As musicians and students, we are oddly forgiving of inappropriate answers to this question, and as we meet hordes of potential friends at the start of each year, we reinforce the inappropriateness with conversations that go something like this:
"Hi, I'm Cayla. I play the bassoon."
"Oh, cool. I do, too."
"What do you like to do for fun?"
"I've never had much time for hobbies."
and icebreaker games that go something like this:
"Tell us your name, what you study, where you're from, and something you like to do."
"Hi, I'm Cayla, and I study music. I'm from Georgia. I play the bassoon."
After these conversations and introductions, I find that I know next to nothing about the actual person next to me, and he or she knows nothing about me. More disturbingly, I used to find that the question of hobbies made me hesitate, too.
The rare student who gets beyond that hesitation is not much more creative. What do you like to do in your spare time? More importantly, what do you do that makes you:
WRONG. You need sleep to function. This is not a hobby.
WRONG. See above.
WRONG. This is, more often than not, code for "sleeping while I'm awake." Something relaxing but not engaging in the long run. This is not a hobby.
PROBABLY WRONG. Unless you run for the sheer enjoyment of running, you are using exercise for a secondary function of health or beautification. This is (often) not a hobby.
Read? Knit? Play guitar? Hike?
MAYBE. Why do you do it, really?
When I was younger, this was not a rare experience. I played softball. I picked up trombone for jazz and marching bands. I wrote short stories (and even a novel once, literally my heaviest artistic contribution to the world). Here are a couple pictures of me looking cute and having a hobby.
Music mandates that we be human. We have to roll in the dirt and know firsthand what it feels like to be cold, supported, like a failure, and so on. We have to live life to truly know pieces of it to share with other humans. Isn't that what we do?
As we each enter a new academic year or performance season that pulls us in too many directions of too many commitments, I throw one more task in front of you. Find something that makes you YOU, independent of your studies, your work, your friends, and your background - something that makes you smile, that you would do if no one asked or noticed or praised, that makes you feel alive.
And as an added bonus, you might be able to confidently answer the question I leave you with now:
"So, what do you do?"