Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Getting a good return in the long run

Performing musicians: Today I'm going to talk to you like I'm your financial advisor.

You need to diversify your portfolio.

It's a complex, competitive world out there, and if you want to be able to survive as a musician--I'm speaking here to people who want to do music for something other than a private hobby--you have to be open in the first place to the fact that you will probably end up doing some things that have nothing to do with what you thought you'd be doing, even in the field of music.

In the second place, however, it is almost certain that even in your specific vision of what you've got in mind you will find that the logistics, deadlines, and uncertainties of day to day operations make it necessary to really on every skill you've got in your arsenal. Unless you've just got the one, then--look out.

It's become sort of a joke around here lately that I like to play the piano with one hand while taking pictures with the other, but I've actually been cultivating my skills at multitasking a lot these past few years. When you perform with ensembles, particularly amateur ensembles, you generally need to be able to help them while helping yourself at the same time. And on Sunday morning during a church service you never know what will happen and how you will need to deal with it. I've been learning to perform distracted--and to consider that what I'm hearing and how to deal with it is an important part of music making, and not something I need to screen out.

On the other hand, I've also been honing my concentrating skills, which is the complete opposite. I used to tell my students that even if the Blue Angels flew overheard during their recital they had to ignore it and keep going. I once kept on playing through a fire drill, so I think I've got the cred. I figured if things were really on fire they'd come back for me anyway.

Anyhow, the important thing is I'm still here.

The other important thing is that, in a given week, I do plenty of sight reading, plenty of playing by ear, plenty of making things up on the spot, composing, and especially problem solving to figure out how I'm going to get everything done and done well. This week I did all my recording on Monday because I knew it was going to be 4 below zero the rest of the week and I like to record with the heat off temporarily so there is less hum on the recordings, and at those temperatures you can't maintain any semblance of heat for more than a couple of minutes. So I've spent the rest of the week composing three pieces a few weeks ahead of their deadlines, and jamming in rehearsals as needed. Basically you have to size everything up, figure out when your opportunities present themselves, and do what you can do when you can do it. I've gotten better at that over the years.

It's a pretty diversified life, and I like the challenge. Which is another skill you'll need. Challenge-loving. Along with discipline and hard work, it means you'll always get better at what you do, because what you are doing is always dealing with challenges. You can only improve what you practice, and the more you see something as an opportunity to practice it, (instead of complaining about it) the faster you'll improve.

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