When We Are Too Afraid/Tired/Frustrated to Share

One of my main goals with this blog is to increase the amount of positive content there is on the information super highway regarding musicians and what we do.  At the same time, I want to share the reality of what it's like to be a musician specific to me - a women, a mom, a bassoonist, living and performing in a very unlikely locale. 

Here follows a conversation that I bump up against a lot.

BACKGROUND:  (Read this if you want to know what traveling musicians do.)

Last week was my monthly residency with the Billings Symphony.  Every month of the concert season (September - April) I spend 6 days (Tuesday - Sunday) fulfilling my duties as principal bassoonist of this wonderful orchestra!  My compensation includes a per service fee, mileage, daily per Diem and housing.

It's tricky because I'm already on the road a lot with the Chinook Winds.  Being a homeschool mom means that when I'm not around I either have to find someone to fill my shoes at home, embrace several days with limited homeschooling for our 13 yo son, or bring him on the road with me.  As he gets older and more independent, this becomes easier but, in general, when you are a Domestic Goddess, it's hard to be gone with such consistency.

Last week was a great example of why I dread and look forward to these weeks.  We played Scheherazade...'nuff said.  OBVIOUSLY I wanted in on that!  However, I was out of town the entire week prior in addition to the much anticipated PBS premier event.  I spent 36 hours home, in between trips doing laundry, unpacking, repacking, finishing reeds, prepping teaching materials for private students and university students, and then my son and I hit the road to Billings.  We had great intentions to catch up on a ton of math and finish up reviewing for 2 big finals he has in science and history.

The reality is that the previous week was *SUPER STRESSFUL* and exhausting with the PBS event, a 2-day university interview out-of-state (+travel time), and then filling in for Helena Symphony which kept me away from home 3 more days.  I arrived in Billings, immediately taught a lesson, went to rehearsal, went to bed, woke at 4:30 am, drove 5 hours to Missoula for my university teaching, 5 hours back, played another rehearsal that SAME DAY, and then had the remainder of the week: more rehearsals, 2 more private lessons, 2 performances.  

All of which I am truly grateful for because I'm doing what I chose to do - be a musician. 


When I wasn't in rehearsal, driving, or teaching, I SHOULD have been homeschooling.  In reality, I slept...like, walk through the door, put down bassoon, crawl into bed, pass out.

Oh, and I took my son to the YMCA to stretch his limbs in the pool the day after he spent 10 hours in the car with me to cross the state for my university duties.

HERE IS WHERE THE STORY REALLY BEGINS: (Read this if you want to know what every musician dreads sometimes.)

Feeling too lazy and unbelievably drowsy, I opted to sit on the sidelines and catch up on reading ("Freak the Mighty" for my son's literature course).  It took every ounce of energy I had to not lay down on the bench and just sleep.  But that would have been tacky and clearly irresponsible, so I kept it together.  With only one person in the pool (#homeschoolers) in the middle of the day, the lifeguard sat down next to me and struck up a conversation.

Let me be clear, he was a SUPER nice guy!  He had nothing better to do and I have no qualms chatting with strangers.  But I KNEW there were going to be a series of questions because, let's be honest, we were OBVIOUSLY out of place.

"You folks aren't from around these parts, are you?"

Skipping school today?
No, we're homeschoolers.
LITANY OF HOMESCHOOL QUESTIONS (no we don't beat our son with the bible and keep him locked in his room)
Do you come here often?
No, we are from Great Falls.
Visiting family?
No, playing with the symphony.
Cool!  What do you play?
The Bassoon
Confused look, lots of miming back and forth, adjectives that are not accurate.
He arrives at the baffling conclusion so many before him have come to.
"Oh, it's like the bass clarinet!"
"I think it's cool we have a symphony...like...it's important...and, like, aren't they taking all that stuff out of schools now?"
Great question!  I'm so tired I want to cry but I am going to have this conversation because at the core of my being I know I have to share with you - with everyone - how important these community based organizations are and how crucial arts education is.


Like I said, he was a very nice guy.  I invited him to come to the performances, he couldn't, but maybe someday he will.  I got to talk about how important arts education is, how music is a lifelong skill, etc etc etc.  I know this is important...nay...crucial for my entire profession.

...but sometimes I dread it...

...I mean, really, really, dread it...

...allow me to explain why.

  • because I have been on the road for 2 weeks and I'm so tired I want to cry, because it hurts to think, I feel guilty as a mom and wife, and I simply doubt my ability to be articulate.
  • because I hate explaining what a bassoon is which is why I often pull out my phone and show a picture.
  • because as incredible as my work is, it is also a job.  Like working for the sanitation company or Burger King, it's my vocation.  There are days when I don't like my job.  Yup,. that's the truth.  I do this AMAZING THING and I am SO FORTUNATE, and some days, just like every other person in humanity, some days, I just don't want to go to work.
  • because I know that no matter how many times I have this conversation, I will still need to keep having it.  I worry that I'm the only one having it.  I wonder if every musician is as committed to educating the public as I am.  Are we all doing our part?  When you, fellow musician, are on the third plane ride this week and want to sleep but your row companion sees that strangely shaped case, are you giving them the time, despite your exhaustion, to have the conversation?
  • because I'm still refining my delivery.  As a trained performer, I'm still working out this particular performance.  Why?  Because of all the amazing, expensive training I have had, no one ever teaches you to talk like this, to talk about this - but they should!
  • because I'm afraid that one day, even though it has never happened, someone will laugh and say, "What a waste!  Everything you do, what you believe in, what you fight for; it's a total waste of people's time and money."
The fact that this has never happened is a good sign.  It shows me that we must all be doing something right, something positive, because everyone always agrees.  No matter how afraid, tired or frustrated I am, people always smile and say the nicest things and they always agree that what I/we do is important.

So, even when I dread it, I will keep having this conversation as many times as I need to.


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