Benjamin Coy

Trombonist

Day jobs

October 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

For the past month or so, I have been very busy with nonmusical activities. I am not yet fortunate enough to make my entire living as a trombonist, so I take additional jobs as necessary to support my family. My situation is not uncommon, but I think it’s a part of the industry that we try to ignore. Talking about one’s day job is neither interesting nor flattering, so we avoid doing it. As educators, though, I think we owe it to our students to be more honest. Students often have a hard time balancing their academic responsibilities alone; those who must include a job in their schedules could often benefit from some help managing it all, or at least a role model demonstrating that it’s possible.

First, I think it’s important to note that there is no shame in working for a living. Most of the greatest musicians in history had day jobs. Some notable examples exist even in the Chicago Symphony’s legendary brass section: Arnold Jacobs worked as a doorman at a hotel, and Jay Friedman was an elevator operator. Reynold Schilke worked in a rifle factory during WWII while playing for the symphony at night. It’s a fact of our current economy that a mediocre computer programmer can make a much better living than a superlative violinist. Musicians, even of the highest quality, must often supplement their incomes with other work.

One of the more difficult parts of balancing a day job with an artistic career is keeping one’s priorities straight. It can be very easy to slip into the daily grind and lose the vision of why we go to work every day. If the boss asks for overtime, it can be nice to get the extra cash. But if that overtime interferes with a scheduled practice session or rehearsal, it is important to spend those precious hours on what really matters. Similarly, any stress from work must stay out of the practice room. Being upset about a co-worker’s actions or an impending deadline can distract from effective practice. This is all very common sense, of course, but it can be incredibly difficult to maintain for long durations. Conscious evaluation of how each hour of each day is spent can help.

Sometimes there are creative ways to multitask at work. Jay Friedman, when he worked as an elevator operator, used to request the night shift when fewer guests would be active. He would then have long stretches of time available alone in the elevator, and he practiced on his mouthpiece. In my day job, I can listen to music while I work. So, I make playlists of the music I need to study and play that through my headphones. It may be less than a careful score study, but it helps remarkably in wrapping my head around multiple interpretation options, large formal structures, etc.

Last but not least, it is vital to find a practice schedule that is sustainable. Cramming six hours of practice on Saturday will not make up for not touching the horn Monday through Friday. Similarly, there are very few of us who can reliably get up at 5:00AM every day for a worthwhile practice session. Everyone’s solution will be different, but in order to maintain the artistic career, there has to be a solution in place. For me, I do a morning routine before work (usually – some mornings are harder than others), and I take at least an hour at lunch to go home and practice. I have a practice mute that I can use at night, and I do score study during shorter spans of time that present themselves. This basic schedule is not ideal, but it’s enough for basic maintenance so that I am in shape enough to play when called.

Day jobs are an unfortunate reality for many musicians. We are forced to fit our real careers around economic demands and make short-term sacrifices for a longer-term goal. All my previous thoughts boil down to this: keep your eye on the long term goal, and make absolutely sure that whatever is necessary in the short term does not become the long term solution!

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