Back in December I took a trip just a few miles south of my home in Memphis and several decades back to visit a few women, named Skeeter, Minnie, and Aibileen, amongst others. I’d heard a lot of press about the book “The Help” and decided that I needed to read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the themes and motifs in this piece of history really struck home in many ways. Not all of us have been maids, or have had a maid, but there are parallels that can be drawn between a person’s profession, passion, and life that will change you if you choose to consider the possibility.
Minnie’s character was a maid whose hot-tempered, “tell you how it is” personality often got her in trouble. She was the kind of woman who wasn’t going to take any sh*t from anyone (but she’d give it, for sure), and I was drawn most to her. After being unjustly fired from her job, she found work with a woman who lived alone with her husband way out in the woods, and was described as wearing clothes that were too tight and too bright – typical Tunica County gal (not my personal opinion to anyone from Tunica, I’m just saying what the book said), named Celia. Minnie and Celia went through a lot together and argued frequently (more in the book than the movie), but the biggest problem was that Celia did not want her husband to know that she hired a maid. In light of this, one of her requests was that Minnie burn the chicken a little bit, so that her husband wouldn’t get suspicious over the cooking being a little better all of a sudden. In response, Minnie says “Minnie don’t burn chicken!”
That stuck with me a little bit. I often compare music to food, and burning chicken is exactly what musicians try not to do, proverbially. But what if you aren’t in charge of what you get to produce, like Minnie? What if your boss (conductor, teacher, etc.) wants to convince an audience of something that you just don’t agree with? I'm not saying I've dealt with anyone who wants my playing to be worse or a false representation by any means, but being told how to produce is, personally, something I'm touchy about, and like Minnie, Garrett don’t burn chicken either.
So often confidence and strong opinions are equated to arrogance and ego, and over the last couple months I’ve really learned this. I live my life with the attitude that as different people we're all entitled to different opinions that are ALL correct, but not everyone feels that way. There’s always someone looking up to you, and I think that being open to more opinions shows that you are flexible, even if you don’t agree. In the rare occasions when we are representing ourselves first, and an organization, school, or teacher second, I think it’s good to go with what you feel most comfortable with, but when is this the case outside of an audition situation? Even then, there's a school or former employee on your resume. So when you’re in someone else’s kitchen you have to be willing to burn the chicken a little bit, if asked. I don’t agree with it, but my most current run-ins have taught me that it’s just easier if you do. I'm not going to let my heart be heavy and stress levels rise over this sort of thing any longer, because at the end of the day if you work hard and do what you're supposed to do (while remaining true to yourself), good things will happen.
Congratulations to Octavia Spencer who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the movie adaptation of “The Help” – she really made the character come to life for me. As I move away from the Los Angeles freelance scene and to the Detroit Symphony, I’ll try not to be as hot-headed as Minnie, and burn the chicken a little bit, if asked. Hopefully though, I won’t need to follow Minnie’s example of serving pie!