersComment