A month in the life of a working musician

Since the beginning of September I’ve had some of the most incredible musical and performing experiences I think I’ve ever had in such a short amount of time.  I think I’m still processing all of this (and may do so for some time) and really, after writing my previous post, I realize that this month isn’t all that unusual in the slightest.  I thought I would just list, from the period between September 9, 2011 to October 8, 2011 in chronological order, as much for my own sake as for anyone else’s.

  • Sept. 09 – Played a Greek Fest with Greek musicians (Indianapolis, IN)
  • Sept. 10 – Played St. Louis with my world music group, il Troubadore (St. Louis, MO)
  • Sept. 11 – Sightread movements from two Mozart String Quartets live at Classical Revolution (Louisville, KY)
  • Sept. 17 – Took four workshops in Zimbabwe Music (Bloomington, IN)
  • Sept. 20 – Played a solo show with some other African musicians (Louisville, KY)
  • Sept. 23 – Played a show doing noise as Noiseman433 and live improv with Cosmological Constant (Louisville, KY)
  • Sept. 24 – Played with my Arabic band, Ahel El Nagam, for an audience of mostly Arab-Americans (Louisville, KY)
  • Sept. 29 – Played with Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Civic Orchestra (Greencastle, IN)
  • Oct. 01 – Played a show with my Vintage Goth duo, Secondhand (Indianapolis)
  • Oct. 04 – Played the Beethoven Clarinet Trio for a Performance Class at IUS (New Albany, IN)
  • Oct. 06 – Met Abbos Kosimov, Uzbek doira master, after his show with S.A.R.A. (Louisville, KY)
  • Oct. 07 – Played an Uzbek doira solo with Raks Makam and members of the Bellydance Superstars (Louisville, KY)
  • Oct. 08 – Played Klingon music for the cast of a Klingon Christmas Carol with my Klingon band (Chicago, IL)

I purposely didn’t include some performances (e.g. il Troubadore’s Cafe Django show) as this is just a ‘highlights’ list.  If I were to move the month long period back a few days then one event I could have included would have been playing with the Eastern Caravan Group (musicians from Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Netherlands) that I had the pleasure of doing on September 4 (amongst other performances that weekend).  And if I were to move the month block forward a few days I could include the jam session and lesson in Iraqi drumming I did on October 12.

All in all, nearly every event listed was with a different group of musicians (and nearly as many various styles/genres of music).  Musicians from at least half a dozen countries from four continents.  Music that was notated in some cases, and some that wasn’t.  Music I’d learned by ear and some that I’d only heard (or read) in real time while performing it.  Performing or learning on several different instruments (ethnic percussion, voice, cello, electronics, mbira).  Playing music for dancers working in very different styles both traditional and modern.

None of the above included the dozens of rehearsals and who knows how many young musicians I work with on a weekly basis in my teaching duties.  My musical life is rich and for that I am thankful.  And I didn’t have to leave the midwest to accomplish or do any of these things!  😀


  1. Incredible! Do you find it difficult to maintain that many traditions/genres/instruments at a level high enough to make them quality performances? What would be your take on the traditional music specialist’s ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ argument?


    • I do often find it difficult–going back to my comment in the previous post–the infrastructure of music making in this country can make it difficult to continually practice the musical art forms of other cultures. The performing opportunities just aren’t there (unless you’re VERY enterprising) and the learning opportunities are much more scarce.

      Sure, the internet and age of electronic/digital communication and media has helped immensely, but there is no substitute for live instruction and live performing (either solo, or event better, with other musicians practicing in that discipline).

      I try to find as many musicians to learn from or perform with when I get the opportunity but being so very active a freelancer makes it difficult to have the time to attend workshops or events when these musicians happen to be near enough!

      As far as the ‘Jack of all trades’ argument–I’ve come across that often in my line of work. I think it is far overstated–sure, no one has the time to master several instruments to the level and degree we think about in our soloistic-centric training. But I think so much of that type of training is misguided completely misses the point of how other traditions also train their highly ‘specialized’ musicians. For example, in much taditional Indian arts training a music student–even one who isn’t necessarily slated to learn a melodic instrument such as the sitar or sarod–will have to spend up to three years first learning how to sing before even being allowed to touch a musical instrument. This goes back to the percussionese post I made a few days ago–those percussion langauges developed in contexts where the vocal arts were learned well before the instrumental ones were. Imagine what it would be like if we needed to learn how to sing with some proficiency before being allowed to touch a cello or trombone!

      The other issue is that, so much of this training is in the musical style, not just in the service of playing one very highly specialized instrument. It’s training in musical fluency in a way that isn’t that much different than langauge. And I don’t think we can deny there are plenty of folks out there who are bi- or multi-lingual and are able to speak more than one language fluently, right? Same with musicians–and we see alot of that in countries from the middle east, especially string players since the adoption of Western strings into the Arabic and Turkish orchestras. These musicians are trained ‘bi-musically’ often learning both Western Classical alongside Arabic Classical or Ottoman Classical music.

      I’m obviously not one of the above as I’ve never had the systematic training in other styles (again, for the reasons I mentioned in my previous post comment about the lack of musical educational infrastructure for non-Western musics), and am not a mast of any of the other instruments outside of my principle one. But I’m relatively fluent in other styles, and relatively competent and knowledgeable about the techniques of several instruments at a level high enough to at least not get in the way in more traditional performing contexts.

      Maybe with 10,000 hours of practice, I can gain some higher level of mastery in another instrument! The trick is finding the time and resources!


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