A Locked Room

I went to a conference today.  Not a tuba conference.  And that’s significant, because the message was of a different type.  Not just a different message, but a different type of message. See, most of my life I’ve been going to conferences aimed at performing musicians.  And those conferences tend to focus on “how” and “what.”  With very little thought as to “why.”  The question of “why” is manifest in that the participants are there in the first place.  I love to play the tuba, so I go.  And that’s it. But the question behind so much of everything is “why.”  Why do we make art?  Why do we write prose and poetry?  If we can peel away all the subsequent questions and go back to why, maybe we can find another path to gratifying the drives within us. The conference was the Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference, and I enjoyed myself.  I learned something.  I learned things. But the important thing I learned was that there are a lot of people out there in my shoes.  They don’t know how to connect the creative impulse with the world around them in a way that lets them eat regularly. But what moved me most was when a friend of mine, to a large room and with tears in her eyes, admitted that she’d closed herself into a practice room with a cello since she was 10 under the impression that practice was all it takes.  That the craft is more important than the connections.  That what she has been doing hasn’t brought her success, and she needs to...

Choose Your Gig Wisely

When I first started my path as a professional musician my teacher Mark Cox offered me some sage advice (Pardon the paraphrasing Mark!):”You don’t become a professional someday.  You became a professional the minute you walked onto campus your freshman year, whether you act like it or not.” One of the lessons I learned and have tried to pass on to my students (and my colleagues sometimes) is the profession of being a gigging musician isn’t about how many gigs you play.  It’s to a large degree about how you cultivate those gigs, and what those gigs are.  In particular, you have to remember that your musical skills have value, so don’t give them away for free.  And just as important, don’t undercut your musical colleagues, because what they do has value too.  If you sell your services cheaper, it drives down the rate that everyone makes, and it pisses off your fellow musicians.  It does not reduce the amount of practice time, the price of your instrument, or your utility bills. To the non-musician, the uninitiated, a gig is a musical performance that’s outside of your regular musical duties.  For an undergrad for example, a gig would be playing at church, but not your regularly schedule band concert.  For a professional gigging musician, gigs are the colorful mosaic that, once arranged, make up a living. The “your work has value” rule is the backbone of being a music professional, which is why a conversation on the TubeNet was interesting. It’s about just that sort of thing, but from a different angle. Yes, the TubeNet is a tuba bulletin...

Protected: Add Junk

In 2006 I finished my Masters degree and got a position at a mid-sized Midwestern university.  Officially my title was “Artist in Residence,” for the music department but I figured out pretty quickly that I was a glorified adjunct.   My duties included teaching private music lessons and classes, performing, recruiting, and I could optionally pick up extra classes to augment my salary.  Considering my salary was a whopping $16,000, I chose to augment it as much as I could. What surprised me was not the money; going from my stipend in graduate school to the salary as an artist in residence was a pay increase.  What caught me completely off guard was the culture and environment.  Grad school had been a little chaotic, but there was a pleasant (and necessary) margin of error as I learned the ropes.  When I entered the halls of my new job, I had no mentor, no support, no office, no supplies…  and no margin of error.  Basically it was a desert.  At least until it came time for those inevitable errors that come in your first year of teaching.  Then I had no shortage of feedback, and little of that was pleasant. I tried to contact other adjuncts, other artist-residents to form some sort of support group, or to at least learn something, but that wasn’t a success either.  Everyone had been pitted against each other, competing for class contracts, posting fliers in the hall to get students into their sections over other teachers’ sections.  As I learned, sections of various classes were added to the schedule and adjuncts hired, and any class...