My career has been predominantly as a freelancer and private teacher. While there is no glory is saying that, there is a lot to be proud of despite our industry not giving us much recognition. Freelancers have no benefits, no paid time off, if we're sick we have to most always find our own replacements all while quite probably loosing that gig connection or moving down the call list. You have to be in top form at all times because you just don't know when that phone will ring. Vacations are usually with you horn in tow. This is the career most of us end up with, and at least in the past, we were not prepared for this reality!
Personally, I have been called to play a live broadcast of a Boston Pops concert to replace someone ill, but had to turn it down because I just had my gall bladder removed two days before. Believe me, I was trying to think of any way I could maneuver myself on stage to play. Then reality said, What! You must be kidding!"
I was beat up one evening by 5 guys while I was in the middle of a 7 week run of a show at 1am after returning from a show. I lost work and money and returned probably way too soon, but I had little choice. There are many more stories, but these two were highlights.
Navigating freelance chops is a tricky business. The "big guys" so to speak, perform under the best of circumstances for the most part. Wonderful acoustics, the same colleagues every day for the most part, a chosen genre (classical, jazz, solo, or pop). These scenarios constantly push them to new heights because they are surrounded by amazing musicians that challenge them. As a freelancer I have always dreamed of that great Orchestral or Soloist gig that would fit my personality better than freelancing. That never transpired for me so I continue to make the system I'm not as comfortable with fit for me.
There are weeks when I have been playing shows like Legally Blonde for several weeks and have a run of B Minor Mass thrown in between. Now, while both are about playing high notes, the style of playing could not be more different. Instrument and mouthpiece choices become crucial! Finding the right sound and approach for the job at hand and delivering with confidence is key.
The best advice I can give is to prepare for this type of career now! This is the norm these days. You will most likely end up in the freelance arena either permanently or at minimum for an extended period while attempting getting into another arena. Good jobs are more scarce than ever. Reinvent a new way to present yourself and your art. Try dearly to be true to yourself and your creative spirit.
Being a great player is a matter of discipline, yes, but practicing efficiently and effectively is key. That is the elusive part!!
It took me years to overcome, and I still work on this! Two things: you don't have to be THE best virtuoso and you have to be ok with you! I am in no way a Zen Master, but a Zen student. Zen and trumpet work nicely together. Learning to prepare then let go is the challenge.
Part 2 and Part 3 to this article can be found here and here.