When I got up on Friday, I was pretty sure I was winding down towards a more-or-less break over Christmas (ignoring the fact that I’ve had playing on Christmas morning itself in my diary for months). After a long string of at least one gig (often a recording or something as well) per weekend, plus whatever else in between, I finally had a gig-free weekend in view – a mixture of relief and slight disappointment as I also contemplated the cost of Christmas shopping.
By the time I went to bed 16 hours later, the shape of my weekend had changed substantially (as, to a lesser extent, had my girlfriend’s, who puts up with a lot for my music career). I had taken on a carol service Sunday evening in Streatham (singing bass), and then a very last-minute call for an orchestra concert in Guildford on the Saturday (agreed about 20 hours in advance of the concert, initially asking for violin but changed to viola that evening).
Both were interesting, distinctive and enjoyable gigs that I’m going to write about more another day (when I’m less tired). But the fact of getting hold of them illustrates a few things about the sometimes through-the-looking-glass world of freelance music:
- a lot of jobs still go on speed of response as much as qualifications. A smartphone, not living in a signal blackspot and being across the room from a computer can help as much as an instrument masterclass.
- despite the general vast oversupply of musicians (of almost all kinds) relative to demand (of all kinds), there are still some organisers who find themselves needing, or at least very much wanting, to pick up some extra bodies at a couple of days’ notice or even less.
- the first bullet point notwithstanding, the last-minute jobs can be helpful openings to fairly new starters in the business with flexibility and quite open diaries (or the right level of financial and professional desperation!).
- it’s hard to examine, evidence or advertise, rarely talked about explicitly, and a vanishingly infrequent concern of high-standard teachers or conservatoires, but the ability to make a good job on one rehearsal and little or no personal practice, without making a fuss, is perhaps the single most important skill of the freelance musician.
- flexibility is invaluable. The more offerings you can put on the table, the more useful you are, as well as the more jobs you can apply for. Narrow specialisation is a luxury unaffordable to the blue-collar musician.
Watch this space for reflections on postmodern composition and structure, female orchestral percussionists, carol services and anything else this weekend prodded me to …