I first off want to apologize for not updating the blog more often recently. This last month has been very busy, with wonderful opportunities for me. I hope that all of you have had a great start to your 2014.
For the past few weeks, I have had the wonderful opportunity to tour with the Bay Street Brassworks, which is a touring brass quintet with percussionist. As some of you may recall, I played with this group back in November for a few dates as well. I am pleased to let you know that I have become a permanent member of the group, and will be performing with them more over the coming years. I am really looking forward to playing in a group of such a high caliber.
However, being on tour is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Nothing in college prepares you for the life of a touring musician. Generally, days are long, nights are longer, and there are a lot of obstacles that can make touring hard. Sleeping in hotels, eating out, and lack of down time are just some examples of the obstacles that make touring difficult.
I am no expert, by any means, on touring and how to make it a successful endeavor, but I did learn a lot about what worked for me and what didn't while I was on the road for 3 weeks. I hope that this blog becomes an avenue for people to comment about what works for them, and that we can share some information with one another.
So here is my advice for being on the road.
1) Come prepared:
The first thing that I realized on this tour is that I needed to be on my "A" game prior to leaving for the trip. This means that I needed to be as well rested, hydrated, and in good mental and physical health. A few days before leaving, I began to do a few mediation sessions, walk a few more times a week (because we know that tuba players will not run, unless for free food), and try to eat healthy and drink plenty of water. If you start in a good place, you'll generally maintain that on the road.
2) Keep your mind healthy:
The worst part about being on tour is the monotony of the road. Generally, you show up, perform, drive somewhere else, and repeat. Usually, the music you perform on a tour doesn't really change, and so our minds have a tendency to wander and think about anything but our performance. That's not a great strategy on the road.
Having things to keep your brain in good mental health are crucial. For me, I downloaded a few games onto my iPad, so that I could have a bit of time to turn off my brain while we were in the car. I also made sure to have some guided meditations, as I am a big fan of using meditation as way to relax and unwind. Some people love to read, call loved ones, or have other activities. Just make sure that even if it is 20 minutes at the end of a long day, take it. Your brain will thank you.
3) Body needs to be healthy, too:
The other difficult aspect of road life is keeping your body healthy. Touring has lot of sedentary time, whether in the car, airplane, or bus. It is very easy to eat lots of fast food, large portions, or to stop getting your exercise in. It's very easy to get done with a performance, order a big basket of fries, and go right to sleep. I know I did that several times during the tour without even thinking about it. Imagine how your body will feel after 4-5 days of you eating like this.
I have to freely admit that I didn't do a great job at keeping my body healthy, because I love to try amazing food while out on the road. There were far too many meals of mine that were fried in some capacity, and lacked vegetables and fruit. I will definitely be making sure that next time, I will eat far more balanced meals, with vegetables and fruit. I also noticed that the longer I was on tour, my drink of choice changed from water to soda. Again, I'd strongly encourage you to think about keeping water as a major part of that diet.
4) Make sure you get some "Me Time":
When we musicians tour, we very rarely get time off. Generally, we are performing, teaching, sleeping, or eating. Even after a concert, typically, musicians will go out into the audience and thank people for coming. Then you have to go and pack up your belongings, possibly change, and figure out where you are going next. All of these activities involve other people, whether it is the ensemble you are touring with, or the legion of fans that are your shows.
So where is the down time to recover? Sleeping just isn't enough, as your mind doesn't get enough breaks just from sleeping. While on the road, I like to find a few minutes everyday just for me. One of my preferred methods is in the mornings. I generally will try to take a bit of time each morning and do something for me. Even if it is a brief swim in the pool, walk around the hotel lobby, or maybe trying to level up on Star Wars: Force Collection (hey, I'd be lying if I didn't use this as "Me Time"), take advantage of it. In order to get the very best out of the group, you have to be at your very best.
Another great way to get some personal time is if you potentially have a bit of time off, GET AWAY AND GO ON AN ADVENTURE. Seriously, make time for you. In Florida, a group of us wanted to go to the beach, so we did. I made sure that for about an hour of that time, I laid back behind the rest of the group and was able to enjoy a bit of time to relax.
5) Remember, patience isn't just for Doctors: By the end of any long duration on the road, no matter how well you do at these previous steps, there will be a point where you're finished. You may have three more days of performances left, but you are just ready to head home. We've all been there before in our lives. How you handle this situation can be critical to being asked back on the road again.
I can't stress enough the importance of being professional. There are far too many instances that I have heard about where musicians just go ballistic on one another at the end of a tour over something that isn't important. Remember that the longer you are on the road, the more important these first few steps are. But when you do get to the point of no return, accept it, go along with the flow, and try to get out of there in one piece.
Again, I hope that many of my fellow musicians will comment on this, and a discussion can occur of "Best Practices" for surviving on the road. Here's to many successful tours for you and yours in 2014!
Andrew Smith currently serves as the Director of Athletic Bands at and Assistant Professor of Low Brass at Campbell University and is Principal Tuba of the Fayetteville Symphony. Andrew also maintains a low brass teaching studio in the Triangle region of North Carolina.