My desk job alter vita involves quite a lot of hiring freelancers. This can open up a lot of amusing how the other side lives perspectives – usually slightly skewed because music performance just isn’t educational publishing.
A colleague has a cartoon pinned above her desk headed ‘the importance of good briefs’. Of course it shows a man rifling through an unbound manuscript dressed only in a pair of psychedelic technicolour Y-fronts. But in general editorial freelancers are given a lot of information before they’re hired, and then almost everything they could conceivably need (and usually erring on the side of caution) when they get started.
With music, it can be a matter of chasing up the client just to find out where and when you’re supposed to show up. I’ve turned up to sole rehearsals before now to discover I’m the only violist in an orchestral programme. Today’s rehearsal had two advantages over that: firstly, it was one of two (luckily this job is in Oxford, otherwise I’d probably have asked to skip one of them and save on travel); secondly, I had an email yesterday telling me I was the only viola. What I wasn’t told by that email was that we’re doing the reduced version of Karl Jenkins’ Mass for Peace with (counts on fingers) 11 instrumentalists – which might have been useful information.
You get used to travelling heavy rather than light. If I’ve got a non-classical job of any sort, I’ll usually take pickup, DI box and the relevant leads to plug one through the other into a PA system. If I think there’s any chance of me needing it, a music stand comes along too; and while I won’t bother for rehearsals, a tuner comes to gigs and both that and a metronome come to recordings. Plus layers as rehearsal and performance spaces can range from the icy to the tropical – sometimes in the course of one session if the soundproofing has been so comprehensive as to also prevent any circulation of air or loss of heat and you’re in there playing uptempo folky rock for three hours.
Classical clients unsurprisingly know what the repertoire will be well in advance. Bands and singer-songwriters may (though it’s not universal) change much more at the last minute; and are also quite liable to mean something unexpected by the items on the set list. By way of a worked example, go away and listen to a traditional version of the Irish song ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. Or, for the full effect, just look it up on an online database of sheet music to Irish etc. folk, you’ll find it. Envisage having learnt it this way. Then listen to the Thin Lizzy version. Envisage turning up to find the band you’re sitting in with (on fiddle) are covering that pretty closely. Reduced orchestrations and cuts may be classical occupational hazards, but Barber’s Adagio doesn’t change to that degree between performances.
(Function bands, and indeed basically all groups that intend to profit, keep their numbers as small as possible as a general rule. So in this case just one guitarist, and there’s only so much you can do with one guitar now Bert Jansch is dead. If you’re intrigued by the idea of those characteristic Thin Lizzy riffs being played with electric guitar and fiddle doing the parallel thirds, you’ll need to spend St Patrick’s night at the New Inn in Ealing with me a Razzberry Jam. ‘Cos I’m not sure I’ll get the chance to do that again!)
Freelance music: you may not have a clue what you’re doing, you may be reduced to miming in performance by having got completely lost, but as long as you’re working you’ll never be bored.