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Samuel Thompson

Listening for that still, small voice...

February 29, 2008 at 9:11 AM

I just received a call today from a Polish woman living in Herndon, Virginia regarding playing with the Concert Artists of Baltimore next week - and it would have been quite nice to do so, as I would have been sitting assistant concertmaster for a concert that includes Strauss' "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" and Brahms Violin Concerto. Nice for not having taken an audition, no?

Well, unfortunately I cannot do the concert, as I am "otherwise engaged". This has been the state of the state for the entire month of February, as this was the THIRD call that I've received regarding playing in the Baltimore/DC area that I had to turn down. I guess that's life as a freelancer, no? It would have been nice to have taken these engagements, as I would be AT HOME, something that I find myself relishing more and more.

Why I have the desire to be "in my space" I do not know - perhaps it is due to having bounced around a lot over the past three years, perhaps it is due to finally having moved into an apartment in Baltimore and the desire to "set up shop" for a while. Nevertheless, here I am, and while I will not see that apartment until April I do have to say that I am grateful for what I have in front of me in terms of work, variety, and new directions.

Of course, this has happened before - many years ago. In 1998, shortly after returning to Houston after a great summer in Breckenridge, Colorado with the National Repertory Orchestra I found myself with two orchestral weeks and an audition for which to prepare. Having been called many times by the Houston Ballet, I called the personnel manager (on the advice of a dear friend in the orchestra) and let him know my availability. He did call back with some services - but I was getting ready to take an audition...that I did not win (although when I came home from that audition I had to return a call to Fergus Scarfe who was at the time the admissions director or something of that effect of the New World Symphony, finding out that I had been accepted into the orchestra, which required moving to Miami Beach within two weeks).

It also happened in the summer of 2000 when, while at Spoleto Festival USA, I was asked by a conductor to be his assistant at a music festival for the rest of the summer. I had a quartet audition to take...which I did not win, and life took what I see now - and saw then - to be an incredibly beneficial turn (as I sit in a hotel room planning my press release mailing, which will take place sometime next week).

Again in 2002 - just as I was about to move to New Orleans to start with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, I received a call from the Mayo-Hill School of Modeling, which is associated with the Neal Hamil Modeling Agency. I had been accepted after going to an open call...

AHHH...what can I say? It's important to be still, to be available...and it is equally important not to let "overwhelming necessity" in the form of needing money, feeling that one "has to move forward" (win an audition and leave a city in which there is a school from which one has recently graduated so that one does not feel like a "loser"), etc., force us into making choices as opposed to trusting our souls.

Yet it is difficult to sit still, particularly in a society wherein having an overbooked calendar is taken as a symbol of worldly success - and moreso in a society where trusting one's instincts (the still, small voice that leads us all) is almost frowned upon. Nevertheless, while I have no regrets I'm finding myself wanting to sit still for a while, to take the edge off so that I can hear that little voice again and follow it...

...but duty calls.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:05 PM
Wow, I can totally understand wanting to play gigs at home, in your own community. It sounds fun, but wearing after a while, to be travelling around the country like a wandering minstrel. Thanks for giving us some insight into the life of a freelancer.
From Samuel Thompson
Posted on February 29, 2008 at 12:15 PM
Thanks, Karen - don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying everything that I'm doing, and I actually like the would, nevertheless, be nice to be at home, and there are lots of freelancers who are very happily "working full-time" in their cities of choice.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 29, 2008 at 2:21 PM
I just loved reading this, every little bit of it. It really opened my eyes to a world most people perceive as incredibly glamorous. But I must say, I can well appreciate your need to be home, to find that silent space, that breathing space. It is indeed a tough balance for a freelancer to strike.

Thanks so much for sharing all of this, Sam, and describing it so eloquently.

From Samuel Thompson
Posted on February 29, 2008 at 3:57 PM
Thanks, Terez - oddly enough, after writing this I went to the gym (thank goodness for the hotel gym), then came in and did some yoga (to stretch it all out), and found myself feeling as if I had found "that place"...the goal is to keep it, to find the balance and maintain it, not to let the job rule one's life...
From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 29, 2008 at 4:55 PM
Yay, another yoga person! I work out five days a week for its antiess, antidepressant effect. Amazing how it grounds me (particularly my wknd yoga class!) And exercise is another one of my eccentricities while I travel (along with insisting on bringing a practice fiddle), that my husband or friends will say, "Just take a week off! Your trip will be much more relaxing!" Wrong. The trip is MORE relaxing when I ground myself with exercise.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on February 29, 2008 at 7:28 PM
I really sympathize with these kinds of feelings you're having, Samuel. A few years ago I made a decision to stay closer to home. I quit one of my faraway orchestra contracts (hard to quit a contract) and also stopped taking all but just a few faraway gigs. Though it was difficult at first, it's worked out really well. While I was driving all over Southern California to play, I didn't play so much in the symphony right in my own town. So lately I've been playing in the Pasadena Symphony when I play, and teaching at my kids' school, teaching private lessons, doing little giglets around Pasadena and seeking out chamber opportunities. These days I feel much more like I'm building up my own community (and family), and less like I'm just a cog in somebody else's far-away machine.

I guess you have to have a balance of living in a place where work exists, participating in what's going on, creating your own thing, etc. But after SO MUCH driving around for SO LONG, I'm burnt out on it.

From Samuel Thompson
Posted on March 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM
Laurie -
YEAH...I understand. Granted, I am FULL aware that I am far from having a career like that of Anne Akiko-Meyers, but I read your interview with her and something really resonated...

...but now I must take the "Lakme" part out and go over it...for tonight.


From Bill Busen
Posted on March 1, 2008 at 4:29 AM
One of the things some very talented musicians underestimate is that element of connecting with a community and becoming a known, respected, and ultimately, if blessed with a generous spirit and interpretive heart, beloved artist to them. What Laurie said is the point I am trying to make, made narratively. But it requires that risk of limiting the "regional musician" role before there is an obvious payoff.
From Samuel Thompson
Posted on March 1, 2008 at 4:44 AM
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 1, 2008 at 9:06 AM
Is Fergus Scarfe British? I was at Colege with a viola palyer of taht name...+)
From Samuel Thompson
Posted on March 1, 2008 at 10:30 PM
Yes, he is - and this may be the same Fergus Scarfe, as Fergus WAS a violist and I think a member of the New World Symphony during its first season. Unfortunately I do not know what he's doing at the moment, he left Miami in 1999.

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