‘I expected to have a day job for the rest of my life’

Celebrated music composer Philip Glass on working part-time jobs in New York City and how he never thought he could make a living writing music. In ‘The Atlantic’

Lolade Fadulu: While you were really getting started, you worked as a plumber and as a taxi driver, and also as part of a moving company. Why did you work those jobs?
Philip Glass: I had an ensemble at the time. I would go out and play for three weeks. We would come back from the tour, and we usually had lost money so I had to make money immediately. I put an ad in the paper. My cousin and I ran the company, and I moved furniture for about three or four or five weeks. Then I went on tour again. Again, we lost money.
That went on for years. I thought it was going to go on for the rest of my life, actually. It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living, really, from writing music. That happened kind of by accident.
I was interested in jobs that were part-time, where I had a lot of independence, where I could work when I wanted to. I wasn’t interested in working in an office where everything would be very regimented.
About that time—I’m talking about the early ’70s—the part of New York called SoHo now, it was mostly buildings that housed factories that made clothing. But about this time, artists were buying spaces in that area, and my cousin and I began to help build. We were putting in heating systems and putting in kitchens and bathrooms. We learned how to do that. We would put an ad in the paper, and we’d get to your house, and we’d do it. When it was time to go back on tour, I just closed up for about three weeks and [would] come back and go to work again for two or three months sometimes.
Also, at that time, I was a composer in residence at the La MaMa theater on East Fourth Street, so I was also writing music for plays, and I had my ensemble. I was starting to become a professional composer. I had been out of Juilliard by that time. And eventually, by the time I was 41, 42, I was actually making a living playing music.
I was surprised it happened so quickly, actually. I expected to have a day job for the rest of my life.

Read the rest of the interview here

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