And that’s if you’re lucky enough to be talking to someone who actually acknowledges what you do as a job; the other week, after spending five solid days workshopping and recording student compositions and giving a final showcase concert, one of the parents of said students asked me what my real job was. Deep breaths. It’s not the first time I was asked something like that – and it certainly won’t be the last.
While it’s true that often the public-facing side of our work is when we are performing (and this happens more often than not in the evenings), it by no means affords us the day to laze around and wait for curtain up – nor does it mean we somehow hold down a ‘real job’ in the meantime (although of course many musicians, myself included, do the odd non-performance thing to make ends meet, but therein lies a whole other article waiting to be written). Apart from the obvious task of rehearsing prior to a performance, lots of other bits of admin all pile up in order to make a concert happen. How will I get to the venue? Will I have to stay the night? Are the trains running back to town that late? Can I get a lift?
Should I bring sandwiches? Can I bring sandwiches? I should bring sandwiches. Oh, there’s no fresh food in the fridge because I haven’t been at home for 10 days. Ok, no sandwiches.
All of these things – booking travel, accommodation, planning to have just enough food in the fridge so you use it all up and don’t leave a plate of lasagne for a week to begin to develop a life of its own – take time to plan. Apart from this, day-to-day things such as staying on top of our accounts, and keeping the number of unread emails at bay, eat up precious minutes and hours. And let’s not forget the small matter of actually practising to make sure we can actually do the job when we arrive.
Scheduling teaching is another thing that all adds to the jumble of logistics that often see musicians running from one thing to the next. When you see an orchestral musician in concert, they may have been up twelve hours earlier to get to their early morning student on the other side of town, before a session of seemingly relentless emails and planning – all of this before they even think about leaving to get to the rehearsal for the concert that night.
Don’t even get me started on childcare – I have no idea how musician parents do it. And holidays. Any self-employed musician who manages to commit to and subsequently book a holiday months in advance without worrying about loss of income, having to turn work down, or feeling guilty about taking time away is… probably not a musician. If there are those of you out there who manage to accomplish this, please get in touch: I’d love to know your secret.
One thing I have learned (slowly) is to sit with the irregularity, to accept it as an inevitable part of our jobs. Some days you will be tearing around, flopping into bed at the end of it wondering why you put yourself through it. Other times, you will have entire days free – which is nice, until you realise you’ve had 10 in a row and the diary continues to gape emptily at you. But that is the path we have chosen – and while it can be frantic at times, we always push through and remind ourselves that we are lucky to do something as mad as this for a living. I know I’d take it over a 9-to-5 any day.