I’ve heard the phrase “the right decision isn’t always the easiest one” many times in my life. It’s not often that I have to make those really heavy decisions, but this weekend I faced one that really had me distressed, and I want to share it with you.

I was asked by a dear, dear friend – a woman who practically raised me – to play for the musical “Rent!”, which saw lots of success on Broadway and won several Tony awards. Having never seen the show, and with our friendship in mind, I committed to do the gig. The pay wasn’t even enough to pay for my gas back and forth to rehearsals and shows, so I knew it would be a labor of love, but was willing to take it on anyways.

This week, my wife was speaking with a family friend of ours, and when the friend asked if we had anything exciting going on this summer, my wife said “Well, Derek is playing for “Rent!” throughout July.” This lady had a very visceral reaction to this news: “Derek? Really? He’s going to play for that nasty, disgusting show?” This caught my wife off guard; she didn’t know what the show was about (neither did I at that point). When she recalled the discussion to me later over the phone (I was in California on business), I was shell-shocked: “Is it a nasty show?” I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

For those who don’t know, “Rent!” is a pretty heavy musical; it deals with issues like drug use, AIDS, homosexuality, and it’s characters include a drag queen and a drug-addicted stripper. Beyond that, the show uses some pretty coarse language and has some graphic sexual portrayals, language, and gestures thrown in.

Now, for many people, this is no big deal. Heck, I’m no pansy myself – I know the world is a gritty, awful place sometimes and things aren’t always ideal. But for some reason, something in my gut told me that maybe this is more than I wanted to take on. I started asking myself: “is there a professional line I can draw here?” Is it possible for me to say “I’m a professional musician, getting paid to play the ink on the page and nothing more?” I mean, I’d be behind a curtain, nobody would know it’s me playing; total anonymity on my part.

My wife (God love her) brought me back to center with this question: “Have you ever played a show where you were embarrassed to invite people? One where you didn’t feel comfortable telling friends and family that you were a part of it?” The answer, obviously, is no. I’ve always tried to make everything I do accessible to people of all ages – make sure it’s not going to offend or close people’s hearts or minds to anything. Music and lyrics can be very powerful tools, and, used irresponsibly, can ruin an evening for some people – I’ve seen it happen many times in my life.

After meditating on the situation and doing some soul searching for an evening, I came to the conclusion that playing for this musical was the wrong decision for me. I got in touch with the friend who asked me to play and broke the news to her (she was very gracious, loving, and understanding about the whole thing); not wanting to be irresponsible, I tried to come up with a list of replacements and offered to make the calls to find someone to take my spot. Luckily, one of my former drum students (Omar Farias) was available and eager to take it on, and I knew he would do a great job with the show musically and enjoy the experience all around. Omar’s one of those guys we all love to hate – plays practically every instrument and does great at all of them! – so he was the ideal choice for a fill-in. From what I heard, he did a great job and learned a lot.

So, though it was hard to turn down the gig (always is!), it proved to be the right decision for me. As a side effect, this experience taught me that I’m not willing to sell off my personal beliefs or my sense of self for a paycheck; that I have enough personal fortitude to say “no” when I think something’s going to be an uncomfortable fit. Knowing those things doesn’t make it any easier of a situation, but it does help shore me up for the next time something like this happens…and it undoubtedly will.