This is a funny time to be writing about starting a new job, when unemployment is such a hot topic in the news. But the fact is that I am not only starting a new job, but starting my very first (full-time) job ever, at the advanced age of 47.
At least the timing worked out well. Musicians in New York are having a tough time of it now. The local orchestras (I’m not talking about the Philharmonic here, or maybe I am: the Westchester Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, that kind of ensemble) that used to play 8 or 10 concerts a year cut back to 4 or 5 concerts a few years ago. Now, maybe they are playing 3, with two of them using many fewer players. The New York City Opera is in big trouble, which is bad news for the musicians in the pit, for whom the opera season (half the year) probably brought in well over half their incomes. The only steady game in town is Broadway. Shows are bringing in record revenues, but don’t worry: those revenues are not being spread to the musicians (nor, I suspect, to the actors, aside from the big names).
At least musicians on Broadway earn (by musicians’ standards) a good living. If you play all 8 shows in a week (more on that in a bit), you make about $80,000 a year. You work Tuesday-Saturday nights, with matinees as well on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. You qualify for benefits from the musicians’ union, which means first of all a rather crummy health insurance plan, and secondly a rather crummy pension plan. But, hey, you are working.
What is the work like? Well, you go to the pit and you play your show. If your show is Phantom of the Opera, you’ve been playing your show for over twenty years. It does not change from night to night. Nor year to year. You are a musician, so you are used to striving for perfection, and so you do. You are often surrounded by great players, and it can be fun. But, did I mention that every show is EXACTLY the same at every performance? I’ll exclude Spiderman from this, at least the five shows that I subbed at. There was a little excitement there, since they had to stop the show in two of the performances. Then there was the Phantom I subbed at where we only had two horns instead of three. That was pretty fun as well: I tried to cover the important parts of the 2nd and 3rd horn books. But these moments of tremendous excitement are the exceptions.
The thing can get a little tiresome. Now, I understand that not all work is fascinating, in any field. But, trust me [I know: never trust anyone who says “trust me”]: it is somewhat difficult to stay stimulated. Playing 8 shows in a week is brutal. Luckily, you are allowed to find subs for up to half the shows. Of course, you don’t get paid for those shows, so your $80,000 starts dwindling at the same pace as your sanity rises. On the other hand, if you are paying your rent, that is an amazing thing for a freelance musician.
All that said, after over twenty years of freelancing, subbing in shows, having my own show (there was so much down time in my show, South Pacific, that I wrote two etude books in the pit, and also read War and Peace and about a million other books), and teaching at different schools, I am now set to begin my first full-time job here in Madison (and Yes, I understand that I am a government employee in the Walker administration, you don’t have to remind me).
So I’m here to tell you that, so far (granted, my contract doesn’t officially start until three weeks from now), it’s great! I have my own office, and … it is air-conditioned! Let’s hope it is heated a few months from now … It comes with office furniture. If I need paper, pens, envelopes, more office furniture, scissors, tape, you name it, I just ask. Is this what life is like in the real world? I’ve always had to buy my own Post-It notes, and I’m staggering here. My colleagues are warm and welcoming, and the incoming director is a guy I have known and liked for 20 years.
And get this: we are encouraged to be creative. Writing music, recording CD’s, playing concerts, writing about music, these things are our research. That’s how you get tenure! I’m in pig heaven.
Right now it is about 90 degrees outside, and the humidity level is like that of India during the monsoon, only without the monsoon. Did I mention that my office is air conditioned?