How much should a freelance musician know about the concert they are to perform?
I think a good way to approach this question is to understand the hurdles that a common musician (especially freelance) has to overcome to begin the process of digesting the importance - past, present and future - of the concert in which they will be involved.
Also, keep in mind that this blog is the digital equivalent of me talking to myself. So keep in mind, lest this sound preachy, that I am muttering to myself as much as I am the interwebs.
That being said, let's start with the call.
At some point, which ranges from years to months or days before, we get a date. In the case of a freelancer, we look to see if we're free. In the case that we aren't, we do a spiritualistic rain dance to the gods of hustling and hope for the best case scenario, which usually involves a tuck-and-roll out of a taxi and a sprint up or down 8th Avenue. This date is jotted down…no that's wrong. Nobody jots anymore. We enter. The date is then entered into the calendar, followed by a closing ceremonial dance, and then forgotten. This "forgetting" is the first step in the beginning of a mind-numbing cycle of just churning out gigs that is common, and very easily done.
When I started my undergrad studies, I remember being insane over the fact that I had access to an entire library of recordings. When I was in high-school I worked at Tower Records in the Classical section, and I got to listen to lots of recordings, but I never got to take them home. I mainly listened to the big orchestral works, so when I got to college I devoted a lot of time listening to piano and violin concerti and also lots of string quartets, since I believed that the bulk of composers chose these forums for their grandest statements of expression.
Once my time in school was up, the glaring headlights of "real life" became white hot. In the early stages of my freelance life, I lost track of the academic approach that was readily available in school, and I just started playing the notes. Around the time I joined ICE, I started working with living composers with stories and appetites, and began somewhat of a retrograde interest in music history.
But this entry is not about me, so I'll go on with my point, which was that - one way to forget about musical importance is to start prioritizing your gig's "status" and choosing based on what seems en vogue, rather than what is interesting to you. It's precisely this mentality that has created the stereotype of the freelance circus that people associate with this untethered path. But it's a double edged sword because we all want to be working with consistency, for obvious reasons. But I think it has to be true that if your schedule is too full, so is your mind. Hustle shouldn't trump interest. First hurdle.
The second hurdle is what I'm tentatively calling the "3rd degree trickle".
I think there are probably a large number of musicians who have gone through the experience of trotting into a rehearsal for a gig that they got a three line email or a two minute phone call for, and then slowly realizing that the magnitude and historical implications of the concert could (and perhaps SHOULD) have been further emphasized at the time of contracting. This happens with abundant regularity. The excitement that is present in the administrative brain of a group is often not communicated to those less tapped in. Sure we could all take it upon ourselves to research. The most curious of my colleagues vigorously investigate every date they are given. However, it would be much easier if we could take and trust the temperature which we are given.
My third thought is really just rhetoric, but I'll say it because I don't want those who think about it to think that I didn't consider it. There are people that will ask, "Once the knowledge is gained, how much does it really inform the performances?"
Well, I don't know. It's very possible that a musician can walk in to a concert that they know nothing about, and read and play their notes in a way that resonates within the souls of every listening being and every other being they tell of their experience that night. This is all well and good, and some might argue that it is the only thing that matters.
But here's the push: we do it for ourselves, as well. Knowing enriches our (the performer's) experience.
This may be the ONLY time you ever hear me argue the academic side of, well anything short of Evolution. And it seems like a very basic point. However, even the most elementary logic can be trampled and lost in the grind. So hustle on, folks. But be sure to smell those roses.