Philip Glass Discusses How He Went From Taxi Driver to Celebrated Composer

"I expected to have a day job for the rest of my life," he told The Atlantic.

Philip Glass
Philip Glass performs during "Make Music Day: Philip Glass/ Glass on Water" at Pier I Cafe on June 21, 2016 in New York City. (Kris Connor/Getty Images for NAMM)
Getty Images for NAMM

Philip Glass started working in his father’s record store at age 12, where he’d help his dad sort the good music from the bad, but he knew he’d become a musician even before that. He took flute lessons while his brother studied the piano.

Now at 81-years-old, Glass is one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century, with an honorary doctorate in music from his alma mater, the Juilliard School, and has won a National Medal of Arts, the Society of Composers and Lyricists’ Lifetime Achievement Award, and multiple Golden Globe and Academy Awards, according to The Atlantic, who sat down with Glass to talk about his career.

Glass started working as a plumber and taxi driver and also as a part of a moving company when he was first getting started with an ensemble, which would go out and play for three weeks and come back from the tour with less money then they had when they left. So for years, he worked small jobs between playing music. “I thought it was going to go on for the rest of my life, actually,” he said. “It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living, really, from writing music. That happened kind of by accident.” He had some scary experiences working those day jobs — like the time a group of men got in the back of his cab right after they’d robbed a store — but he learned a lot by listening to music on the radio. Glass has one piece of advice to give to young people: Independence. His independence was so important because he was able to control how he spent his time, and he had the freedom to work the way he wanted to.

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