Two hundred and fifty-five years ago today, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (I think that possibly qualifies as the best name ever) was born.
“The sonatas of Mozart are unique; they are too easy for children, and too difficult for artists.”
- Arthur Schnabel
“Mozart in his music was probably the most reasonable of the world’s great composers. It is the happy balance between flight and control, between sensibility and self-discipline, simplicity and sophistication of style that is his particular province… Mozart tapped once again the source from which all music flows, expressing himself with a spontaneity and refinement and breath-taking rightness that has never since been duplicated.”
- Aaron Copland
Historical accuracy aside, a great scene from Amadeus:
One of my favorite Mozart works:
January 27, 2011 No Comments
LA Phil conductor Gustavo Dudamel appears on the Tonight Show to talk about conducting, his hair, Justin Bieber’s hair, and inspiration.
January 5, 2011 No Comments
If you plan to make music part of your career, freelancing is almost certainly in your future. Most musicians, even those who hold full-time positions in the business, freelance to some degree — through teaching, performing, recording, contracting, arranging, etc.
I’ve been freelancing since my mid-teens and have gone from a few summer gigs to making it about 60% of my career. Though I’ve made my share of mistakes in this business, I’m thankful that I received a lot of good advice at the beginning. For those of you who are starting out or thinking of establishing a freelance career, here is some of the best advice I’ve received:
Get your materials in order
If you’re serious about freelancing on a regular basis, invest some time and money towards developing basic marketing materials. (If you end up making money, you can write your costs off as business expenses anyways.) At minimum, you should have the following:
Keep a stack with you all the time; you’ll run into possible contacts in unexpected places. Shell out a few dollars for something that looks professional. Digital printing is fairly inexpensive at online vendors such as Overnight Prints or Print Place; and you can usually google a coupon code to lower your cost even more.
Short (100-150 words) and long (300-400 words) versions. Update it once or twice a year. If writing and grammar aren’t your strengths, run it by others for editing.
High-resolution (300dpi) jpegs. Self-portraits taken with your smartphone or your face cropped out of a family picture are not eligible.
It doesn’t need to be fancy — just informative, simple to navigate, and easy to read (i.e. no red text on black background).
This is especially important if you plan to do weddings and other work with individual parties. Here is mine as an example; feel free to adapt for yourself.
Know the going rates
Pricing your services is probably the most intimidating issue for the beginning freelancer. I highly recommend talking to more experienced colleagues in your area to determine the going rates. Once you’ve determined fair fees, stick to them. Even practice saying them aloud so you can quote them to clients without sounding apologetic or tentative. Determine your service area (i.e. how far you will go to play) and how much you will charge for extra travel as well. (Note: you will be asked to play for less or for free more times than you can imagine. I’ll save my philosophy on how to handle that for a later post.)
Communicate in a timely manner
If you want to freelance, you need to be reachable. You don’t have to be a slave to your phone; when I’m out, I often let people leave voicemails so I can check my calendar and avoid the whole phone tag game. But returning correspondence within 24 hours goes a long way in making you come across as professional. If you discuss a job over the phone, ask the person to email the details so you have something in writing, and keep a list of other players you can recommend close by so you can pass names along when unavailable.
Allow plenty of travel time
Take the Google/MapQuest travel time and double it for your average local gig. Granted, I’m more insistent on this point than many musicians because moving a harp necessitates extra time for everything. But few situations will ruin your professional reputation faster than showing up late to a gig.
Be quiet and do your job
Flexibility is key to surviving as a freelancer — if you’re in this business long enough you’ll encounter your share of less-than-ideal performance situations and colorful personalities. In general, try your best to be accommodating. Practice hard, play well, and don’t be a diva. Making yourself pleasant to be around is a huge part of getting called again and/or recommended.
January 4, 2011 4 Comments
I was not one of those kids who happily sat down at the piano every day. Until I reached my early teens, my parents made me practice more often than I’d like to admit. My youthful opinion of classical music, broadly speaking, was that it was fine for car rides or background study noise — but not fun.
That was before I discovered Victor Borge.
Somehow, our family ended up with the VHS version of this concert featuring the Danish comedian/pianist.
Watching this video was the first time I remember laughing at something related to classical music; and the first time the concepts of “classical music” and “fun” connected in my mind. I don’t remember how many times my brothers and I watched the Clown Prince of Denmark over the next several years, but I’m pretty sure we wore out the tape.
I don’t think that all classical concerts need a humor element or that the majority of us should attempt comedy routines in our recitals (please, no). But I do think the ability to have and appreciate fun and, occasionally, to laugh at ourselves in this profession is necessary for survival.
Oh, and happy birthday, Victor Borge. (He would be 102 today.)
January 3, 2011 No Comments
Today I’m starting a series of weekly posts highlighting sources of personal artistic inspiration and influence — mostly musical works and people, but also experiences, habits, etc.
Two main reasons for this series: first, it’s a more art-focused spin-off of the gratitude posts. Second, I hope it’ll encourage you to recognize that everyday encounters who we are as artists. The majority of my list items are more ordinary than epic. A lot of the music wouldn’t make any “top 100″ lists. Some of the people are unfamiliar to the masses. But for whatever reason, each work, person, or thing on this list affected the way I approached or understood art.
Sometimes I think I need to travel to the other side of the world for a dose of inspiration. Then again — perhaps I just need to take a second glance at what’s sitting on my music stand.
January 3, 2011 No Comments
One of my favorite parts of being a musician is collecting and trading gig stories. Not only are they great conversation starters at parties or during rehearsal breaks, but they often provide a good dose of hilarity.
December always brings to mind my personal favorite gig story, which occurred around this time of the year 5 or 6 years ago. I was in Toronto, getting ready to fly back to Seattle for the holidays. I got a last minute call to play pre-ceremony music for a wedding at an upscale hotel a few blocks from where I was living. They were willing to pay well and didn’t have any musical requests at all, so I figured it would be a nice way to get some extra Christmas cash. Oddly, the call came not from a bride but from a design company (in retrospect — my first hint that this was not your typical wedding).
Walking into the hotel lobby, I was greeted by a lavish (and, frankly, garish) display of silvery trees, huge colored balls, and fake snow. One (there were several) of the designers met me at the door and gushed, “Oh, we’re SO glad you’re here. The harp fits PERFECTLY with our Winter Wonderland theme! Let me show you to your throne.”
Sure enough, they had set up this big white throne for me. (Try imagining the White Witch’s throne from Chronicles of Narnia.) I convinced them that the arms of the throne were in my way and it really would be easier for me to play on my own chair, but agreed to set up right in front of it to complete their visual design. Soon I was ready to go and started playing.
After a few minutes, another designer came over to me and announced, “The dancers are ready! They’re going to be right in front of you, ok?”
And I kid you not — two dancers scantily dressed as peacocks (!) appeared and started doing this twitchy, cavorting interpretive dance to my Scarlatti. It was horrific and hilarious. It’s a miracle I could play because I was shaking with laughter. I also don’t know how peacocks relate to a Winter Wonderland theme.
I finished the prelude and started packing up when another designer frantically rushed over, whispering loudly, “The bride’s coming and we don’t have any music! Quick! Play that Pachelbel thing!” So I started playing the Pachelbel thing . . . and the aisle started smoking. To this day, it is the only bridal entrance complimented by dry ice that I have witnessed. It was dramatic, and I have to say — it fit the occasion.
Fellow musicians: any great gig tales to share?
December 23, 2010 2 Comments
I’m a musician.
The words still taste slightly foreign, like the few first times you say “That’s my house” or “That’s my significant other” or “That’s my kid.” Except I’ve used this phrase professionally for over 5 years.
I’m a musician. That’s my job.
I suspect part of me will never completely get over the reality that people pay me to play and teach music. It’s not that being a musician isn’t hard work, because it is; or that it’s a completely romantic, glamorous career, because it’s not.
Expressing exactly why I love being a musician is difficult, because it involves a conglomeration of priceless moments and experiences that don’t translate well into words:
- Hearing the pure ring of your instrument in a new space
- Watching a child stare wide-eyed as you play
- Sitting in the middle of the orchestra during a Strauss tone poem
- Feeding off the energy of fellow musicians during a chamber performance
- Witnessing people enjoy what you play
- Performing something in public exactly the way you got it to sound in the practice room
- Cheering inwardly (and probably outwardly too) when a student nails 2-against-3 for the first time
The musician’s life is a beautiful life that I hope I’ll never take for granted.
December 13, 2010 1 Comment
Thanks to some iTunes graduation gifts and summer vacation, I’ve been searching around for some new music to add to my library. One artist that’s been frequenting my playlist the last few weeks is Andrew Peterson, who just released a new album called Counting Stars. The project covers a range of subjects that gives a fuller look at the Christian life than most artists in this genre. Check out his music video for Dancing in the Minefields, a song about the difficult but worthwhile commitment marriage takes:
On his website, Peterson says,
“God gave music the power to carry his light into the darkness. That’s a mighty privilege. It means intentionally telling stories and writing songs that bear truth that outlasts the songs themselves. If I did this in hopes of thunderous applause and piles of cash, I would have quit years ago. But there are moments on the stage when I sense something magical, a connection with the band and the audience, when our stories intersect and suddenly we’re wading in an ancient river. Suddenly the song is secondary to the greater story being told through each of us.”
August 7, 2010 1 Comment