Irons in the Fire

This is dedicated to Ruchi, who is awesome, and has way more irons in the fire than I can imagine!

I have a tendency to over-commit when it comes to musical endeavors.  Really, I mean to say no, but it just comes out yes because usually it sounds like a blast, and I have a difficult time turning down musical opportunities.  So, here are my irons, and here are some tips with how to manage irons with a family.

Iron #1 – In Harmony
There is a great group of gals that meet every Wednesday that I’m privileged to be a part of (We’re called In Harmony – heard of us?  That’s us right there!  I’m all the way on the left).   Everyone has their own abilities and attitudes which makes the group incredibly unique.  It’s like a blend of everything.  I guess we’re kind of like cholent.

We have classical training and natural intuitiveness, fashion savvy and staging experience.  We have type-A and type-B personalities, FFBs and BTs.  I feel like we keep each other in check, both musically and interpersonally.  And the music rocks.

Imagine:  Vocals (two- or three-part harmony), Keyboard, Drums, Guitar (Acoustic or Electric), Clarinet (and potentially flute and sax), percussion (shakers and tamborine).  It really rocks.  We meet every week and work on new music, hone our old pieces and scheme and plan for performances, and eventually, a CD.  I love it.

This is one of the biggest irons, because not only is it regular in my schedule, but I also get to arrange and compose music for the group, so I have additional deadlines that I’m working with so that we actually have what to rehearse.  Thankfully, I’m not the only one bringing the music to the table, but I do bring some, and it does have to get done in a somewhat timely manner.

Iron #2 – Piano lessons
So, this isn’t so much in the actively-creating-music field, but it’s very fulfilling.  Except for the part where I try to get the kids to practice.  Still working on that one.  I have about a dozen students, mainly beginners, though I have some who are more in the beginning-intermediate range.  I teach on Sundays (though during the summer I’m able to relax my schedule a bit more and also do other days of the week), starting from 1 p.m and ending at 7:45 p.m.  It’s a lot all at once, but there’s always at least one cancellation to give me some breathing room.

My dreams for this iron are a) to start my own studio where I have teachers working under me.  Rent out a small space and have students come there.  Or maybe I would even have room in the basement, if our house (which we eventually will have, I assume) allows.  That way when I reach the stage where my children need me on a different level, I won’t have to give up the teaching income, and the students will have where to go, etc.  This is in my 5-10 year plan.

Dream b) is to create a series of piano instruction books geared towards Jewish kids.  No more Jingle Bells or Good King Wenceslas or Halloween or Valentine’s Day songs.  Now, I don’t personally have anything against the music itself, but it would be nice to have a neutral book that caters to a specific audience (namely, my students).   I plan on including songs that the kinderlach know and would want to practice (haha), or least be marginally excited about learning.  This is in my 10-20 year plan.

Iron #3 – Freelance clarinetting.
There is a fabulous lady in Cleveland who organizes musical extravaganzas (that’s the best description I can think of).  Her name is Katia Bolotin and I had the privilege of playing in one or her productions last summer.  Katia played a gorgeous grand piano and sang, accompanied by a half-dozen talented high-school girls, myself on clarinet, her sister on flute, and a violinist, violist and cellist.  She also had drums.  It was a ton of fun.  A lot of rehearsal time, which was very interesting with the baby (see below for details).

One of the advantages of working in this venue is that I’m able to create my own clarinet line.  I was granted  lot of creative liberty, which I used enthusiastically.

There are also occasions like kumzitzy things and other get-togethers where I’ve brought along the licorice stick and played along.  It’s good for the improv chops.

Iron #4 – Arranging
One of the mothers of a piano student (see Iron #2) contacted me about her father-in-law, who lives in Israel and has been composing marches (like John Phillips Sousa) for quite some time.  He was looking for someone to take his scores, which are written for piano, and arrange them for concert band.

This was more than up my alley; this was a street named after me.  It has been such fun, and I’m thrilled to actually be using some skills that I learned in college.  Makes the student loan payments a little easier.  I get to decide which instrument plays what, and when, and I get to add in little touches.  Whatever amendments I make, I note and include in an email, and then the composer either yays or nays them.  It’s been a pleasant working experience, and I hope to be able to do more of this kind of work.

Iron #5 – Classical Collaboration
This is, so far, only a potential iron, but hey, why not include it?  There are various classically-trained musicians floating around in my sphere, and now and then I get an offer to collaborate classically.  I really do miss playing Poulenc, Saint-Saens, Brahms, and would love to get back into it.  However, it hasn’t really materialized yet as I haven’t stuck the iron in the actual fire.  I just haven’t had time, and I think I’m also a little reticent since it’s been a little while (cough cough) since I actually practiced properly.


What to do with the munchkin while managing these irons
Iron #1 I used to bring him along (especially when all he did was lay there), but when he started to wander off into rooms which were decidedly baby-unfriendly or attempt to unplug instruments from the amp, I started sending him to an family-style babysitter (a lady who watches kiddos out of her own home).  Totally worth the expense.
Iron #2 He came along (of course, as he was still only five months old or so), and I often hired a girl to stroll him around while I was actively rehearsing.  I think it was the first gig I did as a mommy, and it was a real learning experience with juggling motherly responsibilities and professional ones.
Iron #3 Well, this is just at home, so I work on it while the baby is sleeping or otherwise occupied.
Iron #4 Usually the baby is napping for the first lessons, and then my husband is able to take care of him for the remainder (it’s so good for him to see what it actually means to take care of the baby without help there!).  It’s been tricky these past couple of months since hub has been on night float, so he isn’t around, and I either have to find a babysitter for the afternoon (actually kind of hard on Sundays), and definitely for the evening.  In the past I’ve been able to work with the baby, and have either put him in the high chair with some snacks, or held him on my lap, or he’s been content to wander around, but lately he’s been much needier, which has been kind of stressful teaching-wise.  Thankfully, my husband will be available again starting this week.  Yay!
Iron #5 When this actually happens, I’ll most likely send him to the aforementioned babysitter.  Again, worth the money to have some much-needed mom musical time.

How to manage the irons while being a wife and mom:
Tip one: Have an understanding spouse.  This is crucial.  Without it, well, difficulties, I imagine.
Tip two: Know your limits.  With the latest Katia concert, I was juggling a full-time teaching job, a full piano studio and life.  So I told her that there was absolutely no way I would be making it to any rehearsals.  It worked out that she had recordings of the songs for the concert, and gave me a copy so I could work on my own part when it was convenient for me.  So, I didn’t say no, but I stated my parameters, and she was able to work with it.
Tip three: Prioritize.  Your baby (and husband) are going to be hungry soon?  Put away the music and start dinner.  You have a few moments and feel like vegging out in front of the computer?  Take five minutes and start working on a project.  Often, when I start working on something musical, vegetating gets set aside for quite some time.  It’s just a matter of actually starting the work.
Tip four: Communicate.  If you are procrastinating or running behind on a deadline, say something.  I have a tendency to avoid contact with the people I’m collaborating with if I haven’t accomplished what I think is reasonable.  That just makes people nervous.  For Iron #4, the nice zaidy sent me an email requesting a progress report.  I hadn’t actually started anything at that point, for between sefira and starting a full-time teaching job, I had my hands full.  So I didn’t answer his email because I wanted to send him something tangible.  Well, that made him nervous (understandably), and after a couple of weeks had passed, he asked his daughter-in-law (the mother of my student) to nicely check in on me.  Busted.  I felt wretched that I made a nice old man worry.  Shame on me.  So I emailed him and gave him a realistic idea of when he could expect some work from me, and then I followed through.


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2 thoughts on “Irons in the Fire

  1. I had no idea you had so many irons, nor had I heard of that expression!

    I was wondering what it’ll be like rehearsing and teaching voice and occasionally performing, with a baby. This was really helpful information. What do you do with the baby during your full-time teaching?

  2. Yeah, I’m in the manic phase of my business, apparently. I’m so glad it was helpful! During my full-time teaching, the baby went to the sitter.

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