A couple of years ago I was having lunch with my good friend John Abbracciamento, a trumpet player with the President's Own Marine Band, here in DC. Our conversation, as always, started with us articulating our distastes for the others favorite sports teams (he is from New York, I am from Boston.) But this one day the conversation ended up segueing into a very interesting discussion about the music business. It got good enough that I jotted down a couple of notes.
I asked him about his career before joining the Marine Band. He started out as a freelancer in New York City. He told me he started getting a lot of phone calls very quickly, to play everything from small gigs to becoming a regular sub with the New York Philharmonic.
To paraphrase him, he was getting more calls than he "should have" gotten. He's always been a great player. He's in the Marine Band! But he said he was getting more calls than other guys who were either as good or better than he was in town. So naturally I asked him why he thought that was. He gave me two answers:
The first point is an imperative one. As musicians, we are taught to share our (musical) opinions all the time. Sometimes it can be challenging to not let that naturally extend to things off of the horn. I was taught to ask myself three questions any time I want to open my mouth to criticize anyone or anything:
1. Does this need to be said?
2. Does this need to be said by me?
3. Does this need to be said by me right now?
Unless I answer yes to all three of those questions, I've learned to keep my mouth shut.
John's point was that he didn't criticize colleagues. He didn't criticize conductors. He didn't complain about the pay on a gig (which he had already agreed to or he wouldn't be there in the first place!) He kept his mouth shut as a sub and kept his head down.
And the second point will get you hired over and over again. As Rex Martin used to preach to us at Northwestern, our job as musicians is to make those around us sound better than they actually are. And John shared a compliment that Woody English, the fantastic former trumpet player for the Army Band, once gave to him:
If you can do the two things that John did during his time in New York, you will find yourself with a phone that rings an awful lot.