Christmas as a Musician

‘Tis that time of year when musicians are extremely busy and spread thin with Christmas performances! I thought it might be interesting to share what my “Christmas gig” schedule looks like this year and give some insight into what a musicians life is like during the Christmas holiday season.

In no way am I complaining about my busy schedule! I just think this is a topic that is difficult to understand unless you are actually living it!

Here is a calendar view of what my holiday schedule looks like. I already passed off two gigs that happened last weekend to friends and colleagues because it was my daughter’s birthday, so that hurt a bit. However, I’m glad I could suggest great oboists for the jobs!

2018 Christmas gigs (1).png

Since I had to give away the gigs from last weekend, all of my Christmas gigs are in the span of 10 days! Anything with a specific stopping point (ie. 9-11am) is a rehearsal, anything with no end time (ie. 4:00pm) is a performance. As you can see, there are many more performances than rehearsals. Musicians often play a Christmas show with only one (maybe 2) rehearsals. These are all in addition to my typical weekly commitments, teaching and rehearsals.

I happen to be in 2 chamber music ensembles, Chione Quintet and mothrmöv. Chione regularly rehearses once a week (not included in the schedule) and mothrmöv typically gets together a few times prior to a performance (also not included on the schedule).

One of the most important things for musicians (especially wind players) is to stay healthy during this crazy time of year. Some of the ways that I try to stay healthy:

  • Take LOTS of Vitamin C

  • Take herbs and supplements

  • Sleep!

  • Scale back if I’m feeling something coming on

Personally, I have been loading up on vitamin C, sleeping more than normal and I have this incredible supplement of Chinese herbs that usually stops a cold in it’s tracks! I started feeling a bit under the weather this week, so I’ve been taking that supplement! As an oboist, breathing is obviously very important. In addition to breathing, have a clear head is also extremely important. Most often, musicians may be sight-reading or performing on only one rehearsal. If you are not on your game (don’t have a clear head), it is likely you will miss some notes or play incorrect notes. I know many of my musician friends are taking extra precautions this time of year to stay healthy for as long as possible!

This week, I ended up canceling some lessons (I’ve rescheduled them for the week before Christmas) because I felt something coming on. This is a practice that is new to me. I come from a family who doesn’t really take breaks. We push through no matter what and “get it done”. I still have this mindset for most things in my life, but I have realized that my career is very different than theirs. In their careers they are either in their own office (a lot of the time) or wear a mask, so they won’t infect anyone. In my job I am working with people and around people all of the time. I am blowing my (potentially contagious) air for everyone around me to breathe. I require the ability to breathe freely to do my job well. In most jobs people finally decided to take a break once they are extremely sick and no one wants them there anymore. In my job, I have to perform no matter what. I don’t have the ability to take a break if I get sick before a performance. There is not typically someone who can step in last minute and sight-read an hour or two’s worth of music… and if there is, they are most likely already booked for a performance of their own.

Side-note: I once played a performance of Pictures at an Exhibition (principal oboe) with a 103 degree fever and a puke bucket next to me. My fellow orchestra members had almost a full chairs space between me and them. As an oboist, this is a difficult piece to play. I was not about to ask someone to come in and play it without preparing. I think that is the worst situation I have had personally. There are numerous stories about Minnesota Orchestra members leaving the stage to throw up, then heading right back on stage to finish out the concert. As a musician, you don’t get a break once you’re sick. You have to push through no matter what!

So, this week I have been taking it easy and I don’t really feel that bad about it. I’m thrilled that I don’t have any Christmas Eve or Christmas morning gigs this year and that I will be able to spend time with my family. I will have 10 days of crazy and then I can relax the rest of the holiday season… and maybe put the oboe away for a few hours.

I have a great job and I would not change it for the world. Moral of the story, be nice and understanding to your musician friends. They are probably a bit stressed right now. Please don’t give them a hard time if they are laying low. They likely know their bodies and are taking it easy for a reason!

Merry Christmas (Gigmas)!