Today I want to talk about how to give the semblance of responsibility and professionalism in whatever it is you do.
For a time, I collected books containing warmups and exercises for brass instruments. Not just the tuba, but all brass instruments. I used to love finding new techniques and practice methods that I could use in my daily practice.
When I was living in Los Angeles playing with the Hip Hop Orchestra, Dakah, I would spend my days going to the downtown LA public library, going through the tuba, trombone, and horn music books (sorry, for some reason I couldn’t find any trumpet ones I liked). While I found plenty to keep me occupied, perhaps the best resource was back at the apartment I was sharing. I lived with a trombone player named Dan who had studied at the University of Northern Colorado with Buddy Baker, and he had a copy of his typed and hand-written method book. It was filled with great technical tools that were easily applicable to the tuba. The philosophy behind it was even better, though. In particular, a pie chart like the one below.
What this is saying is that the number one skill needed to be a professional musician is not your technique, musicality, or pedagogical skills. While all of those are factors, the number one skill is TCB: Taking care of business.
Taking care of business means:
- Arriving on time to rehearsals and performances.
- Bringing any necessary tools of the trade whenever necessary, including but not limited to: your instrument, a stand, a pencil, your music, your mutes, your best game.
- Acting a in a professional manner to the bandleader, bandmates, and the audience.
- Communicating with everybody involved to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Understanding that the onus of these responsibilities falls upon you.
Over time, I have realized how absolutely true this chart is. These are the factors that determine whether you get hired again or not, and they’re really not that hard. If you have the discipline to spend hours in a practice room with just you and your instrument, making sure not to cancel on someone an hour before the show is a piece of cake! And no one cares about the traffic you hit. Just get there on time.
The true revelation comes, though, when you realize that this chart is as much about music as it is any discipline or life situation. Just replace “technique” with “skills” and “musicality” with “creativity”. Work in an office? Do what you need to on time, be someone that others can depend on, and treat everyone with respect. Freelance designer? Communicate with your client, meet your goals, and don’t be condescending. Want to be a good friend? Be there for your friends, do what you say you’re going to do, and empathize empathize empathize.
Anyone can use these tools to be more successful in any endeavor, or at least to fool someone into thinking you’re responsible. But as Kurt Vonnegut said, we are what we pretend to be. It doesn’t really matter whether deep down you buy into “taking care of business”, or you’re just donning the thin veneer of responsibility. As long as the job gets done, you can worry about the ethical intricacies on your own time.