December 6, 2009 at 6:40 AM
How far would you go, how far have you gone, for a gig?
I'm talking about the distance you would drive, or fly, to play. My cellist friend, Wendy Velasco, recently shared this article from the Sacramento Bee, which details the lengths to which working musicians regularly go in order to sustain a career in music. Though it came as no great surprise to me, I realized that sometimes people don't understand that musicians often keep regular jobs in distant cities, with much of their earnings absorbed in the expense of traveling.
Personally, I've certainly had this experience. When I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, I had a contract in both the Omaha and Lincoln Symphonies -- Lincoln being about 60 miles away (I-80 being a sheet of ice across which the snow blows horizontally, a dizzying drive in the dark). When I lived in Denver, I had a contract with the Colorado Springs Symphony -- about 70 miles, but a different kind of snow because it involved going over a mountain pass. I was fortunate that I wasn't in the caravan that once was stranded in a developing blizzard. When the police came to dig out their car, they had to leave their instruments behind, the horror! More recently, for a number of years while living in California, I drove 60 miles every month or so to play a regular contract in the Redlands Symphony, and really, I've driven all over the very wide Los Angeles metropolitan area for work in various symphonies and groups.
I haven't flown all that often to play, but once while living in Denver, I flew back to Omaha to play a symphony series -- that would have been about a 550-mile jaunt.
How sustainable is this lifestyle? It's pretty tough, especially when you have children, and I don't do it on such a regular basis any more. But many of my colleagues do; this is simply a normal part of life.
How about you? What is the farthest distance you've traveled? Do you have a regular gig that requires a long-distance commute? Have you taken touring that took you away from home? Do you simply live out of a suitcase? Is this okay, or does it make you crazy? Please vote, and tell us all about it in the comment section below.
A few years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle had an article about Bay Area musicians in the "freeway symphony". Even in a good economy, it's a fact of life for many musicians who want to support themselves by performing. But our climate makes long commutes much more comfortable than some of those you've endured, Laurie!
This poll got me thinking of a couple different things.
The first is the difference between distance and time. Having driven the Omaha to Lincoln NE stretch hundreds of times it occurs to me that I would take that commute over my current 13 mile commute from downtown Chicago to teach in the near suburbs any day. It blows my mind that driving a quarter the distance can sometimes take twice as long and about a hundred times the stress.
The second thing this got me thinking about is how this is yet another way that classical musicians are disconnected from the rest of the musical world. The idea that one can make a living as a performing musician WITHOUT leaving the confines of one's immediate area is crazy to performers in most types of music. I think that most non-classical musicians are signing on to a life of dressing rooms and touring when they decide that this is what they want to do for a living. Unless you live in a huge urban center and have the ability and connections to be a studio player/jobber, you pretty much are required to hit the road to make some money. Either that or teach.
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