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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: Treat Every Rehearsal and Concert Like It's a Paying Gig (3 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

One of the best things that both Rex Martin and Sam Pilafian did for me when I was in college was prepare me for that scary three word phrase that collegiate music teachers like to throw around to scare their students: the real world.

The professional music world is an incredibly straight forward one in almost all respects.  There is no secret to unlock that enables you to function in this business.  The good news is that almost all of it is simply common sense.  But this straight forward world is incredibly unforgiving when you mess up.  There have never been a greater number of highly qualified players to take your place if you are not getting the job done than at any time in history.  That means that you not only have to play well but also need to be the consumate professional to put yourself in the best position possible to get or keep gigs.

The list of things that you have to do is quite simple and well known.  The challenge is fully implimenting this list while you are still in school.  It is very difficult to flip a switch the moment you are handed your diploma and suddenly start acting like a professional.

How you treat rehearsals and concerts is only a part of what goes into being a professional but it is certainly one of the most important.  A college student should never walk into a rehearsal or gig the moment it is scheduled to begin. If you do that on a professional gig you won’t ever be called again.  Are you the person who has a pencil at every rehearsal or are you the one that asks the guy next to you to use his 20 times a rehearsal? Are you person who forgets their bowtie? If you are using an excuse for being late to a rehearsal would you use that same excuse if the rehearsal was with the New York Philharmonic or would you find a way to get there? Would you have practiced more for a rehearsal if you were subbing with the Boston Brass?

The reputation you develop while you are in music school, good or bad, will follow you for the rest of your career.  Music has always been a word of mouth business.  People will only recommend you to a colleague when they know that you will play well and be a professional.  Otherwise, it will reflect poorly on them for making the recommendation in the first place.

I close with a story from my sophomore year at Northwestern.  One morning I went to take a shower and accidentally locked myself out of my room wearing nothing but a towel in the middle of a Chicago winter (sorry for the visual).  I called the RA on duty and got an answering machine.  I then called Mr. Martin to explain that I would possibly be late to brass choir rehearsal which started 25 minutes later.  I gave him the full story with every single detail and appologized for possibly being late.  He then calmly said: “See you at 12:15 sharp”.

At this point I sprung into action, determined to get there just to show him that I could do it.  I borrowed my neighbors clothes (who was a full 8 inches shorter and at least 2 shoe sizes smaller than me!) and ran, without a coat, across campus to interupt my roommates music theory class to get his key.  If I had been going downtown to sub with the Chicago Symphony I would have done that before calling and explaining that I might be late.  Mr. Martin made a truly lasting impression with me that day.   He walked in at 12:15 to lead the rehearsal, looked back and saw me seated, and gave me the smallest nod you can imagine.

The sooner you can treat all playing engagements of any kind like gigs the better off you will be when you enter the real world.