I had a very busy final semester of my bachelor’s degree. I was performing with six different university ensembles (one of which was planning a month-long international summer tour), doing woodwind doubling for a musical, teaching at a nearby music school, and preparing for graduate school auditions.
Then I broke my arm. I slipped on something in a parking lot and landed on my elbow. The doctor put me in a cast from fingertips to shoulder.
At the time it seemed like the world was coming to an end. But things worked out. I canceled some things and modified or delayed some others. Some kind professors gave me advice and perspective and helped out with some logistics.
Looking back, it’s barely a bump in the road to where I am now. But I think of it now and then, when the next gig or recital starts to feel like the most important thing I will ever do.
For my college students, lots of things have been canceled this semester. Some of them won’t get to do their recital class performances or their Honors Recital auditions or their ensemble concerts.
It’s a shame to miss out on things. But right now there are bigger things going on in the world that demand some changes of plan. And in another year or two, those missed opportunities will be crowded out by all the new ones. A few missed performances will be a war story, not a lasting tragedy.
(That said, we shouldn’t forget that some musicians’ livelihoods are threatened by things like shutdowns of venues. Now is an excellent time to buy your favorites’ albums and merch to enjoy at home.)
Stay well, and look forward to the opportunities to come.
It took a while in my freelancing career to get a handle on how to respond when people ask what I charge for my services as a performer.
I live in a remote, rural area (where my university day job is located) and there isn’t a musicians’ union presence, so I’m on my own in these negotiations. When a gig call comes in, I have to make the decision whether the offered compensation is enough, or be able to name a fair price on the spot. I’ve developed sort of a mental formula for this calculation, which I have converted into an online spreadsheet with sample numbers so you can see my process:
If you have a Google account the link should prompt you to create a copy of the spreadsheet that you can play around with. Try changing some of the numbers and see how it works.
Basically, I’m thinking in terms of:
A base rate, which is the minimum I charge for even the smallest gig.
Additional fees if I’m expected to double on multiple instruments. (I’ve written previously about my rationale for that.)
Additional fees to cover my travel time and expenses.
This gives me a way to think through what I am charging in a consistent way, and a nice clear breakdown if someone asks why I’m charging what I’m charging, or wants some kind of itemized invoice. If I feel put on the spot, or I just want a little more time to think it through, I have had good success getting the details, then telling the caller I’ll get back to them within a certain time frame. (Maybe five minutes, or an hour, or the next day.)
Depending on the type of gig, what works for you, and what’s common in your area, you might need to adapt my system to include things like preparation/practice time, bringing and setting up PA or other equipment, downtime between sound check and downbeat, and expenses for things like special wardrobe. And of course you should adjust the base rate and other options to suit your financial needs, your clout in the local gig scene, and what’s common/appropriate in your location.
You should also think through what to do when the gig offer doesn’t meet your pay requirements. Turning down low-paying gigs contributes to an attitude that musicians should be treated as professionals and compensated fairly. But often weekend warriors or younger musicians trying to break into the local gig scene are willing to be a little more flexible. (The rights and wrongs of that are a larger topic than I will address here. Do what is best for you and your career.)
Think carefully about what your time and skills are worth, and expect to be paid in a way that is fair to both you and your employers.
Many of those arguing that woodwind doubling is a bad idea raise the issue that the “best” players of such-and-such instrument don’t double, and you can’t be the “best” at such-and-such instrument if you are doubling. If you think that, I could name a dozen prominent doublers who might change your mind, but that’s not really the important point.
As an undergraduate saxophone major, I daydreamed occasionally about being the “best” saxophonist. For me it probably wouldn’t have been a realistic goal, and the pursuit of it wouldn’t have led me to happiness, nor to success as I would have seen it through that lens.
When I made the decision to commit myself to woodwind doubling as a career path instead, I knew that would mean my progress on the saxophone would slow down. But it has been a very worthwhile choice for me: I get to play interesting music in a variety of settings, I get to spend all day at my university teaching job talking about the music and instruments that fascinate me, and I even have an audience of like-minded folks who stop by to read my blog posts. Now it’s hard for me to imagine myself being content to play just saxophone music all day.
Most of us won’t land a top orchestral job or tour the world as a concert soloist. And, believe it or not, not all of us want that anyway. We should be encouraging aspiring musicians to seek out niches that they enjoy and are motivated by.
Very, very few of us will ever be the “best,” so if that is your goal then I wish you luck. But for many of us, myself included, that’s not the goal at all. Mine is to have a successful and enjoyable career doing what I love, and so far, so good.
It’s cheap and easy to create a website. Any serious freelance musician (or aspiring musician) should have one.
This should be a website about you, an individual musician. It should be separate from your ensemble’s website or your academic institution’s website. It should exist long-term, and serve as a sort of permanent address for finding you online. If you do most of your online stuff on social media sites or on your organizations’ sites, that’s fine. Your individual website doesn’t have to replace or duplicate any of that. It can simply point people to those resources.
I won’t go into any technical details here, because there is very extensive information available online about the ways to make websites. Suffice it to say that if you have only enough technical skill to send and receive email and post things on Facebook, there are website services simple enough for you to operate. Or if you want to roll up your sleeves and code every line from scratch, you can learn how to do that too.
Here’s what you need, content-wise:
A domain name. Preferably this is something very simple and clear, like your name. Mine is bretpimentel.com. It works well because there aren’t a lot of Bret Pimentels, so web searches for my name usually put my site right at the top of the results.
If you have a more common name, you might need to add something meaningful to it. bretpimentelwoodwinds.com might work well, or bretpimentelmusic.com.
Pay for a real domain name. It’s not expensive. Something like bretpimentel.freewebsites.com looks unprofessional.
At minimum, a simple indication of what it is you do and how to contact you. That’s enough to be your whole website if you like. Here’s an example: “Bret Pimentel is a performer and teacher on the woodwind instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Some longevity. Go ahead and prepay the domain name and whatever hosting services you need for a good long time, maybe five or ten years, or set it up to renew automatically.
A more detailed biography.
A nice picture of you, especially one that helps reinforce what you do (like one where you’re holding your instrument).
Links to your social media profiles, YouTube channel, or other online things you want people to find.
Links to the websites of things associated with your career, like your performing ensembles or the institutions where you teach.
Optional items with caveats
Most of these things have to do with updating the content of your site on some kind of regular basis. That’s worth doing if your intention is to bring people back to visit your site again in the future. If you prefer to use your site as just sort of a digital business card, with no updating content, that’s fine too, and is much less effort to maintain.
A calendar of your upcoming performances. Only do this if you are thoroughly dedicated to keeping it up to date. An expired calendar makes your website look abandoned.
Recordings (audio and/or video) of some of your performances.
If you are hoping your website will help you get hired for things, only include recordings that you think appropriately and honestly reflect your current abilities.
Only post material you are certain you have the rights to post. For most individual-musician websites, chances are slim that anyone will take legal action against you for posting copyrighted material, but it’s still decent and polite to respect others’ intellectual property. (Acknowledging your non-ownership doesn’t make it okay to post something that isn’t yours. The copyright owner has to specifically give you permission or license the material to you in some way.)
A blog and/or some articles or other resources.
Again, this should be your own intellectual property or something you have explicit permission to post.
If you start a blog, start with a post that is about something, not a post about how you intend to start blogging soon, or asking people for ideas what to blog about. Lots of blogs start that way, with a single post promising big things to come, and then nothing more ever.
You don’t have to blog on any particular schedule if you don’t want to, just post when you have something to say.
Don’t include these
Lists of who you have played with, unless they are significant and career-defining.
As a graduate student I got to play at a university event honoring Dave Brubeck, including playing in an ensemble “with” him. For years my professional biography indicated that I had played with Dave Brubeck, even though after the one gig was over he almost certainly wouldn’t have remembered me, much less considered me some kind of collaborator. Listing him on my website was a pretty transparent inflation of the truth. (If he had hired me to join his quartet and go on the road for a few years, that would definitely be worth mentioning on my site.)
There have also been many less-famous names I have performed with, and why list those?
Lists of the equipment you use. One possible exception is if you have official endorsement deals that contractually require you to include this information. Otherwise, what is the list for? To prove how much money you have spent? To encourage others to blindly buy the same products as you?
“Links” lists, except in the rare case that your curation brings something valuable to the table. Lists of sites that you think are interesting or somehow related to your site are an artifact of earlier days of the web. Now if people want to find sites related to a topic, they just do a web search or follow related entities on social media.
Gratuitous photo albums, unless there’s a good reason to post them. Being attractive and/or vain isn’t a good reason, if you are hoping people will focus on what you have to offer musically. And you do need permission from the copyright holder.
A simple website is part of the modern musician’s professional face—you need one the same way you need a phone number, an email address, and black clothes for the gig. You can start for a few dollars and finish in less than an hour, or spend years building it into a powerful communication outlet. Get started today!
I’m a teen who started playing pits last year on flute and piccolo a year ago. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with pit, have played in four more musicals and am actively seeking out other gigs to gain experience. In addition, I’ve also taken up the saxophone and have plans to learn as many woodwinds as I can if not all of them. Do you think I should be a woodwind doubler?
It would be irresponsible to make a recommendation based on so little information, and of course it’s ultimately a very personal choice. I’ve previously suggested some questions worth asking oneself before pursuing woodwind doubling, so I won’t rehash those here.
But I think it’s also worth considering exactly what you mean by being a “woodwind doubler:”
Playing as many instruments as possible?
Playing a select group of instruments?
Playing multiple instruments as a hobby or part-time semi-pro gig?
Studying multiple instruments at a university/conservatory level?
Playing professionally or semi-professionally as a specialist on one instrument, but adding doubles to increase employability?
Competing for the highest-profile doubling gigs in a major market like New York City or Los Angeles?
Performing recital repertoire, orchestral music, and/or chamber music on multiple instruments?
Using multiple instruments in the creation of a unique personal repertoire (jazz, avant-garde, electronic, etc.)?
Your individual goals might include several of these, or others I haven’t listed. And your goals might be a little fuzzy or might change, which is okay. But just “woodwind doubler” isn’t a very clear path. Having some sense of direction might help you make decisions about education and training, investment in instruments, location, practice strategies, and more.
I was wondering how much of this still applies when taking on gigs as a student.
I’ve wrestled with this a bit and I’m not sure I have a real answer, but I do have some thoughts. (As usual, I’m talking here about markets that don’t benefit from a strong union presence, such as most of the USA.)
For someone hiring musicians for a gig, I don’t see a good reason to consider student status at all. You should hire musicians who can do the job, and should pay them fairly. If they are students, what does that have to do with anything?
But the Right Thing to Do seems a little less clear from the student perspective. In a situation where someone is attempting to treat student musicians (or anyone) in an exploitative way, the options are to accept, to attempt to negotiate better terms, or to refuse the gig. The problem is that freelance careers depend heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations, and being “easy to work with” is a prized quality. A student musician trying to get a foothold in the business could hurt his or her cause by complaining about unfair pay, or by staying home instead of playing.
Student musicians have to find the best balance they can between advocating for fair treatment and going with the flow. It’s not reasonable for the least-experienced musicians to have to navigate such a complicated thing with their careers hanging in the balance, but it’s the way things are.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself if you’re a student musician and think you’re being undervalued in the professional freelance marketplace:
Who else is on the gig? Would this be a genuine opportunity to make some connections and let some other musicians hear what you can do? Are those musicians the kind who might be able to offer you future opportunities in the near term, or are they others who don’t have much of a career yet?
Do you have peers who have taken this gig in the past? Did it pay off in terms of “exposure” or future gigs?
Is the experience something that would look good on your word-of-mouth “résumé,” or would it be kind of an embarrassment?
Do you have a trusted friend or mentor who is more established in the business, who can advise you on this specific situation? The music world is a small one, and someone who knows the local freelance scene might be able to offer some background.
Be careful of talking yourself into free or below-market gigs because you “just want to play.” That kind of attitude serves you well in school, but not so well when you’re trying to make a living, and it drags down other musicians’ ability to make fair money and pay their bills.
A parting thought: I certainly did some free and underpaid gigs as a student, and in some cases that may have opened doors to better opportunities. (It’s hard to connect the dots definitively.) But I think those of us who are established as freelancers should be careful about treating unfairness as a “paying dues” rite of passage. Shouldn’t we be using our success to make things better for the next generation of musicians?
Last summer I finally got myself a Little-Jake setup so I could experiment with some electric bassoon playing. The inventor of the Little-Jake, Trent Jacobs, is a performer, educator, and reedmaker, and I’ve linked to his blog posts on a number of occasions.
Trent was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself and about the Little-Jake.
Tell us in a nutshell about yourself and your career.
I have a bachelor of music degree from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, and Masters and DMA degrees from the University of Illinois. My primary teachers were Monte Perkins and Timothy McGovern. I moved to Minneapolis in 2009 where I started work at Midwest Musical Imports, and began freelancing and teaching as much as I could around the full time job. In about 2010 I started making reeds commercially under the Weasel Reeds brand, which grew significantly over the years. I started teaching bassoon and music theory at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in fall of 2015 and left MMI shortly after. I now teach there and in my studio in Minneapolis, continue with the reed making business, help in raising my two children (which includes Suzuki violin lessons), and freelance when I’m able.
What is the “Little-Jake?”
The Little-Jake is a small and inexpensive wind instrument pickup, designed to mount directly to the bocal of the bassoon or similar location on other woodwinds. It gets the name from a nickname I had when I was a little boy. My fathers friends called him “Jake” as short for Jacobs so when I was around I was “little Jake” while he was “big Jake.”
What was the impetus for creating it?
In about 2005 while I was working on my DMA, I started working out that my thesis/project would be somehow related to jazz bassoon. Years prior I was a pretty competent jazz guitarist, but didn’t ever translate that to bassoon much, and never improvised on bassoon until then. So when pursuing jazz bassoon in all facets I encountered (again) the music of Paul Hanson, and his electric bassoon playing.
If you know anything about Paul’s setup at that time, you’ll know he was using a pickup that was no longer being made or serviced by the inventor, and was an unusual piece of gear with odd technical requirements. The only thing on the market available to anyone else was actually a control booth earpiece that functioned as a microphone well enough when fit to a bocal (the Telex pickup).
I was curious about it and happened to have a third-hand connection with Mark Ortwein at the time, and I knew he had a Telex setup which he let me borrow. It worked, but I was rather unimpressed with the sound quality I could get through my guitar amp and pedals, so I set out to make something I liked better. Quite a few dozen experimental pieces later I had a prototype I was close to happy with, that worked with the Telex fitting.
What kind of background or skills did you have that made it possible?
It’s rather embarrassing to say, but the first skill needed in making something like this is soldering, which I learned by modifying gaming consoles to play homebrew software. I had learned to do that with some tutorial videos on the internet and had made a few small electronics projects so I had some idea what I was doing. I also got some help from the guy that makes the Altoids box preamps that are now commonly bundled with the Little Jake in the technical aspects of circuit building.
Most of the construction of them isn’t all that different from bassoon reed making in my mind. Small pieces have to be fit together in a precise way, it’s just that the tools and pieces are a bit different. The hardest thing in the early days was getting a good connection with the existing Telex pickup bocal adapter being made by Forrests Music. I was fortunate enough to have a colleague in the bassoon studio at the University of Illinois who was an architecture major and had access to CAD and acrylic laser cutting machines. He helped me prototype and get working pieces to allow for a solid connection.
Eventually I switched everything over to a threaded/screw adapter like what Paul Hanson was using with his FRAP pickups, so he could use my pickups with his existing equipment. That is the only way I make the pickups now.
What instruments are people using the Little Jake with? Are there others that it theoretically would work with?
I’ve seen them used on clarinet and saxophone, although not too much. Nearly any woodwind instrument is possible, as long as the player is willing to drill a hole where it’s needed. Clarinet is best done in the barrel, which is easy. Saxophone could use the mouthpiece but the neck is better, similar to the bocal mount for the bassoon. English horn could be done on the bocal but it’s fine work and I don’t know of anyone that’s actually gone there.
Flute is the one that’s not really necessary, as there are plenty of high quality microphone systems for flute that would be ultimately superior to the sound you could get with the Little Jake anyway, but there is a way to modify a Little Jake and a headjoint of a flute to make it work together. A lot of work and the sound wouldn’t be as good as a commercially available flute mic at the lip plate anyway.
Oboe is the toughest sell: you have to drill a hole at about where the third octave key is on the top joint. Most oboists aren’t willing to sacrifice a top joint to electrify the oboe, so I don’t think it’s been done. Paul McCandless has done it in the past with a FRAP, but I don’t think anyone else ever has.
I’m sure there are non-western instruments that it’d work with as well, as long as there’s a place to drill the hole.
Have you seen any uses of the Little Jake that you found especially surprising?
I’m just always surprised when I find a bassoonist using it and enjoying it in a rock band setting. I’ve had people send me recordings over the years and it’s pretty cool to see something you’ve created being used in contexts you wouldn’t yourself be in. I was blown away when I discovered a band in Iceland that had a bassoonist using a Little Jake.
Obviously using a Little Jake opens up a whole rabbit hole of new gear to buy, but what is a good minimum setup that, say, a bassoonist needs just to try out some electric playing?
The amp is the most important second piece of equipment. The goal of using a pickup with a bassoon is to get the sound space into a place that can be heard even when there are drums involved. When putting together a guitar rig, as an example, the guitar is only half of the sound; the other half of the sound is the amplifier. Ask any guitar player, the amp is absolutely critical when getting the tone you want. All the pedals and stuff you can put between the instrument and amp are just extras. So it’s really important to get an amp that gets you the sound you want at a volume appropriate for what you’re doing. I’ve settled on a really high end acoustic guitar amp, but in the past I’ve used bass guitar amps, powered PA speakers, and guitar amplifiers. It all depends on what kind of sound you want. You can get a good amp used for $100 or less.
For someone who already has that minimum setup, what are the next few things to consider buying?
If you don’t know anything about effects pedals, one of the simple and small multi-effect units for guitar or bass guitar are a good starting point. You can experiment with lots of different types of effects and decide what you like to use before investing in more specialized gear. Those multi-effect units can sometimes be found for $50 if you get a good Craigslist deal.
If you know what kinds of effects you like, you can get dedicated pedals that do that one thing really well. I find that a lot of things respond differently to bassoon than to electric guitar (which is what these things are designed for) so you really have to try things out before you spend the money. It’s always fun to take your bassoon out in a guitar store and start playing through pedals. The people in those shops love it! I also really highly suggest effects units designed with vocalists in mind. A voice or wind instrument is more similar to a bassoon than an electric guitar is. I personally use a lot of pitch shifting effects, modulation effects (phaser, chorus, etc.), and time based effects like delay/echo and reverb. I don’t really use distortion all that much unless I’m really trying to sound like another guitar player in the same band. The other thing that’s always sure to turn heads is an Envelope Filter (sometimes called auto-wah but that’s not really correct). That’s the effect that makes your instrument have that “quack” or “wah” sound when you articulate.
What surprises or challenges do people run into when electrifying their instruments for the first time?
Feedback is probably the biggest issue with amplifying an acoustic instrument. Feedback is where the sound from the amplifier or speaker is picked up by the microphone, which creates an audio loop that quickly becomes very loud and usually very high pitched. Acoustic instruments have more problems with this because they themselves are a bit of an amplifying chamber that can pick up the sound of the speakers. You have to learn what effects and volume levels will create that feedback with your own setups and be ready with a plan to control them (be always close to a volume knob that you can zero out if it gets really bad).
Do you have any favorite bassoon- (or woodwind-) playing tips?
Don’t play on crap reeds. Life is too short. Practice your damned scales and long tones. Take good care of your equipment: regular instrument maintenance with a specialist on that instrument, store things properly, clean them regularly, buy appropriate cases or covers or whatever to keep things protected. Don’t swing stuff around carelessly. Swab your horn. Especially in my years at MMI I was frequently amazed at how poorly some people, even professionals, took care of their gear. If you’re playing a bassoon at a night club you’d best know that you have the single most expensive piece of equipment in the band probably, and nobody knows it or cares, so watch out for your own stuff.
Would you like to share anything about your recent medical history?
In May of 2017 I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I underwent 9 weeks of chemotherapy and in early November had surgery to remove the tumor, which involved also removing my entire stomach and a portion of my esophagus. I finished 9 more weeks of chemotherapy after the surgery and have started playing again, but I still have a long road to recovery and learning to live without a stomach. I have started teaching and working again and so far things are looking good for my healing. We will do regular scans and hopefully find nothing.
I found that some side effects of chemo prevented me from making reeds as much as I was used to, and generally being fatigued kept me from playing as much as I wanted. I obviously had to turn down quite a few calls for gigs. I’m fortunate to have a good health insurance plan through my university and have some of the best doctors in the world working on me, so while my income has suffered I have a good safety net. I expect to be in full production of bassoon reeds again in the spring of 2018, so if anyone wants to be notified when I have reeds ready to go again, send a message to me through my website.
Here are some phrases that have been useful to me when somebody calls about a gig. When dealing with other professionals (or working through the musicians’ union) mostly these aren’t necessary—the caller should give the needed info unprompted. But many of the gigs in my rural area are one-offs for weddings or school or business events, and I’m dealing with callers who don’t regularly hire musicians.
Let me call you back in five minutes.
This has saved me many times. Sometimes I need a moment to think through the money/mileage/scheduling/etc., or to find a polite way to negotiate the terms or just turn the gig down. It’s fine to put the conversation on pause for a moment and prepare your response. (Or, depending on the caller, to pivot the conversation to text messaging, which gives you more time to formulate responses, plus a record of what was said).
Who will be my contact person when I arrive?
I use this one all the time with, for example, brides who are micromanaging the wedding planning (down to calling the saxophone player). If I arrive at the gig and need to know where to set up or collect my check, it’s going to be awkward for everybody if I have to bother the bride with business details On Her Special Day. If necessary, I gently suggest that she put a trusted friend in charge of answering the band’s questions and handing over their payment.
Who is the musical director?
This one is sort of a trick, because if it’s the kind of gig that actually has a musical director, then it’s less important that I know in advance (and, often, it’s the musical director who is offering the gig anyway).
When I really need this one is when a well-meaning non-musician is trying to hire a band piecemeal (“Oh, my cousin is going to play guitar, and this guy I know from church is going to play drums, and my boss’s friend is a piano player…”). Asking this question gives me a chance to drop the hint that somebody needs to be in charge musically. In some cases, I’m able to segue into some friendly advice that they hire an existing professional group, or hire a professional to put together an ensemble.
Just so I’m totally clear, are you offering me a paying gig, or is this more of a volunteer situation?
I do still get calls asking me to donate my time. While I mostly turn those down, I don’t think it’s helpful to be nasty or condescending about it. Phrasing it this particular way gives the caller an easy multiple-choice question to answer without any waffling or weaseling. And when I turn them down, it seems less like I have refused a direct request, and more like I’m just passing up a chance to “volunteer.”
Can I count on $XXX?
Sometimes less-experienced hirers (such as someone hiring for a business or school event) have a budget range in mind, and (foolishly) tell me what that range is (“Well, we can pay between $AAA and $BBB”). The number they are hoping to pay is the smaller one, but I’ve made the mistake before of fixating on the larger one (and being disappointed later). Always nail down an exact fee. I try to get the top end of the range, of course, but make it worthwhile: “Can I count on $BBB? That way I can be sure to get a great keyboard player.” Or: “Can I count on $BBB? Then I can cancel some lessons that week and have time to look over the music in advance.”
If they are hesitant to commit, you can say something like, “Okay, why don’t you call me back as soon as you have an answer, and we can firm things up?”
Is that the base rate, or does that include travel/doubling/etc.?
If the caller really is thinking in terms of base rates, then I probably won’t need to ask this question. But hirers who aren’t tuned in to this are probably counting on me to walk them through the process of hiring me. Asking this question gives me an opening to educate them that it’s appropriate to pay extra for travel time, or for bringing multiple instruments. (A quick web search for “afm wage scale” will give you at least a rough idea of what the union considers fair for doublers.)
Do you have useful phone strategies for lining up gigs (large or small)? Please share in the comments section.
Flutist Tammy Evans Yonce is an active recitalist, writer, clinician, speaker, contributor to various conferences and professional organizations, and professor at South Dakota State University (plus: she is my former classmate). Her thoughtful blog is a favorite of mine and my regular readers will recall that I have featured her posts on a number of occasions. Her debut CD will be released earlier next year—keep an eye on her website and Twitter for details.
I am always particularly amazed by her brutally busy performance schedule, and she kindly agreed to let me pick her brain about it.
How often do you perform?
I do an annual fall tour, which includes multiple performances and masterclasses. This year it was to Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Sometimes I choose these places because it’s a geographical area I want to explore or because I have friends and collaborators there. This year’s tour included collaborations with some really fantastic friends. I’ve been able to perform in 24 states so far, so that’s been fun.
I always give one on-campus recital each year but also frequently collaborate with colleagues on theirs.
Other performances include festivals, conventions, and such. I like giving 15–20 performances per year.
How do you maintain such a busy performance schedule, on top of teaching full time, having a family, etc.?
It mainly comes down to organization and clearly defined goals. And making consistent progress every day. I work in big six-month chunks, where I have goals listed in a variety of categories (performance, writing, recording, commissions, etc.). Those goals help me organize my day-to-day decisions, and they also allow me to stretch beyond what I think I’m capable of.
I have some general long-term goals but I think the nature of my work (music + academia) means that I can’t anticipate all opportunities that might arise, so I try not to be too rigid about those long-term plans. My upcoming fellowship to Israel came out of left field, for example, so I try to keep my eyes open.
I also have a really supportive husband who carries his share (plus some, probably) at home so I have some flexibility.
How does your performance schedule affect you? What benefits or drawbacks are there to a busy performance calendar?
I enjoy travel and find it invigorating. It helps me to break up my schedule, see new people and places, and be in a different environment, and it certainly helps my teaching. I enjoy collaborating with friends.
Performing frequently has effectively eliminated performance anxiety for me. There’s just not time to be nervous and I have a lot of hours banked actually on the stage. I’ve “practiced” performing so much that I can stay in the moment. Since creation and analysis are completely different processes, if I can stay in the moment I’m not worried about analyzing my performance as it happens.
Being busy might be considered a drawback for some but I feel like the things I do are a worthwhile use of my time. I don’t do things just to have something to do.
How do you maintain balance in your career and life?
I have a couple of trusted people who understand me and my goals that I check in with regularly. We make sure that we’re staying on track. Also, I don’t check work email after 5pm or on the weekends.
Do you have any self-care or stress-reduction practices?
I get regular massages. I used to see this as a luxurious indulgence but being a musician does take a physical toll. I like good food, I travel as much as I can, and I try to work with my friends whenever possible. Finally, I read a lot. I read at least 25 books a year.
You frequently commission new works. How do you connect with and select composers?
Sometimes I’m approached by composers who hear me play and have an idea of something they’d like to write. Other times there are composers I know I’d love to work with, and I approach them. Most of these connections happen either online (Twitter, usually) or at conferences and festivals. Even if I haven’t met a composer, it’s likely that I’ve seen them around online or have mutual friends, so there’s usually a connection.
Generally I work with the composer during the compositional process. We meet via Skype or FaceTime so I can try out their ideas or they send sketches as the piece progresses, so I have a good idea of what the piece is before it’s done. The composers I work with want things to work, so if something is awkward or impractical, we find a solution.
You have done some performing and commissioning with the Glissando Headjoint. How does this play into your career? Is it bringing you opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise? Does it cause you to be pigeonholed?
The Glissando Headjoint has been a lot of fun. I don’t think it has helped or hindered me. I see it as another item in the toolkit I can use to get the musical message across. Since there isn’t much repertoire for it, it has been fascinating to see how composers use it. They are really drawing from their own creativity instead of basing their musical decisions on existing repertoire.
When programming, how do you balance new repertoire with previously-performed works?
Big considerations are the audience, the logistics of the performing venue, and whether or not I have collaborators available.
My recitals have taken a big turn lately and are much more logistically complex. Last month’s recital featured dancers, lines of poetry projected in real time, a lithograph displayed during one piece, multiple collaborators, and a variety of equipment changes. While it was complex, I think it was effective.
I’m already planning next year’s recital, which will involve literature, readings, photographs and other visual art, and several new commissions. Once I get the plans in place, I’ll put more info on my website. I like the impact of a cohesive recital that involves more than just the ears.