How to enjoy a long music career

Things can break down, shoulders, hands, back. Exercise in ways that work for you. Swimming is good, but anything really, don’t just sit 12 hours a day. Our job mostly involves sitting, so counteract that with something.

My first paying gig was when I was a senior in high school, and I played in a Dixieland band at the Sunflower Festival in Bogart, Georgia. A quick bit of math tells me, if I was 17 then, and almost 67 now…let’s see, take away 3, carry the one….why that’s nearly 50 years! If anything, I’m qualified to speak on having a long career. But Gerry, you say, I’m only 19 now, and don’t even have a job yet. To which I reply, “Be quiet, and don’t interrupt me”! Now what was I saying….oh yeah, how to stretch your food dollar by canning….. what? Oh that’s right, a long career. 

Start by having a career. No really, that’s priceless information Gerry, I guess that’s why you get the big bucks. Again, to which I reply, “No, I don’t even go deer hunting”. But seriously, you need to have a job, right? So one of my colleagues will be writing an awesome post on auditions, and we should, over time, have many informative posts to help with most aspects of work, playing, writing music, and so many more. 

But let’s just start by asking, what do you want to do? Classical, Jazz, teach, compose, conduct…did I forget something? Probably. But here’s my first point..don’t limit yourself. Get as much experience and familiarity with as many styles and kinds of things that relate to music making as possible. I don’t even pretend to know what musicians will look like in 50 years. Well, that’s not quite true…,most will have gray hair, if they still have hair. But I digress. (again) 

I was my high school band’s Drum Major Senior year. Ok now how does that relate to anything we’re talking about Gerry? I’ll connect the dots, be patient! Sheesh, young folks these days! Besides being pretty darn proud of that accomplishment (lets see Doug Yeo do that!) it’s also getting in front of a group, and having to start them, stop them, keep time, wave your hands the right way, and not be afraid to stand in front. 

We are pretty comfortable in the back, but the closer to the front of the stage you are, the bigger the paycheck. How about this, learn to play other instruments. It can give you an appreciation of what other folks do, and it could be fun. Learn one that is completely different than yours, say, a non wind instrument. Or even something non musical, like drums! (oh Gerry, that’s low!) I’ve made a few dollars over the years on tuba, contra bass, euphonium….well no, I played euphonium, but no one was paying me! (Latin for unemployed…euphonium) And maybe the most important, listen to lots of music, and not just stuff you already know and like, but everything. Some day you could get asked to tour with a country rock group, you never know! The things I’ve played over the years, Liberace, Salsa, Opera, Chinese Funerals….ok Gerry we know, we read your bio… but you see, anything may come along and pay the bills. And even if you land that dream job in the Galactic Symphony Orchestra, chances are they won’t be able to play Bruckner 7 every week and keep the lights on. 

I’ve played the music of Abba, Aretha Franklin, Indigo Girls, Beatles of course, Sinatra, and movies. Oh yeah, lots of those: Raiders, Potter, Star Wars, 1 thru 16… get the idea. So any knowledge you have of styles of music, can potentially help. Now perhaps the one thing I haven’t mentioned ..well, I haven’t talked about, you haven’t said much since I asked you to be quiet… how do you keep playing at a high level over many years? 

Start with playing at a high level. Self explanatory right. But not easy. I worked for years to get mediocre, but I eventually got there. So persistence, very important. Some folks get a job right away (I hate those folks!) others like me it takes a while. But you need to constantly work at your craft. If you think the time you put in during college is enough, well maybe. But maybe not. Or maybe you have to have to squeeze your practice time into a very effective 30-45 minutes a day, since you have to monitor the space lock, pressurize your suit…did you forget that? Oh no, now you’re really in trouble! Or did you think the Galactic Orchestra was doing a local tour? Oh no my friend, you’re going to do some real traveling! 

Back to maintaining your chops. You need a consistent routine. And an active imagination. Combine what you learned that works for you, and tweak, refine, develop it over time. Maybe even write your own daily routines book. (I did, it’s available for $19.95, plus shipping and handling, not available in Puerto Rico or Alaska..they have better things to do…and yes, I’ve been to both. You really didn’t read my bio, did you? 

So as another great opportunity, listen to your colleagues. I’ve learned a lot by listening to mine. (mostly I learned they were better than me) They may have things they do, little secrets you can steal, er, borrow, adapt for yourself. I learned something listening to my horn colleagues. (mostly, that I was glad I didn’t play horn) Strings don’t have the same technical issues, so it can be a real benefit just to quit thinking like a trombonist. And singers, oh yeah, they can teach us a lot! (But do they? No, just too arrogant! I didn’t mean that, just kidding……or was I?) 

Here’s something that may not seem obvious, stay in good health. Exercise can help with your breathing, which is something I think may help,. (Captain Obvious, give me 20 push ups and 5 laps) But really, we need strength, and trust me, it don’t get easier over time. (bad grammar intentional, not that dumb) 

Things can break down, shoulders, hands, back. Exercise in ways that work for you. Swimming is good, but anything really, don’t just sit 12 hours a day. Our job mostly involves sitting, so counteract that with something. And I often made a late night pilgrimage with colleagues to test the quality of local beverages, and that can add to your “Tone Chamber” over time. We do have a physical occupation, and we’ll need to stay at least moderately healthy to play well into later life. 

I hope I’ve given you some things that you can use and that help you. And if so, don’t be afraid to let me know. I like to hear from folks and to know something I’ve said has resonated with them. Just remember, late mornings are best, and never between 3:00-5:00 PM MST, that’s Beverly Hillbillies, Andy Griffith, Green Acres, and Gomer Pyle, two hours straight of classic TV that can NOT be interrupted. (did I forget to mention, watch lots of classic TV from the 60’s? That’s 1960’s!) That’s all for now, but stay tuned…. more highly informative life lessons, all free of charge, to be added soon. 

And if you’re really good, I just might share my cornbread recipe. (the secret is the toasting the blueberries before adding…) 

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