Category Archives: Gigging

Playing While Pregnant

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life.  I wasn’t sure exactly what all of those would be since  I had never been a mom before.  Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me.  I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

Pre-Pregnancy Playing

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician?  I knew I wasn’t the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time.  I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant.  All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just “go for it.”  I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way.  Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1.  Know where the bathrooms are.  There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else.  Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water.  This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3.  Invest in the appropriate brace.  Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand.  I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn’t playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

My husband and I after a trio recital at 6 months pregnant

4.  Stretch and take breaks.  For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes.  I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief.  The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions.  It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn’t have a break for 30 minutes or more.  If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key.  Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5.  It’s okay to say no.  This is one I struggle with.  I used to play music with every one that would let me,  but it is very important that you don’t try to do it all.  The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can’t do everything like you used to.  Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6.  Know that every pregnancy is different.  You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play.  Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7.  Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.  All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered.  For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths.  Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently.  For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived.  Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.

Under a rest

I usually try to write a blog that is somehow useful or insightful. However, I’m afraid this blog only raises more questions than provides answers, and I’m hoping someone will be able to offer some help. The most difficult part of this is to admit a piece of my musical immaturity.

I answered a call on my cell phone on December 23rd from a friend who was frantically looking for a violinist to play for a Christmas Eve midnight mass. Always willing to help a friend in need, I eagerly agreed to play, although explained to her that I wouldn’t have time to pick up music or even practice before the 10:00 PM rehearsal on Christmas Eve. We did meet a little early so she could talk me through a few of the transitions, and I felt comfortable with the music. I had played much of it before for other church performances over the years.

Typically, for string quartet performances, I prefer to play second violin. Playing in upper positions (the nosebleed zone) is not all that appealing. But, most of all, I like the challenge of offering harmonious support, and I can count pretty well. I rampantly subdivide the beat in my head and am easily annoyed with sloppy players who play dotted eighth-sixteenth figures almost as triplets or showy players who rush running staccato figures because the shorter length of a note means they should play the next note even sooner.

Now, here’s where I run into my problem, and it happened more than once during the holiday musical season. I occasionally get lost during rests. Not for one or two beats worth of rests, but several beats in succession. It’s almost like my brain shuts off momentarily. “Oh, good. A rest; now, I can rest.” Actually, I need to do the opposite. I need to let the music continue in my head and be prepared for the next entrance. This isn’t quite as easy when I’m sight reading during a performance.

So, what is the answer here? Maybe someday in the future we will all be reading our music on electronic devices, and there will be a little red bouncing ball showing where we are in the music. If that’s the case, then I maybe worried for no reason.

In the meantime, I will continue to practice with my metronome and quietly tap my fingers as I count measures of rests. If you haven’t started practicing with a metronome, it is time to invest in one and become a rhythmic genius. It does pay off!

Ensembles Large and Small: Try Them All!

I am a huge fan of ensembles.  The elementary school that I went to offered a strings class to 5th and 6th graders.  I was excited to play the violin and then the cello.  My favorite part of the entire class, though, was getting to work towards a common goal with my classmates.  I love being around people.  I’m an extrovert.

As I progressed in my musical studies, a lot of the repertoire that I was learning included Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites.  This was not as much fun for me.  Yes, I know that I learned valuable techniques and skills, however, it was lonely.  No one to play off of or interact with because I was by myself.  Hours in a practice room, by myself.  Sitting on a stage during recitals…BY MYSELF!   Still, I made it through the suites with my sanity in tact (my college roommates might debate this).  The one thing I think that aided my study of Bach, was my involvement in musical ensembles large and small.

Like myself, being involved in a musical ensemble is “built-in” for many beginners.  Many still start in a classroom setting through a school music program or teacher’s studio.  It’s a great way to start.  Not only does it fill any need for human connection and camaraderie, but it builds listening skills and intonation, as well as rhythm and playing together.  For some, they are able to continue in a group setting in a middle or high school orchestra.  Yet, how can a student be involved in an ensemble if there are no school programs?

Here are some options:

Duets and Trios (2 and 3 players)-There is a lot of music out there written for two or three, so practically any skill level, beginner to advanced, can participate.  Playing a duet is a simple as asking a friend or family member to play together.  Your young musician can even ask their teachers if they can play with another student in their studio.  Often times, teachers are pleased to play with students too. *Free Participation*

Quartet (4 players)-The traditional string quartet consists of 2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello.  Like Duets and Trios, there is a lot of music available but, this exact combination of musicians can be trickier to find.  It can take some time to get everyone together.  You may have to start playing as a duet or trio and add people as you meet them. *Free Participation*

Church/Synagogue Groups-These groups usually perform once a week and are usually open to any musician.  Playing in this setting can yield combinations of instruments that you won’t find anywhere else and the live performances keep your “chops up.”  If you aren’t “religious,” don’t worry, many groups don’t require that, they just want you to play.  *Free Participation*

Community Orchestra-Community Orchestras are much larger that any of the other groups I’ve mentioned.  They are often a full orchestra of strings, wind, brass, and percussion.  They are great because they can provide the chance for a young musician to play with other musicians that are much more experienced.  Plus, they have a will get play more challenging music in the modern orchestra repertoire.  While most members will be adults, many community groups are open to proficient students although an audition may be required.  Also, a lot of community groups hold “Young Artists” competitions for talented young musicians to perform a solo with a full orchestra. *Free Participation*

Youth Orchestras-Dot Rust posted a blog about this in February.  It’s worth the read.  She describes how they began in the U.S. and how your student can be involved.  The only thing that is different from the previous groups is that there is tuition involved.  Many groups offer tuition breaks or scholarships for any needy student. *Cost to Participate*

Jazz Band/Combo-We all know Bass players are in jazz bands, but violins, violas, and cellos?  Say it with me: Yes we can!  See Stephane Grapelli, Lucio Amanti, and Judith Insell for some great examples.  Your student may want to learn jazz scales and basic improvisation techniques before jumping in, but it’s so worth it.  Even if they don’t become the Dizzy Gillespie on the viola, playing jazz opens up a whole new world of tonality that will be helpful if they ever dive into some Bernstein or Ives. *Maybe Cost*

Bluegrass Band-Your young musician may want to trade their violin in for a fiddle. Side Note: violin=fiddle.  Bluegrass bands are welcoming to all ages and levels and there are competitions in every region that can offer cash prizes to winners.  Bluegrass bands often play by ear and by rote instead of reading of sheet music, so this is a great chance for your student to practice memorization. *Buy lots of Rosin*

Marching Band-Alright, I’ll admit.  I don’t know of any marching string orchestras.  I’m just putting up here hoping someone out there might actually do it.  The technology exists now to make it happen (carbon fiber instruments + wireless pick-ups hooked up to a stadium sound system!)…but it would be expensive.  Okay, for this one, your student would have the be the relative of an eccentric millionaire that is about to die. *Cost: Priceless*

Really, the sky is the limit when it comes to having your young musician participate in an ensemble.  There are numerous possibilities and numerous benefits.  Plus, many options are free of charge.  Helpful hint: if you need to provide sheet music for the group your student is playing in, check out the International Music Library Score Project.  They provide copies of free sheet music for ensembles of many sizes.

How to Find Gigs: Musical Networking

 

As with any other career, a musician’s key to successfully finding gigs often lies in simple networking. (Image by Sean MacEntee)

It takes a long time to establish your reputation as a musician and performer in a new town. After living in Utah for six years, I felt so well connected to a great number of musical organizations, schools, teachers, orchestras, recording studios, and the like. I enjoyed playing regular gigs, teaching a steady number of bass students, and growing strong relationships with musicians and performing groups throughout the state . . .

. . . and then I moved.

My husband’s work brought us to Oregon, which meant starting from scratch as a stranger hoping to freelance a new music community. So the first thing I did in the months leading up to and following my move to the Portland area was contact absolutely every musical organization I could find. I made phone calls, sent e-mails with my performance resume attached, and inquired about upcoming auditions. During the summer before the move, I took extra lessons, practiced 20 hours a week, and performed a recital in preparation for auditions I hoped to take once arriving in Oregon.

The day after we pulled our moving truck into town I abandoned our unpacking efforts to attend a masterclass sponsored by the Portland Youth Philharmonic featuring Erik Harris, principal bassist of the St. Louis Symphony. Sure, I was a college grad, so what was I doing hanging out with the youth symphony members? I was also looking for connections.  As with most professions, the fastest way to find work is through effective networking and personal referrals. So my goal? Get connected!

Let me tell you, it doesn’t take much but confidence. You know you’re a good player, so put yourself out there! And if you don’t feel like a good enough player to get those gigs, try The Art of Effective Practicing. It takes a lot of work to be a marketable performer, but you can do it!

 

Here are a few ways to get connected with your local music community:

  • Keep your chops up by performing regularly. Put on a house concert. Keep practicing. Find an open-mic night at a local venue to sing, fiddle, or do whatever you do. Play at your church or synagogue. Busk at the local farmers markets. There are endless opportunities to perform, and you can create those opportunities yourself.  Don’t wait for someone else to do what you can do on your own. You’d be surprised by how many restaurants, café’s, bookstores, and boutiques there are that would be so happy to have your live music in their space.
  • Don’t demand paying gigs right away or all the time. Be generous in sharing your talents with others! You can do this while still maintaining your stance as a professional. Playing for free allows you to enjoy the opportunity to meet other musicians without stressing about money and union talk. You’ll be surprised how many connections you’ll make that can lead to future gigs. And come on, we all know the economy is tight, and if all musicians refused to play without pay our artistic community and musical culture would suffer tremendously.
  • Participate in your local community orchestras! You don’t have to wait to win an audition with a semi-professional or professional orchestra to play the great orchestral works. Community orchestras are excellent for meeting teachers, performers, and conductors who can hook you up for future work—and they’re just plain fun. You can relax and play great music with a smile on your face. Sometimes when money is in the mix, musicians can become surly, bitter, or demanding individuals, losing sight of why they chose music as a career in the first place. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t let the joy of playing be belittled by your pride or hunger for pay.
  • Connect with local schools. I decided to call and e-mail local orchestra teachers offering to conduct a free masterclass for their bass sections. It turned into a very fruitful experience. Give it a try! And who knows, maybe they’ll even ask you to come back. Regardless, reaching out to the youth in school and community music programs is a great way to make a name for yourself as a teacher. Be sure to get your name on the list of private teachers the orchestra directors provide for their students, and remember you can receive 10% off with your teacher discount through Kennedy Violins!
Photo by Belen Martini.
  • Don’t just teach lessons—take lessons. Even the most experienced professional musicians can benefit from taking lessons into their old age. Musicians can always benefit from the perspective of another performer with fresh ideas, techniques, and style.

It might be challenging to find the gig of your dreams. But don’t wait miserably for a Golden Ticket while throwing away the chance to enjoy that delicious Wonka Bar right in front of you. There is music to be played, players to meet, and stages on which to perform. So have at it! Make a connection! And keep us posted along the way.