Saturday, August 18, 2012

Interior Monologue

Have you ever wondered what a pianist is thinking during a performance?  It's fascinating to watch an artist elegantly hovering over the keyboard, in perfect sync with their accomplice – but what is going through their mind? 

In the interest of full disclosure, here is a brief glimpse into the mind of a performing pianist:

"… I hope there’s leftover pizza at home … yes, breathe … that was a really nice phrase … wow, he’s never taken a breathe there, before … aaannd that phrase was wretched … fer-STUCKT not fer-struckt … turn the page TURN THE PAGE, Susan, I will cut you … oh good, thanks for remembering to give me a sec there … why is there a buzzing sound coming from my left? … crap, missed that fingering … whoops - missed note, pedal pedal, get rid of the sounds … my left foot is killing me - stupid shoe … Really, REALLY I messed that up after we went through it a billion times?!! … great, my ex is here to see this … "

And so on.  Now you know.

Pianos, pianos, pianos - in art

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On the Personal Front . . .

So it turns out that my move to Florida is instead a brief visit, a 2 month stop along the way to San Antonio, Texas.  Over the past few weeks I’ve barely touched the piano, mainly because I don’t have one at the moment. What I have been doing: watching a lot of (occasionally bad) TV, Crossfitting and taking surf lessons.  

Right now I’m watching Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations on Netflix.  I’m madly jealous throughout most of it, except when he has to eat an eyeball or some such to be polite. I love the way he travels and experiences the culture with locals, foregoing the touristy stuff. All the different foods he gets to sample look amazing (except in the episode with the bushman where he had to eat food cooked in dirt*).  

Crossfit is something I’ve started since I left my personal trainer in VA. Basically, I join a bunch of other people who have gathered together in a place that looks like someone’s gutted garage, and do a lot of painful things - running, pushups, situps, burpees, and olympic lifts. There's no air conditioning and its generally really hard.  Somehow its also addictive, believe it or not.   

As for the surfing lessons, I have really enjoyed them.  I'm not good at it, but I enjoy the whole ‘throw-self-into-the-moment-and-just-do-it’ aspect. My experience went something like this: with the grace and poise of a beached manatee, I’d flop atop the surfboard and listen to George, a grizzled, tanned old dude, deliver a steady patter about everything I did wrong the last time. The first day he’d count me off with a “3-2-1 – go” and I would jump up, rather slowly, into an awkward stance, vaguely unsteady but upright. Over the next few days, I got better - remember, keep the core tight, don’t look down, pop up and bend knees to the surfing stance with shoulder aiming to the left. Gliding along the ocean, adjusting to the wave’s forward momentum, is delightful. There’s a certain serenity to be found in the ocean - until you slam face-first into the water and spend about 10 minutes pushing against the waves, doggedly dragging the surfboard past the ‘break zone’. Then it kinda sucks. I tried to write a haiku about the whole experience - this is what I ended up with:

White fingered ocean
Fighting ev’ry move I make
Bitchsmacked by nature

Fall semester is right around the corner, so I'm hoping to get to Texas sooner, rather than later.  Still TBD though . . . sigh.

*and I quote - ”dirt, fur and crap a part of every bite” - Anthony Bourdain

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Last Four Years, Part II

Job #4 High School Choral Gig
For the first two years in VA, I accompanied a high school choral program in Woodbridge. They used me to accompany choir classes, juries, auditions, festivals, their musical and also to organize and computerize their choral music library. Classes started early, typically by 8am and went until 2:15.  Probably the best thing about the gig was that it doesn't get in the way of most evening rehearsals.  

What I liked about the gig: There was a variety of choral music to play - madrigals, pop/rock, classical, jazzish stuff and spirituals.  The music was mostly sight-readable, and I found it an excellent way to work on 4+ parts score-reading abilities.  

I personally did not enjoy working as a high school staff assistant flunky - mainly because so much of the job consisted of policing, attendance taking and testing.  I found the music school environment (Job #3) much more to my liking.  Be aware: in both environments, the students never shut up. While at the high school I often wished for duct tape to cover rogue nonstop mouths and for scissors to cut the men's hair from growing directly into their eyes.
Location: 40 minutes away  Stability level: Dependent on school year

Job #5 Professional Theatre Gigs
An invite to play at First Stage Theatre held a few firsts for me - my first ‘professional’ level work (not educationally related), first time playing an AL Webber score that I’ve never heard of, and the first time I was actually onstage with the actors.  I found the work very enjoyable, and got to work with about 5 separate bassists in the area - each time explaining the score to them, cueing in the musical numbers, etc.  Being onstage was very hot, I’m not sure how the actors can stand the constant lights and heat. I loved playing for a full house almost every night.  

A random contact I made at George Mason U led to working with the In Series.  They hired me after they heard me play, although it was commented that it’d look like they were using ‘child labor’ (here’s an example of where looking young can be held against you).  With them I got to play Barber’s “A Hand of Bridge” and a zarzuela, as well as lots of other random music from the 1920s-30s.  Rehearsals and performances were all held in DC, with 1 hour minimum drive and occasionally non-existent parking.     

Job #6 University Freelancing Gigs
When I moved to Northern Virginia, I immediately thought I’d hit the university jackpot:  American University, George Washington University, Catholic University, Howard U, George Mason U . . . little did I know that things were not as they seemed.  All but George Mason U were impossible to get to (until you’ve driven through DC you have no idea how awful it is to traverse).   

In addition, most of the universities were insular: putting up posters led nowhere.  I found that in their cases, unless they knew you, they normally wouldn’t hire you.  Pure luck led to work at Howard U, and I found contacts at Cath U and GMU - but for the most part, the university work was sparse.

For one year I played for voice lessons at GMU, only to find that after cancellations, parking costs and food - I was essentially getting somewhere around $7 an hour.  One priceless day I received a text from a singer saying she felt “real sick” and couldn’t meet with me.  About ten minutes later I spotted her in the food court with a table of friends, eating french fries in her pajamas.  Instrumental juries turned out to be WAY more lucrative, with a much lower investment of time and bother.    

Favorite thing:  GMU’s food court had a great Indian place.    
Location: 30 min - 2 hours away  Stability level: Dependent on school year and students

Job #7 Random Freelancing Gigs
  • Playing 2 hours a day in a business building lobby for two months
  • Accompanying an elementary school choir concert  
  • Accompanying ‘Solo and ensemble’ competitions - each year I’d get a crop of high school instrumentalists to play for.  Easy money.
  • Accompanying community theatre - this kind of work only gets a stipend, but its a great way of getting experience and its fun. I played for as many shows as I could fit in my schedule: the Drowsy Chaperone, Curtains and Cabaret
  • A summer in Interlochen, MI playing for their summer theatre program
  • A summer playing for Wash National Opera Summer Institute
  • A summer in Huron, Ohio playing for their summer theatre program

Location: Anywhere and Everywhere   Stability level: It doesn’t rain but it pours

Freelancing has taught me a lot - mostly humility.  I’ve developed a high tolerance of handling the unknown.  Situations which would have been previously classified as ‘intolerable’ are now downgraded to ‘funny’. I've had lots of satisfying experiences as well as some times I considered scrapping it all and applying at a local FedEx/Kinkos. Here is one thing to avoid: 

As an independent freelancer, I almost immediately forgot how to say ‘no’ professionally – to guard personal time, and make time to have a hobby other than ‘decompressing’.  I rarely said “No” because I felt it was always better to be working.  Now I realize I often burnt myself out with too much, too often, too long, and too late. Its important to keep some kind of balance in all the craziness.

I'm planning on one more blog about freelancing, so I've been looking at blogs on the subject, as well as freelance articles (any suggestions are welcome).  I'll post those findings soon.  

In the meantime - I'm on vacation :)