OK so the title is a little pessimistic but, it’s definitely no joke when I say that pursuing a career as a contemporary saxophonist is not an easy undertaking. My program currently revolves around the basics of musicianship. My schedule for a week looks a little like this:
• Monday: Theory (the math/science of music, no one wants to do it…), Improv Workshop (applying the math to the music), Doubling ensemble rehearsal (where a large number of saxophone majors attempt to play flute/clarinet)
• Tuesday: Aural training(Yeah, yeah. Go ahead laugh it up. Aural means ear. Get your mind out of the gutter.), Private lesson with a professional saxophonist, Music History (think Sinatra, not Bach. We’ll be finishing with Rock & Roll apparently)
• Wednesday: Master Class (the bane of my existence-It’s like AA for musicians. We sit in a circle and talk about the saxophone and play occasionally), Elective (more useful than some may think in a program like mine)
• Thursday: More theory followed by more Aural Training
• Friday: Functional keyboards (I wasn’t one of the ones lucky enough to get out…), Ensemble rehearsal (where we get to feel like professionals)
So, what do these all do for me in the end? Well, unlike most career paths where employers actually care about what degrees you have, in music it’s pretty irrelevant. What matters is that you got the training somewhere, somehow and currently I am getting that training. In terms of other jobs in the arts such as acting, this is where a lot of the similarities stop when looking for work. An actor will have auditions lined up for specific shows or parts. That’s sort of the case for classical musicians.
Making a living as a free-lance contemporary musician, if you really break it down, is all about who you know. Most ‘gigs’/‘jobs’/‘club dates’ do not come out of auditions or resumes. Based on stories from all of my teachers a lot of their success came through connections with their colleagues and their own teachers. For example, a student that graduated from my program last year is currently on a nationwide tour of a broadway show as a doubler (meaning he plays more than one instrument and gets paid extra for every other instrument he plays). He probably would not have such an amazing opportunity if he was not asked to sub for his professor for one night in a broadway show in Toronto. That chance to play and show off his ability set him on an amazing path where he will make even more connections which will turn into new jobs and opportunities.
While working at my degree, I am also required to complete a certain number of work placement hours. Basically, this allows me to get my foot in the door of the business. Unfortunately, these jobs aren’t just given to us. We need to go out there and find the work ourselves. Luckily anything music related can get us hours so we’ll be able to use past connections we’ve already created to do this.
Unlike most other music programs in the world, Humber offers something special to its students. In my fourth year, I’ll be required to produce and record my own album. A huge undertaking made easier by the 2 million dollar studio on campus. Essentially, this will be our ‘calling card’ when we go out into the world to try and make it. While we do have this, most of our work will probably come out of the fact that as graduates my peers and I will mostly be working in the same general stream. It’s likely that if someone needs a saxophone for a gig, I’ll get the call.
It’s extremely nerve-wracking relying on these jobs to make a living. A lot of freelance musicians will turn to teaching to supplement their income or turn to it entirely to pay the bills. This could range from taking a few private students or completing a year of teacher’s college and finding a job in the school system. Remember I mentioned that the elective is not the complete waste of time that most people see it as? Well, it is true. If you have a second subject that you can teach, then getting a job as a teacher is a lot more plausible.
All in all, while it’s a scary prospect not to have a set job for your life, it’s also extremely exciting. Working as a musician opens your life up to opportunities such as working with amazing artists, playing new (or old) music for a live audience, and travelling the world. I just wish that all it took was being social so I wouldn’t have to spend hours in the practice hours in the mods.? With a job like this, and quoting Ethel Merman… ‘I Got Rhythm’.(I like old music. Give me a break.) “Who could ask for anything more?”