What Do You Do in a Bad Gig?

What can you do when you’re stuck in the crappy groups?

I was on a call with a client the other day.  She was discouraged because she was finally able to go back to work in an orchestra – but the gig was lousy.  She’d been working so hard over lockdown, she had such great oboe momentum, but then she sat back down in the community orchestra and all of the intonation and rhythm was chaos and she couldn’t play to her best ability and she was discouraged.

We’ve all been there, right? It’s when you are a ringer in a youth orchestra, or sitting in a community band that’s WAY more about the Community than the Band.  It’s ESPECIALLY now that we are all sitting so distantly and struggling to hear through plexiglass and space!  All around you people are trying hard – or maybe not – to get their act together, but the pitch band is WIDE and there’s no clarity of entrances or of pulse, and even though you KNOW you are better than this, you sound BAD. Because there’s no place to put your sound that fits, there’s no way to do the technical passages you practiced at home because of the rushing or dragging of others – and suddenly you find yourself doubting that you were EVER any good, and hating the whole thing, and just wanting to quit.

Well, that’s where my client was.

Why did I put in all this work, if THIS is the best gig I can get?

I couldn’t let THAT stand.

This is the BEST gig you can get? Is that true?
No, this is just the only one I have right now. The better gigs are all locked down with other players.
The better ones are ALL locked down? Is that true?
It sure seems that way right now.
People grow, change, graduate, retire, move around.  All of the arts organizations and artists are going to be in flux for a while now after this pandemic.  Things are going to be shaken up, and YOU are head and shoulders above where you were four months ago.  Are you sure this situation will NEVER change, that there will NEVER be another better opportunity for you?
Could you create some chamber music with nice colleagues that you could actually enjoy?
Could you keep putting yourself out there and believe that there’s better work coming?


Now here’s a thought for all of us.  While you are sitting in the disappointing gig, what can you do to keep from getting sucked into the vortex?

Could you find SOMEONE in the ensemble that is worth following, worth blending your sound with, worth listening to their phrasing and trying it on for size? That’s a fun exercise in listening and flexibility, and you might learn something from them.

Could you BE someone in the ensemble that is worth following? Could you, instead of trying to chase the pitch of the violins, BE the pitch center they can listen for? Could you be the one with such a clear musical idea the rest of the winds can just fall in with it? It takes some courage, and it’s definitely not easy in a chaotic group, but could you commit to your line and let people come along with you?

Could you, instead of sitting and seething and counting the minutes until the end of rehearsal, try to analyze what’s really going on? Think about how if YOU were in charge of the orchestra you would bring order to this insanity. Is it that the strings are rushing? Or that actually only the violas are and it’s pulling things apart? Is the intonation an EVERYONE problem? Or could the source of the instability be traced to the second horn? Are you frustrated that a transition keeps falling apart? How would you propose to fix it? What words or gestures do you wish the conductor was using?

I’m not suggesting that you raise your hand and give the conductor notes.  Do not do that.  But it’s a proactive way to deepen your musical understanding and critical thinking skills, instead of just grumbling.

Dear Reader, these are only a few ideas.  I bet you have more.  What do you do when you’re discouraged on a gig?  How will you be at this when we all start working again?

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