Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Servants get all the good stuff

"You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." - Zig Ziglar, Secrets of Closing the Sale (1984)

December is a great time to be a freelance musician. One of my annual Christmas gigs is to play in the percussion section of Dr. Craig Jessop's American Festival Chorus and Orchestra. It's a world-class ensemble, and always features a prominent soloist.

Dr. Craig Jessop
This year was no exception. The performances were electric, and the guest artist, Alyson Cambridge, delivered passionate, moving interpretations. It was a joy to be a part of the process of preparation and presentation of such a gift.

During one of the performances in a section where I had rests (welcome to orchestral percussion), I was watching the singers, the instrumentalists, the conductor, the soloist and the audience, and I had an epiphany.

I don't think about it often, but a section percussionist's role - almost without exception - is to be servant to the music. Candidly, what musician doesn't have this responsibility? Percussionists, possibly more than other musicians, have to find ways to fit fewer notes into the texture and framework of the performance, and make them count.

Watching the performance that night, suddenly all I saw were servants.

Each musician was giving, contributing his or her sound and heart. Dr. Jessop, with his back to the audience, while conducting energetically with both arms, was sweating and breathing heavily, smiling the smile of the joyous laborer. He was serving the music, the performers and the audience at once.

Alyson Cambridge
Alyson Cambridge, the soloist, was engaging the audience in every imaginable way, expending her considerable talents to the fullest. The audience, for their part, received the gift with absolute grace and rewarded the performers at every possible opportunity. The ovation at the conclusion of the program lasted for several minutes.

All gave. All received. That's how it's supposed to work.

I'll be honest. It's not totally altruistic. Nobody plays music exclusively to give. Music has huge rewards, and one of them was the rush of being a part of that much energy focused in one room at one time. There are other rewards, but I think this is the one that keeps me coming back for every gig.

Financial guru Dave Ramsey has a saying, "Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else." In a nutshell, he's talking about being financially conservative now so you'll have money later.

If I may, I'd like to alter that saying a little bit as follows: "Play like no one else, so later you can play like no one else."

American Festival Chorus and Orchestra
The best, most successful musicians in the industry are the ones who give their whole hearts to each gig, be it a casual for a few people who don't even care, or a huge venue in front of attentive, die hard fans. When these musicians play, their colleagues, clients and audiences appreciate them and learn that they can depend on them to deliver meaningful music each and every time.

Develop a reputation as a good servant, and you'll soon be master of your own career.

Happy drumming!

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Drummer's Weight Room: Tap Timing Exercise

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