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 :)

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