Skip to main content

Hiring a Musician

Steve and I disagree this week. It's Holy Week, and Spring is the season of church gigs and musicians coming in as ringers with student ensembles, and as a result we are getting calls from a lot of people who do not regularly hire musicians. Steve gets irritable with these "newbies" who beat around the bush on the phone, don't have all of the details that we need, and have to be helped with the process. If we are not speaking directly with them but rather emailing or playing phone tag, the process can take days.

And his point is well taken. We are professionals, and have a right to be treated professionally. For the record, the proper way to hire a musician is this. Call or email, and tell the person when they are needed, what instruments and repertoire are involved, where the gig will take place, and how much it pays. Then the musician has all the information he needs to decide whether to accept the gig or not, and he will respond within a very few hours with a clear yes or no.

But I don't have a problem with these people or their goofy gigs. Anyone who wants to pay me to do what I love to do is worthy of my time and respect. I wish that I had a prestigious job with a big orchestra and had my health insurance paid for and drew a salary that I could rely on every week, but in fact my living comes from a LOT of small sources. Every little gig counts toward the whole, and every reed order, and every student who comes in for a single brush-up lesson without committing to regular study.

Music is a service profession. I am working for the audience, always, and trying to make their experience good, but I am also working for the client, no matter how inexperienced or un-famous that person is. The issue of what my expertise is worth is a topic for another post, but once you quote your price and I accept it I will do my best for you whether you are paying me $75 or $600. I have been the main soloist at a wedding, the only professional player in a youth orchestra, and the guest artist in an REM cover band. I have recorded solos for a cabaret album and an alt-rock one. I have walked in and sight-read concerts, and I have sat next to a high-school student and patiently mentored her into an outstanding performance in the pit of a fully staged opera. I have struggled to tune with an organ that hasn't been serviced in years, and I have been delightful and collegial to that member of your congregation who picks up her flute once a year to play on Good Friday. I have read the tenor line up the octave or the clarinet part down a step.

I provide a service. I play the oboe, and I do it very well. If you hire me to play, I will arrive early with my music learned, and get the job done however small or big it is.

So yes, ideally have your ducks in a row before you call to hire a musician - but call. Do call. Live music is something special, and we are worthwhile expenditures. Call.


  1. I definitely appreciate and agree with this post. As someone who played a goofy gig this Easter, and as someone who found himself trying to hire musicians to play at his friend's wedding this weekend, I was on both sides of the coin. Thanks for the write up.

  2. Tricky on both sides, isn't it? Thanks for your comment!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…


When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room.  In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra.  And it was OK.  We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details.  But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating.  The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult.  Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative.  Don't be too loud, don't come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture... And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault…