Practice Time is Like Money

In our late thirties, we have finally come to a place where we are financially okay.  Not well off, obviously – musicians – but no longer living from hand to mouth.  We have enough income that we can buy interesting cheeses and good coffees without having to count pennies.  But I do remember a time when all of our choices were dictated by cost and when we watched the due dates on our credit card statements very carefully – if we use this card to pay that one, then by the time this one comes due that Elgin check will have come in, and we’ll save the interest charge here…

We are comfortable now at our normal level of frugality.  But the tradeoff is time, which is emerging as another premium.  I’ve been having to triage my practice in an alarmingly similar way. 

Zoe’s asleep!  I have 45 minutes now before my student comes – should I tackle my audition rep?  No, better play through the recital material one more time – that’s coming up first.  I can squeeze the audition stuff in next week, after this orchestra cycle ends.  Isn’t that reed soaked yet?
Ooh, a whole hour?  I can really dig into my Concerto now, surely – oops, no.  Haven’t touched this week’s program yet. 
Maybe if I listen to the Walton in the car on the way to teaching I can cut a little time from that practice session to use for Silvestrini. 
If I can just get through this week of [crazy quintet gigs, heavy driving, full-time single momming, etc] then I can absolutely look at the NISO music on Monday before the first rehearsal and IF IT ISN’T TOO ROUGH there will be time later that week for some real work.  I hope. 

Occasionally I’ve even been reduced to scheduling my practice weeks ahead – looking at my calendar and knowing that the only time I could learn the rep for THIS gig was during THIS one, and that longer-term projects like auditions and recitals had to just wait until I could make some extra time for them somewhere.  Maybe when Zoe goes to school, next year. 

And this isn’t how I want it to be.  In my imagination of my life I can approach the oboe calmly two to three times a day.  I have time for a warmup that really warms me up, and a session on immediate material, and another on my longer term plans.  I might pull out a piece that is not on this year’s recital, just to see how it might fit into next year’s.  I might do run-throughs to really practice the feeling of performing a long program, just like I tell my students to do.  Or record myself wayyy more than I do now, and listen deeply to the results. 

But of course this is part of being a grownup.  I can’t have all the time I want, and I have to make choices, and I prepare music on the fly, between students, after Zoe goes to bed, and in my head while driving.  I cut corners when I can, doing arpeggios one day and scales the next.  I borrow from one thing – exercising, usually, or cooking interesting food – to pay another – practicing and reeds.  There is just never enough time in the day to be as good as I want. 

The money thing solved itself eventually, as we adapted our lifestyles to what we actually earned and as our income gradually increased.  As we began to be more and better established and picked up better and better gigs.  As my reed business grew and solidified, and as my teaching studio became the (enjoyable, awesome) monster that it is.  Because our network is spread out across three or four states, any one reduction in income is made up somewhere else, and for the most part we have our spending under control, and some savings.  This all feels great.

But how can I get to the same point with my time?  The fact that so many of my waking minutes are monetized now is what makes our finances work out so nicely.  It’s not clear that I can cut back on anything that I am doing, or that I want to do so.  There’s nothing I’d give up, but I need more hours. 

School will be my savior, I’m pretty sure.  Until Zoe is a big enough girl to leave home for a certain amount of time every day I think we’ll always be scrambling. 

For the moment, I’m trying to pay myself first, just like we did when we had more debts than income.  I make the time to exercise, because that makes me feel better and calmer and gives me more energy.  When I am practicing I try hard to keep my mind on what I am doing, without getting scattered and playing idly.  This saves time. When I am playing with Zoe I try to just play with her, and not send emails from my phone and read Facebook at the same time.  That doesn’t get anything more done, but it sure is more fun than splitting my attention and doing both things badly. 

And we just keep on keeping on.