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  • Music as Career and Hobby: Creating a Performance Project by Andrew Richardson

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Oct 26, 2020

    Most music students are probably told at some point to enjoy the performance opportunities you have in college because, upon graduation, you will have to work to set up those opportunities for yourself. For some, this recognition is inspiration to dig into orchestral excerpts, hit the audition trail, and win a gig. For others, it means playing every extracurricular gig that comes along in order to make contacts and, hopefully, continue to play in those community July 4th concerts, Christmas/Easter services, and dinner parties after graduation. Others may choose to buy an instrument and focus on solo or chamber playing or join/start a band. And for some it means accepting that professional performances will be a rarity after college, and focusing on other skills and opportunities for a career in music. All these paths, and many more, are perfectly valid, and some people will likely switch from one path to another and back again.

    For those who don’t join an orchestra, start a band, or focus on solo/chamber performance as a full-time endeavor, what does creating performance opportunities look like and why do we do it? As someone whose first job out of college was actually several part-time jobs, much of my performing had shifted from ensemble member to ensemble director. I thought playing a few paying gigs each year with different regional groups, along with yearly solo recitals at the schools where I taught, was great. I was able to make a little extra cash with some gigging and perform solo when I felt compelled. (Perhaps this sounds a lot like you or someone you know.) At some point, however, I decided to spend some time making music with no strings attached regarding venue, repertoire, audience, contests, or academic calendar, just as I did in my high school garage band. The goal was simple: perform live, in public, at least once a week for an entire year.

    Although this project was several years ago, my hope was always to share the idea to inspire others to take on a similar project. What follows is a brief outline of the details, some memorable moments, venue ideas, and potential benefits, should you take on a similar project. As you read through, maybe you’ll come up with your own plan for exploring how you can re-connect with performing as a hobby. 

    These are the rules or goals I set for myself, and I list them here as a model. You can modify any or all of these as appropriate for your situation. The first “rule” was that most of the performances would have to be solo or small groups. Secondly, because this challenge was not financially driven, none of the gigs needed to be paid, but if there was pay involved that was acceptable. In this respect, professional performances could count as the weekly performance if needed. The third rule/goal was to perform in new settings. My venues included retirement homes, coffee shops, private/corporate parties, local middle/high schools, and even street corners. The fourth goal was to explore a variety of instruments and styles. Instruments I performed on included solo vibes, solo/chamber steel pan, drum set (jazz combo), orchestral percussion (professional gigs), and solo marimba. My styles and repertoire included jazz charts (solo and combo), traditional, contemporary solo percussion, and rock/pop tunes.

    As I went through this process, I required myself to keep a journal in which I would write a few sentences after each performance about the positive aspects. Here are a few of those entries:

    • “Played short vibe concert at Full Circle Adult Day Center [daycare-type facility for the elderly]. It was nice to play for them because they showed great appreciation. I could hear some people singing/humming along with “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Blackbird.” Overall, it was a nice way to start the project.”
    • “Played with M in front of Starbucks. He played a variety of shakers, I had my pan. The wind was bothersome. We couldn’t really play anything too intricate because I knew at any moment I may not have the right page open. I should memorize more tunes.”
    • “There was a guy across the street doomsday ranting, but we just played on…”
    • “Played vibes at Arbor House [retirement home]. Typical vibes gig with rushed setup, but was comfortable. I think this idea is working.”
    • “Nobody was at the desk when I arrived and I didn't really know where to go…”
    • “All my reading practice and groove practice paid off.”
    • “Played pan on the street corner with B and C. Nice to be able to go out and do that, only practicing the pan the day before.”
    • “Set up the gig and then couldn't practice for a week or two, so only had a few hours before playing to run through my rep. Goes to show that the project is working and beneficial to performance prep and mental comfort.”
    • “[Performance for local middle school students is] a good way to get more comfortable with just walking in and playing.”

    Setting up performances for yourself gets easier with practice. Cold-calling a potential venue can be daunting at first, but you’ll soon realize that the person on the other end of the phone will either be excited to have you come or simply decline and never think of it again. In the first case, you get to share your music with an audience. In the second, it’s almost as if you never called, so there isn’t anything to be nervous about. By “practicing” setting up performances, you will build confidence to book high-profile events and audiences if you wish to do so.

    This type of project gives you a chance to perform the same music several times. Repeat performances, especially in low-stress environments, allow you to build a deeper relationship with the music and with your own performance style. 

    Exploring a variety of performance spaces and types of audience gives you many opportunities to deal with distractions and strengthen mental focus. During a performance at an assisted living center, a resident approached me and started talking to me while I was playing. I had a choice to ignore the person (a bit rude as the person was standing right next to me), try to talk to the person while playing (that would be odd for everyone else), or figure something out (but what?). I decided in the moment to improvise a little bit with the piece and find a place to end, answered a few questions for the resident, and politely offered to play another tune.

    You are bound to make some memories of great performances, and of unique situations. All too often, we finish a concert and instantly start thinking about all the moments we would want to do over. By keeping a journal of positive memories, you will have a permanent record reminding you what you enjoy about performing for others. Nobody ever gets stressed out to do a hobby; I have never once heard my mother say, “Well I got through that jigsaw puzzle, but I was really nervous and could have done much better.”

    When we get out into new performance venues and interact with new audiences, we make connections that can provide even more opportunities. If you’ve ever played a concert and had audience members come up afterwards asking if you can play for their event, or teach their child, or simply want to come to your next concert, you know the benefits of networking. Imagine meeting community members every week who might have further opportunities—perhaps even money-making opportunities!

    Performing 50–75 times a year won’t sound like much to a gigging musician or someone who is a member of a regularly performing orchestra; however, for everyone else, this type of project can be a great way to do more performing on your own terms. Young professionals (or students) interested in this lifestyle will get a crash course in making your own opportunities. Professionals of any age who focus on another aspect of music can use this as a chance to reconnect with the feeling of making music as a hobby. Additionally, if you’ve ever felt your own self-worth directly proportional to how “good” you play, a project like this can help ease those tensions. Even if you have a less-than-stellar performance, you know you have another one in a few days to focus on so it’s a bit easier to let it go. Each performance can be passionate but detached from a sense of self-value.

    Most importantly, start by setting up your own schedule, one that works for you in your current situation. Maybe once a week sounds good, maybe once a month is more reasonable. Any amount is acceptable, but should be planned and something to which you will commit. Also consider starting with a reduced timeline. Instead of a whole year, try once a week for a month, or two months, or during the summer. Know that a scheduled performance might fall through, even last minute. That’s okay! Focus on consistency over the project.

    Keep a journal; this is huge! Record your thoughts after each performance, especially positive outcomes and demonstrated growth from gig to gig.

    Use whatever instruments you have. Percussion can be tricky to move, set up, or simply to find instruments to use. There are many speedbumps: what kind of car you have (if you even have a car!), what instruments you own, what instruments you can borrow, what music you think you like to play. All of these can be overcome with some creativity, whether that means finding instruments (check out used instruments, demos, and state surplus auctions), learning rep that doesn’t require a 5-octave marimba, or challenging yourself to use what you have in a new way. Focus on the process, not the tools.

    Most importantly, have fun! When you are done (or ready to start round two), please share with me or others whom you believe would benefit from this experience.

    Andrew RichardsonDr. Andrew Richardson serves as Interim Director of Percussion Activities at the University of Oklahoma. Additionally, Andrew is a member of the Norman Philharmonic and is the Oklahoma PAS Chapter President. He has performed and given presentations at PASIC, the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy, OkMEA conventions, and numerous universities and high schools. Andrew is published in Percussive Notes, and his compositions are available through Tapspace Publications and Boxfish Music Publishing.

  • Five Question Friday: Andrew Richardson (University of Oklahoma)

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Oct 23, 2020

    Andrew RichardsonAndrew Richardson serves as the Interim Director of Percussion Activities at the University of Oklahoma. Additionally, Andrew is a member of the Norman Philharmonic and is the Oklahoma PAS Chapter president. Andrew earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma as well as Master of Music and Bachelor of Music degrees from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

    Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a university percussion professor, what career could you see yourself having pursued? 

    Andrew Richardson: When I was a kid, someone told me I'd be a good ambassador. I didn't think much of it at the time, but as an adult I have become more interested in politics, so maybe that was a good insight. I've also always been keen on building and repairing drums/percussion; maybe I could have been a carpenter.

    R!S: What's one thing in your institution or city/town (other than your school of music or music department) that you are proud to tell people about?

    AR: Norman, Oklahoma has a nickname, "City of Festivals," because of the many events hosted here: Norman Music Festival, Jazz in June, Chocolate Festival, Earth Day Festival, Aviation Festival, Medieval Fair, and a National Weather Festival, just to name a few. Speaking of weather, Norman is home to the NOAA National Weather Center. OU also has two great museums: a natural history museum and an outstanding art museum.

    R!S: What's one thing about you that your students would unanimously proclaim? 

    AR: I think they would all agree that I start each day with a positive attitude and am always excited to make music together.

    R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why? 

    AR: Whenever I get asked this, I dodge it a bit because it's such a tough question. In college we used to talk about what we would choose if we could only play three instruments for the rest of our lives. I chose marimba, drum set, and steel pan—one mallet instrument, one drumstick instrument, one non-Western instrument.

    R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?

    AR: My early childhood was in Fairfax, Virgina, and middle/high school was in Harrisonburg, Virgina. My parents moved to the United States from England, so I spent several summers there as a child visiting family.

  • PAS Diversity Alliance: Cesar Gonzalez Cisnero, Percussion Chair, National Superior Conservatory, Quito Ecuador

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Oct 22, 2020

    Cesar Gonzalez Cisnero

    PAS Diversity Alliance: Where were you educated and who were your percussion teachers?

    Cesar Gonzalez Cisnero: I was educated in the Orchestra System of Venezuela, better known as “El Sistema.” My main teachers, who I deeply appreciate, were Jose “Cheo” Cardenas in elementary and middle school, then José Alberto Marquez in college, and my master’s degree with the Puerto Rican percussionist José Alicea in the Simón Bolivar University of Venezuela. Thanks to “El Sistema,” I also received classes in summer camps and festivals with many great master percussionists, like Rainer Seegers, Wieland Welzel, Jhon Grimes, Fernando Meza, and Jerry Leake.

    PAS DA: Describe your orchestral performing experiences.

    CGC: I had the opportunity to be part of the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, where I developed my professional career, and had the experience to play with important conductors like Krzysztof Penderecki, Gustavo Dudamel, Alfredo Rugeles, Sung Kwak, Giancarlo Guerrero, Claudio Abbado, Christian Vasquez, Cesar Ivan Lara, and Roberto Tibirica, among others. In Ecuador, I played with the National Orquestra of Ecuador as an extra percussionist, under the direction of Alvaro Manzano and Andrea Vela.

    PAS DA: What challenges have you faced, pursuing a career in orchestral performing? 

    CGC: The principal challenge is the high level of competition and the few positions available in the orchestras to a percussionist.

    PAS DA: What challenges have you faced as musician during COVID-19?

    CGC: Adapting to the constant use of technologies for broadcasting, recording, and capturing new audiences, and adapting spaces that have not been thought of as rooms for classes or presentations. All this translates into a hard blow to the economy because profits are few and investment in equipment is needed to face the new normal. It Is a difficult situation to deal with.

    PAS DA: Please describe your work as a percussion educator.

    CGC: My job is to make students fall in love with music through the world of percussion; then I try to choose the best way to teach based on their strengths and weaknesses. For me it is especially important that the students develop two components: group work and individual work. The percussion ensemble as part of group work is essential to develop the skills of teamwork, sound control, breathing, interpretation, and putting technical resources into practice. Individual work through a repertoire that can be put on stage in a prudent time, allows the student to reach the goal step by step.

    PAS DA: How does your work as an educator relate to your career as an orchestral performer?

    CGC: They are directly related, because as a professor of the National Superior Conservatory of Quito, we train percussionists to feed the different groups in the country, such as orchestras, bands, chamber groups, and different artistic projects.

    PAS DA: What is your advice to players who want to pursue performing with an orchestra professionally?

    CGC: Focus on understanding how technique is the best tool to express our feelings when it comes to playing music. Don’t fear going wrong, because the only way not to make a mistake is doing nothing, and nobody goes far doing nothing. Be patient, persistent, humble, and extremely disciplined.

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