Hannemann’s Music Corner: What About Music? (Part 1)
By RICHARD HANNEMANN
I’ve been attending the final concerts of the school bands and orchestras and it has been a real treat.
We grow some very talented kids here. More importantly, we encourage kids to develop their own talents. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding and the musical pudding our kids have been cooking up is very sweet indeed.
Somewhere along the line, one wonders, “gee, if I knew then what I know now, what would I change?” For me, the answer is simple – I would put as much time into my clarinet as I put into my guitar. Why would putting more into the clarinet have been a good idea? Session work. The nice thing here is that I’m still young enough to do this. But way back when, who knew that I’d be making my way in the world with music? Or that I would be doing it mostly in Los Angeles?
At 17 or 18 who knows anything about the next 40 years? You try to figure it out – the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. You go through the stock inventory – what are my interests, what do I seem to have a talent for, what kind of life-style do I want, what occupations seem to best fit me – but sometimes your answer and the Cosmic answer are somewhat different. And I didn’t think to ask the obvious – What about Music?
Okay – What about Music? This will be more than one column, but let’s start with some general stuff.
1) The profession of music encompasses a wide variety of occupations but only one job – get the music to the people. How you do the job makes no never mind just so long as you get the job done.
2) You have to be flexible, which means be realistic. Part of this means knowing a) what you control and what you have no control over, and part of this means b) tunnel vision is not your friend.
A) Its all well and good to strive for the ability to be first chair on your instrument with the LA Phil, but not so good if the goal is to be first chair at the LA Phil. Subtle difference here: what you do with your instrument is up to you, what someone else does as a result of what you do is up to them. You can work to be good enough to get the gig, you can audition for the gig, but someone else will decide if you get the gig. If you don’t get the gig that is their loss and someone else’s gain.
Really, how many people can be first chair of the LA Phil? How many people do you suppose would like to be first chair? For that matter, one way to the concert hall is the competition route but how many compete and how many can win any given competition? I knew a piano teacher in her early 30’s who had pretty much given up on performing. I asked why and she said, “I’m too old for the competitions anymore and I don’t want to play bars.” Yeah, so? There are other options – and we’ll explore some of those later.
Besides, just because you didn’t get it now doesn’t mean you won’t get it later. Pierce Brosnan wanted to do the Bond role, but he was contractually tied up in Remington Steele so he missed getting the gig the first time it was available. Over the next few years he continued working on his craft and lo and behold the Bond role came up again, he got it, and he did much better with it than he would have earlier.
B) One of the performance venues I was doing was private country clubs (golf). Along the way I met a fellow, late 20’s, who was the assistant manager at one of the clubs in the LA area and it turned out that he had once been a guitarist. He had the degree from Juliard in music and performance guitar so he could be a Concert Guitarist. Well, his first gig out of school was a wedding in Hyannis Port. Nice gig – or, it should have been. But it soured him completely. “I was playing Bach and Tarrega. I was playing serious music and they just didn’t seem to appreciate it. They were too busy talking and socializing to pay any attention. I don’t understand why you would be willing to do this – people ignore you, the wait staff is always in the way with their hustle and bustle – what’s the point?” So he quit and went on to get a business degree.
Answer: they do indeed hear you playing, and they do indeed pay attention. They won’t applaud, but if you do well, then they have had a pleasurable experience and they will thank you quietly and maybe ask for your business card and recommend you to others. If you screw it up with a lot of wrong notes, they will know.
It doesn’t matter what the gig is – you are there to get the music to the people. Towards that end do your very best work and always work to improve on your skills.
3) Never let the money get in the way of the music. This does not mean what you might think it means. It does not mean work for free. It does not mean doing “exposure” gigs just for the sake of the exposure. Exposure is like a role of film – you can get 36 great exposures but if you don’t get them developed you ain’t got bupkis.
Never let the money get in the way of the music is a double-edged sword. Don’t turn down a gig just because it won’t pay enough to completely wipe out your student loan in one shot, but make certain you do get paid enough from your gigs (plural) to cover the food-clothing-shelter bit so that you can concentrate on working on, and at, the music. Professional does not mean being an A-List-er. It means earning your living at what you do. The “day job” means taking time away from doing the music – this gets in the way of the music. Unless, of course, music is the day job (there are ways……………….. :)).
4) Plan on doing more work than you seem to get paid for and be internally motivated. Here’s the thing: no one will pay you to practice or rehearse or write. They pay you for the result of the work. But you gotta do the work. You have to sit down with the instrument and work the music all on your own little self without anyone telling you to do it or paying you to do it at the time you do it. This is not an hourly wage or salary position and there is no guarantee that the external rewards — money, status, etc., – will be equal to the amount of effort you put in so you better have a good reason within yourself to do this.
5) You are only as good as your last performance. This also doesn’t mean what you might think it does. Here is a Truth, written by Lao-Tse in the Tao Teh Ching centuries ago, “Great talent matures slowly.” No matter how good you get at music (or anything else) you can always get better. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn. Your last performance is the one you do 5 minutes before you go toes up. Between now and then you have a very long learning curve. Plan on being in this for the long-haul. Grim determination trumps youthful exuberance every time.
So – What about Music? Depends. Unrealistic expectations, external motivations, tunnel vision are all the enemy. The “day job” approach is also not your friend. Beyond that, you will be living a very different schedule than most. You are working during everyone else’s off time. You are “off” while everyone else is working – but the fact is you never have down time. The days of the week, the very idea of a week or month or year, are not your concern other than knowing when the gig is scheduled for.
The date of the bills and the date of the pay do not always line up. For you, time is a continuum and, if you are lucky, just before your last performance you will notice that a whole lifetime has elapsed, that you brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, that you may have fundamentally changed someone’s life for the better, that every day has been an adventure and all your days have added up to a larger adventure, and you will be able to say, “Wow – that was fun”.
More later. Right now I have a guitar, a clarinet, a mandolin, several music scores, a few books to study, instruments wanting repair, all looking at me impatiently.