Short, sharp jabs

April 15th, 2010

“Now, I hope you’re not going to kick me in the shins and scream at me the way that last little child did”, joked the nurse as she prepared to give me my typhoid shot for my upcoming trip to Zimbabwe. I sympathised – I really did. The cute little girl in pig-tails who had just exited the room in tears after her flu shot didn’t seem capable of having lungs big enough to emit the blood-curdling screams I’d heard while reading about whether ‘Jen really pined for Brad’ in the adjacent corridor while I waited my turn.

Poor nurses must get that a lot, I thought. It must get a little depressing after a while –  inflicting pain on confused little patients day after day, knowing that they won’t appreciate any of it until about 15 years later when they’ve reached adulthood and are strapping and healthy. But, that aside, I *did* want to kick her – just a bit. And it wasn’t her fault – I mean, I didn’t even *know* her. It was just that this innoculation was item #6  for the day in a list of about 139 things that I had to do before I left for overseas. Some of these things were to do with the impending trip, most of them weren’t. Most distressingly, none of them involved playing the piano. I wanted to be as rowdy as that little girl. I wanted to yell out ‘BUT I JUST WANT TO PLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!’

I *know* how to play the piano. I find it difficult some days, and slow going at others, but I know that with enough tenacity I’ll learn the notes I have to learn at any given time for any given concert. Likewise, Laila seems pretty handy with her flutes, and, well, Jules plays a mean clarinet (and just wait till she breaks out the bass clarinet for our next concert!). It’s because we’ve been trained in it, and we love it – we couldn’t imagine doing anything else, in fact. We *need* to do it.

After our last concert, Laila, Julia and I celebrated with our audience and debriefed over some great food and wine. There is always a wonderful sense of relaxation after a concert – as critical and masochistic musicians, not a single one of us will actually be 100% happy with our performance (“Did you *hear* my awful second chord in the Beaser??” I asked Laila loudly after a couple of glasses of wine), but we can at least acknowledge the satisfying culmination of weeks of hard practise and rehearsal and look forward to the next goal.

But the celebrations are short-lived, and then it’s back to work. And not just learning notes. There are new subscribers to add to the mailing list; business negotiations with guest artists; media releases to write; music publishers to write to; publicists to engage; emails to send out; rehearsal schedules to juggle; flights to book; statistics to analyse; interviews to participate in; and, Leigh, when was the last time you actually updated the blog? Suddenly, I feel on much less stable ground. Musicians are very rarely trained in the art of actually managing a business or, indeed, of marketing themselves *as* a business. All three of us are eager students and are willing to learn the ropes, but  some days it’s a lot to take in.

On the said ‘innoculation’ day, I had suffered a computer failure, had a circular conversation with an Optus customer service provider about our land-line, been told a score that I needed was out of print, rang almost every pianist in Adelaide and Melbourne to find a replacement for myself for a gig that I’d appeared to have been double booked for, and – lastly – been told at the 11th hour via email that I really needed to get a typhoid jab asap. Apart from the jabs in my arm, there were signs of stabbing pains in my head by the afternoon when I realised the task I’d *originally* set myself for the day – to learn the music for an upcoming Melbourne Symphony Orchestra concert – was starting to look more and more like a distant fantasy. Today, when I saw Julia massaging her temples after the three of us had just divided up another mammoth list of admin tasks, I knew she was feeling the same. I wanted to yell it out again in petulance on behalf of all three of us: “I JUST WANT TO PLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!”

The truth is though, we all know that the more we attend to these little tasks, the better our performance experience will be. And there’s three of us to egg each other on, to take up the slack if another has to drop their bundle suddenly, and to convene over spicy ribs at the end of the week to check up on each other. And, most importantly, we’re learning a hell of a lot about ways to make the concert-going experience for you, dear reader, as memorable as it can possibly be. The artistic returns outweigh the blood, sweat and tears by so much that it’s no contest really.

And there’s that moment to look forward to – that great moment when we *do* meet for the first rehearsal of a piece of music and transform our administrative frustrations into artistic gold. There is a wonderful section in the Broadstock piece we’re doing for our next concert called “All that is solid melts into air…” where the bass clarinet has angry spit-like sounds in unison with percussive stabs from the piano. I’ll never be able to play them again without thinking about my jab from the nurse, or my evil desire to kick a complete stranger in the shins.

Signing off on duty #73,


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