This weekend has been spent on the road again as part of the orchestra supporting Andrea Bocelli at concerts in Glasgow and Leeds. Catching up with the lives of many musicians I have not seen for a few years and meeting new associates has, at times, been spent in conversations regarding the state of the music business.
The freelance musician has often had to supplement their preferred income (the main job) with part-time work in other areas. Many composers were performers and vice versa, Edward German – violin, Eric Coates – viola, Malcolm Arnold and Ronnie Hazelhurst – trumpet (in different styles), Ernest Tomlinson and Arthur Sullivan – organ, Sheridan Tongue – keyboards to name a few. Some form of teaching post or practice is another integral part of business for many musicians, accepted as part of the profession for many centuries.
The main difficulty with any dilution of a main purpose is the time available to each area of employment. When a period is busy in one aspect another part may not be delivered with as much enthusiasm or commitment. This is evident in the reduced output of composers who have accepted teaching positions or the performer’s edge that can be dulled when other concerns do not allow enough time with the instrument.
The demands of performers to be able to assimilate and perform many styles of music are increasing. Being able to switch between traditional, classical, popular and world music styles is often expected by composers and arrangers as musical influences and audience expectations become more varied. In the past this would have been achieved by including a specialist performer (at extra cost) in the ensemble but in these austere times the regular performers are being asked to recreate the required sounds (sometime with great success, sometimes not as effectively). There are performers that have mastered a number of styles and if they are together in one orchestra then the musical results can be impressive and this last weekend has had a number of these moments.
Glasgow SSE Hydro Arena in panorama mode
What did interest me during the weekend’s conversations were the diversity of employment and businesses that musicians are involved with. The other musical ones as producers, arrangers, conductors, voice-over artists, contractors (fixers) and the many different teaching opportunities, from nurseries to pensioner’s clubs and everything in between, all with various standards of pupils. There were also landlords, a chef, youth leader, accountant, a number of promoters, children’s entertainer, publisher and photographer. Many of these had regular clients that involved miles of travel between London, South Wales, Scotland, Manchester and Birmingham, organising travel arrangements could be another secondary role for any freelance musician.
With all these different things to consider it is astonishing that the orchestra can gel together so quickly and perform such complicated and exciting concerts, but they more often than not execute this extremely well.