I love playing the horn. I love being a horn player. I love having a family and raising them in New York, a city that has captured my heart and turned me into a New Yorker. I've had some lucky breaks in this field in this city, and I've also had some tremendously hard months that have even turned into years. I know I'm not the only one, right? Nowadays, if you judge people by the face they put up on social media, everyone is working and having a great time, with no worries of paying bills, and it seems like I'm the only one who's not voraciously working. Then I looked at my social media, and I came to the same conclusion of myself. So why is it so hard for me to be honest about where I'm truly coming from?
I feel honored and inspired to work in a city where there are so many talented horn players that, even when shows are pouring in and work abounds, there's just not enough for every talented player to get a piece of the New York City pie. I don't think I would push myself to play at the level I am at now if I didn't live here. Of course, the flip side of this is that it can be extremely hard to sustain a life without finding other ways to piece together a substantial income, especially if you have a family. I have worked in some fields and picked up some side work that I never thought I would to make ends meet. Truth be told, every year I get closer to justifying a full-time job so that I can play the horn when I want to, but it doesn't feel right yet. As my wonderful husband says, I think I still have something to say that I can only say on the horn.
If you have a beer or a coffee with a freelancer, almost everyone has a horror story about not playing music for money for an extended period of time, or a worry about a major debt, or no savings plan or pension for retirement. A large part of this singular approach is generational: I went to school at a time where there was no alternative to winning a job and being wildly successful. The assumption was that practicing and extreme self-sacrifice would lead to winning an audition in a major orchestra. Sadly for me, that hasn't happened yet, and may never really happen. I know that if I had started my Bachelor's Degree 15 years later, I would know that most musicians need a side hustle and would have accepted that as part of my calling. As it is now, I have no Master's Degree and am living from show to show, from opportunity to opportunity. Not a great time to have young children in a new apartment...
In light of all this, Steve and I have decided to bide our time and keep moving forward. Patriot Brass is always on the cusp of a major break-through, and I am improving on the instrument every day. I think of where I am now, and 20-year old me would have thought "well, that will never happen to me, I work hard and I practice 4 to 8 hours a day." I haven't had a perfect career and I have made some mistakes along the way. This is my reality and I am choosing to accept it and build upon it. 20-year old me probably would never have thought I would have accomplished all that I have, and probably would be shocked to know that I sound the way I do today.
So I'm still here and I'm still working, I'm still playing and I'm still trying to be the best person and player I can be. I'm marketing my album, arranging music, contacting horn players in case they might need subs, and even posting on this blog. It was a rough summer professionally, but it's been a time of complete joy in our family. We have a lot of support and I'm so grateful to the people in our lives that have made it possible for us to keep working and living in this most wonderful of cities. At the same time, I am going to work on being more honest about who I am and where I'm coming from. The horn is one of my great passions in life, but it doesn't always go the way I would like it to, and I am working on coming to terms with that. It's ok to want more for my career and go for it, but I can't let the empty calendar stand in my way.
If you're reading this post and you're coming off of a forced sabbatical like I am, please just know this: you don't suck, you're not alone, it's just rough sometimes. The freelancing life fluctuates like anything else and it's not always a reflection on your talent or the performance you gave on your last job. All we can do as professional freelancing musicians is to be honest with ourselves about how we sound and how thoroughly we're practicing in our daily lives.
When the concert seasons start I always think to myself: maybe this year will be better, maybe I'll get some new work next month. The greatest irony of my professional life has been this: if it seems like I'll never work again, I practice even harder because I am motivated by the possibility of getting to go out and play the horn. You see, I lost my shame a long time ago. At the end of it all, I am unabashedly and hopelessly optimistic.