On Working

This weekend was busy busy busy. 

But oh so good. 

On Saturday, I had the immense privilege to perform in the backing orchestra for international superstar baritone Josh Groban. He is a class act- not only a talented singer but a professional one. He introduced himself to his local musicians and kept everything on a tight schedule without fuss. His touring band- seven mind-bogglingly talented individuals- was also exceedingly nice and made us feel like part of the ensemble. I also had the pleasure to share the stage again with my good friend Melissa Morey, and if you’re looking for a horn teacher, look no further! Taking the stage for an audience of 8,000 people is an experience beyond exciting. 

On Sunday, Winona State University professor Donald Lovejoy’s labor of love, Festival Brass, did a reprise concert to last week’s, this time at WSU itself. We played some fantastic music for large brass ensemble, including a spine-tingling rendition of Alfred Reed’s Symphony for Brass and Percussion. Performers included members of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, faculty at local colleges from the U to UW River Falls, and then there was little old me. 

I mention it thusly because on top of luxuriating in the musical experiences I participated in this weekend, I got nothing short of an education in the world of professional playing- both on a large, international scale, and on a local one. It’s not often I get to play with such top talent, and it’s definitely a goal of mine to make it a more regular thing. 

People are often curious about how the process of booking and getting jobs in the music industry works. Auditions are indeed a part of the puzzle, especially for players hoping to land an orchestra gig. But for freelancers like myself, getting gigs is all about visibility and word-of-mouth. Groban’s gig came to me because Melissa gave my name to the booking agent; Dr Lovejoy found my website when searching for local players for a concert last year. Most gigs come into my hand because of other gigs- a perpetuating cycle- I played here and so-and-so liked me and thought of me when the next concert for X group came up. I play in Metro Brass because of my time with Sheldon Theatre Brass Band- and I can’t even remember how I got that gig anymore. 

This is often a tenuous lifestyle, I won’t lie about that. And there are downsides to the ‘word-of-mouth’ method of booking gigs. Music and especially the brass world can be a bit of an old boys club, and not just in a sexist way. Friends book friends book friends and no one else gets a chance. Luckily, you have two very important tools at hand to combat this. 

1. Be a reliable player.

Notice I did say phenomenal, or outstanding, or anything- but reliable. It’s so boring, I know. And you should always strive to be the best performer you can be. But if you’re reliable- not only can you hit the notes and rhythms and play in tune, but you can also be counted on to show up on time, dress appropriately, and act professionally- people will book you again. 

2. Be a good person.

Bring the drama? Act aggressively to criticism? Can’t be nice to your fellow performers? Don’t expect to work much. Like anyone else, musicians like work to people who are pleasant and easy to get along with. Most of us are pretty nice people- I’m speaking for my studio, of course- so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for anyone. Just remember that acting maturely, calmly, and friendly at a gig is a sure fire way to impress the powers that be. 

Got it? Now go practice. You still have to know how to play all your scales. 

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