Remember the first grade when the teacher said you could be anything? What dream job did you choose: fireman, astronaut, veterinarian? The list of professions first graders list off is long and cliched. Unfortunately, most of us never get a chance to look at that experience from a more mature perspective and really take an honest look at what we want to do with ourselves. Professional Celtic harp musician Jeff Stockton got that opportunity, being a first grade school teacher.
"There was one day when I happened to talk to my grade one students," Stockton explains. "We were talking about things that they dreamed of doing when they grew up. One of the girls in the class asked, 'well what do you dream about?' Just off the cuff, I said I'd play the Celtic harp and sing. And she looked at me and said, 'well, why don't you?' It was just one of those moments in the class, but for some reason, it just really stuck with me. And a couple of months later I didn't have a satisfactory answer to that question, so I thought well it's worth a shot."
Fascinated by the Celtic harp and the ancient Bardick tradition (the mixing or story with song), Stockton summoned the courage to follow his dream. He dropped four grand on a harp he had no idea how to play, and began scaling back his commitments as a school teacher.
Initially, he took one day a week to devote to the harp, paring back his hours to part-time, until finally he took a full leave of absence to compose and record. Selling his condo, he moved to a house in the woods of the Kananaskis where he could draw inspiration from the surrounding landscape. This was a place for creating a wide range of music, from quick jigs to lyrical ballads.
"It was difficult," Stockton confesses. "I mean there was a lot of macaroni and cheese over the couple of years when I was composing and preparing for the recording. I had a very stable and comfortable lifestyle and there were times where I wondered what on earth was I doing. But in retrospect, creating that time and the opportunity to really explore the process of composing and crafting music and the excitement of heading into the studio and producing and arranging, it has all been worth it.
Stockton's courage and sacrifice have begun to pay off. His debut album Sacred Ground is being released on May 22 at a concert at the Rozsa Centre, and his music is being showcased on Celtic music programs throughout North America.
Aside from success, Stockton has found not only inspiration, but real happiness, creating and performing his songs and stories, a combination he finds powerful.
"It's been really amazing to see how [story and song] have combined," he says. "Music by itself has a real impact on the listener, especially live, and storytelling has the same sort of power. To see the two of them weaved together, it just seems to bring a really vivid quality to the stories when I'm telling them, whether it's for adults or for children."
Jeff Stockton's story should serve as an inspirational signpost to us all. He has done what so many people wished they had the courage to do, but few ever accomplish. With regrets behind him, he has put forth the hard work necessary to make his dreams a reality.
This isn't the first grade. Jeff Stockton has the confidence of someone truly satisfied with what they've accomplished.