Brass Day and Tips on Freelancing while Having a “Day Job”

Last Saturday we had “Brass Day” at ULM, a one-day workshop for high school students and band directors featuring guest artists, exhibits, and lots of other fun activities for brass players and teachers.  Attendance was small but enthusiastic, and we plan to build Brass Day into a signature event for this area.  The day was filled with clinics and performances, including a master class and performance by Doug Reneau, Third/Utility Trumpet in the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.  Another highlight of the day for me was our exhibitor, Andrew Downing, from Music and Arts in Dallas, TX.  Andy and I have known each other for years, and we attended the Brevard Music Center together in high school and college. Andy is now a District Manager for Music and Arts, but he and his wife are both active freelance horn players in the Dallas area.  Needless to say, Andy is a very fine horn player, and a heck of a nice guy, but he has also been very successful in the business world.  As we were talking about the details for Brass Day, I asked Andy if he would be willing to give a talk on how his particular career path led him to work for Music and Arts, and how he balances a full time job with freelance work.   Andy’s talk was excellent, full of practical advice and a good bit of humor as well.  One of the most important points he made was that it is possible to pursue a career in something other than music performance and still maintain high artistic standards as a horn player.  (We read some horn quartets with a few students that day, and I can say that Andy sounds as good as ever!)  Music students often feel as if they are trapped into pursuing a limited number of careers with a music degree, but I think that this really is a misconception.  The reality is that although a music degree might not provide specialized training for a career in something else, the work ethic and skills necessary to obtain that degree can prove quite marketable in lots of other fields.  Getting back to Andy’s talk, he put together a great handout full of tips for keeping in shape as a brass player while having a day job.   After Brass Day I asked Andy if he would be willing to let me share his handout with my blog readers, and he generously agreed.  His presentation was titled “Buzzing at the Breakfast Table: 10 Tips for Having a “Day Job” and Playing Brass Too!” Andy explained that the title came from the realization that as a busy professional, he often ends up buzzing at the breakfast table before leaving for work in order to keep his chops in shape. See the complete handout below.

Buzzing at the Breakfast Table: 10 Tips for Having a “Day Job” and Playing Brass Too!

#1 – Make Time to Practice!

  • Get used to getting up early!
  • Practice with a mute later in the evening if necessary
  • Get into a routine

#2 – Practice Music You Enjoy

  • Make a Favorites folder
  • Keep a stand in your home with your favorite tunes on it
  • Plan to perform some of it somewhere!

#3 – Keep Your Instrument Out of Your Case!

  • Get an instrument stand
  • Set up a music area in your home
  • An instrument out of the case will always get played more!

#4 – Find a Musical Friend!

  • Connect with other brass players in your area
  • Churches and colleges can be common meeting places, or….

#5 – Join a Musical Ensemble

  • Community ensembles can be a great outlet
  • Many churches have performance opportunities
  • Brass quintet music is great! Putting together a brass group can be lots of fun!

#6 – Keep a Spare Mouthpiece (or Two) Around

  • Buzz everywhere
  • Keep one in your car
  • Use the same mouthpiece to reinforce muscle memory

#7 – Go Listen to Lots of Concerts

  • Bands, Orchestras, and Theaters are great outlets
  • Local music needs your support!
  • Take a “Music Road Trip” to a new place for a specific event

#8 – Join “Your Instrument” Societies

  • There is one for everyone!
  • Conventions can be a great vacation (even abroad!)
  • Websites can help you find other members in your area!

#9 – Take a Lesson Once in a While!

  • Local pros can be a great resource
  • Lessons provide target dates for preparing your music
  • Take a joint lesson with a friend!

#10 – Want a Gig or Two? Treat Your Music Like a Small Business

  • Make business cards (like the pros!)
  • Teaching can be a rewarding outlet
  • Act like a pro! You are not any different!
  • Make sure your playing is your calling card (not your All-State letter jacket!)

Most of all……

Have fun and inspire others to do what you love!

I can’t really add anything more to this – it is well organized, clear, and makes a lot of sense!  It was clear to me during Andy’s presentation that although he is technically a “business man” now, he has a real passion and gift for education.  I am sure that his ability to speak in front of a group and relate easily to people has been a tremendous asset to him in his work for Music and Arts.  On a personal note it was great getting to hang out with Andy again, and I look forward to keeping in touch!

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