Touring can be one of the most enjoyable and inspiring parts of being a musician. Traveling to new places, meeting new people, making new friends, experiencing different food and drink, sightseeing, and getting the musical satisfaction and thrill of performing for new audiences are all notable highlights. However, we don’t talk enough about how physically, mentally, and emotionally draining a tour can be. It’s critically important to take care of yourself on tour, not only to maximize your performance potential but so that you can enjoy the best part of the job: making music!
Over the past several years, I’ve spent a good amount of time on the road with the Heartland Marimba Quartet. This has given me some of the most rewarding performance experiences of my career. It has also been, on occasion, completely exhausting. On each tour I’ve learned better ways to make the experience a positive one, and this article is an opportunity to share some of these tips and tricks. (It is worth noting that I am not a nutritionist or medical professional; these are simply observations from personal experience and should not be extrapolated beyond that context.)
When getting ready for a tour, it’s easy to remember to do the musical preparation. Most of us know to plan out a practice schedule that will allow for appropriate preparation of the music. However, it is equally as important to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the demands of touring. Performing is stressful and mentally demanding, so if you’re not at your best physically or mentally, it’s much more difficult to have optimal performance. You want to enter tour well-rested, energized, and organized. Make a packing list, and not just of mallets, music, and black towels. Remember to bring toothpaste, Tylenol, chargers/batteries, business cards/CDs/promotional materials, Band-Aids, prescriptions, etc. (I have personally forgotten all those things on ONE tour and have never gone without a packing list since!)
It’s also important to have other responsibilities handled before leaving on tour. The week or two beforehand can often be packed with work to make up for obligations that will be missed while on tour. This can leave you drained before you’ve even hit the road. Be reasonable about your workload leading up to a tour. Prioritize things that cannot be handled remotely and only take work with you if absolutely necessary. It’s best to avoid dividing your attention on tour, but if you need to do other work, it helps to have specific times set aside in your itinerary. Being able to sit down and address work in a specific timeframe can help maintain boundaries and keep your mind focused.
Leading up to a tour, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep (recommended 7–9 hours for adults), but also to consider your sleep schedule. If you’re going to be traveling in a different time zone, it’s important to start training your body accordingly. It takes roughly one day for each time zone traveled for your circadian rhythm and sleep schedule to adjust. If you can get a head start on that, all the better.
Drastic changes in your diet will affect your focus, mood, and energy, so try to keep your food choices similar to your daily routine at home. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy new foods and restaurants on tour — I’ve indulged in some of the best meals of my life while on tour — but moderation is key. Everyone’s needs are different, but I’ve noticed that if I have a lot of heavy, salty, or sugary food, I feel noticeably worse throughout the day.
A bigger issue for me is consuming too much caffeine and not enough water. As someone who regularly enjoys several cups of coffee a day, I often drink even more on tour. I’ll usually try to cut down my caffeine the week or two before a tour to reset my caffeine tolerance. Always have a water bottle with you on tour, as well as some snacks; nothing can derail productivity like hunger or dehydration. When I’m on tour, my stick bag always has a pack of almonds and granola bars in the pocket.
Percussion is a highly physical instrument, and touring brings its own physical challenges with it. Playing the instrument can be a workout, but the added exertion of moving gear, setting up gear, and performing/rehearsing can become utterly exhausting. Maintaining your physical health and well-being is important to playing and performing, but it’s also important for all the other aspects of touring. I try to keep a consistent exercise routine of strength training and stretching, and I’ve found that maintaining this routine during a tour helps me make it through the long days.
KNOW YOURSELF AND OWN IT
Perhaps the best advice I can impart is to know your personal needs and be willing to communicate them. Over the past few tours, I’ve discovered several personal idiosyncrasies that can significantly impact my success on a tour. For example, I know I need physical activity as an outlet for stress, or to recenter myself, so I try to plan time where I can go for a run, do some yoga, or hit the gym. Even a ten-minute walk is sometimes all I need to clear my head. I also know I need time away from people to recharge, so I try to balance socializing after performances with taking some time alone. There’s nothing wrong with needing time for yourself, and it’s much better to recognize this and ask for it than to run yourself ragged in the middle of a busy tour.
I know that I am more likely to get defensive and take things personally when I’m stressed, so I try to take several deep breaths before responding to any potentially upsetting comments or requests. I also recognize that I get a little manic and fidgety prior to performances, so I’ve taken to doing a short meditation or body scan before going onstage.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to listen to what your body needs and take the time to discover your optimal work environment. Obviously, there are numerous factors outside of your control when on the road, but self-awareness and good planning can set you up for success.
Hannah Weaver is an avid solo and chamber performer with special interests in contemporary literature and the solo literature of J.S. Bach. A founding member of the contemporary music trio Odds & Ends (clarinet/saxophone/percussion), Weaver also tours with the Heartland Marimba Quartet, recently performing in Stuttgart, Germany, and at PASIC 2022. Weaver has competed internationally, placing in the semi-finals at TROMP (2018) and Paris International Marimba Competition (2009). She has performed several concerti with the HMQ and Dubuque Symphony (April 2021) and was a featured concerto performer with the National Repertory Orchestra (2015). Weaver is Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Orchestra credits include the Kansas City Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Omaha Symphony, and Fort Wayne Philharmonic.