One of the teaching jobs I had, while I was a freelancing cellist, was at a private school. I conducted the orchestra and string ensembles, ran the chamber music program, and taught cello lessons.
After a few years of my poking my nose in the Admissions office trying to see if there were any talented young musicians applying, they finally just invited me to stay–they gave me an office, a title, and I was sent in to see the boss and renegotiate my contract. He wanted to give me 75% of a full-time contract. I wanted 80%. 80% would give me full-time benefits, which in this school’s case, were extremely generous. I thought he would freak out about that steep financial boost, but instead, he came at me with:
“But that would put you on the Sabbatical list, and that is a HUGE deal”.
I almost laughed out loud. First of all, I knew the truth of that sabbatical list: The school had grown immensely over the last couple of decades, but the number of sabbaticals they gave out each year had not.
I countered with: “Please, with all due respect, I’ll be long dead before my name ever comes up on that list”.
But really, what I was thinking was: “Silly Rabbit! Musicians don’t TAKE sabbaticals!” I mean, am I just supposed to not practice or play concerts for a year and…what… travel? Learn how to make pottery? Go fishing?
Wouldn’t that be nice? Most people get to take some time off now and again, and often, when they switch jobs, they are doing something wildly different anyway. they get that chance to refresh their ideas and re-negotiate the terms of their life. I started to feel a little bit jealous of anyone who had that luxury.
I was chatting with a colleague of mine during a rehearsal break last year (long before the world was tanked by a virus) and she told me of her and her husband’s plan to take a year’s sabbatical from their work, and spend that time living closer to their families. They had been saving for a while and were excited to have some downtime to recharge, reconnect, and let their creative juices flow to see what new projects they were inspired to take on.
How bold! How enlightened! I loved how they weren’t at all concerned with how they would be received upon their return and were doing something FOR THEMSELVES, and not for this weird covenant freelancers seem to think they’ve all agreed to: “I will be available to play anything at any time, anywhere, as long as you promise to call me for the next gig too”.
And so I have decided that there has never been a better time to follow suit. While I join the world in mourning the temporary loss of live concerts and I truly feel for the millions of people in the art world about to lose their unemployment checks, with no end in sight for said unemployment, I’m taking full advantage of the fact that I have a fairly empty calendar anyway, and I’m toying with the idea of keeping it empty (of concerts) on purpose for this entire upcoming concert season.
The idea of not feeling stressed out about what I’m NOT doing, wondering just how motivated I’m supposed to be to practice, and feeling guilty for not live-streaming a different solo cello recital program from my living room every freaking week, fills me with immense amounts of joy and feelings of absolute freedom.
I have other skills that I can employ to keep money coming in. Hell, I single-handedly conceived of and ran a 7-week virtual international cello festival that I put together in 2.5 months’ time. If I can figure that shit out, I’m pretty confident I can figure pretty much anything out.
I also teach, and I write, and I coach. And honestly? I’m kind of excited to see what it feels like to ONLY do those things for a little while, and let the playing happen as it wants to.
I might even let my fingernails grow past the flesh. (GASP!)
Option A: OMG, this is horrible. Completely unfair. All of my work has vanished. I’m barely existing on my unemployment checks, eating can after can of tomato soup until I can get back on stage because I AM MY ART!
Option B: OMG, this could be a great opportunity for me. I needed a break, and I’ve been wishing I had more time to dig into some new repertoire and dream up some new projects. I can use the skills I have to create some revenue while I take this time and use it to my advantage. Instead of waking up every morning counting how many days it’s been since I’ve played a concert, I’ll wake up knowing I have the whole day ahead of me to work on new projects and ideas and see how else I can earn an income. What a gift!
Now, full discloser/disclaimer, I realize that I write this from my VERY privileged circumstances. My husband still has his job teaching HS Physics, and we don’t have young kids at home who require homeschooling or general entertainment/keeping alive. I also don’t have any student loans or credit card debt hanging around me like a noose. If I didn’t earn a single cent in this coming year, it would be a struggle, but we would survive.
But if the circumstances were different? If I was single, or if my husband HAD lost his job? Or if we DID have kids? Of if we DID have debts weighing us down? All the more reason to buckle down and reframe this into something less dire, act accordingly, and get some money coming in. FAST.
At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, crying into the half a glass of sauvignon blanc you’ve rationed yourself isn’t going to do a damned thing to help put you back on stage any time soon.
We can complain and write long posts on FB about how sad and unfair it is to us, begging other people to give us their hard-earned money so that we can buy groceries and wait, or we can reframe this situation, and try to turn it into something positive. And as unpopular as it might make me amongst some of my colleagues,