At a busy time of the musical year, as divas and string quartets jet in and preparations for Christmas concerts step up, professional musicians look to juggling their schedules for the following year. We asked violinist Madeleine Jevons to give Classic Melbourne a peek into her precious notebook …
Every year around this time, I buy a new Moleskine as plans for the next year start to take firm enough form to justify the purchase. This year has been my first out of a music institution, and the bookings for 2016 are starting to trundle in.
I graduated from the Australian National Academy of Music in 2014 after an intense and incredible three years of having the best teachers and wonderful opportunities on a daily basis: known affectionately as the ANAM bubble, where practice and performance opportunities abound. Even though my mentors did everything possible to prepare me for post-ANAM life, no amount of advice or stories can prepare you for how you will fare in the “real world”. It is for the most part a self-taught balancing act of priorities, travel, finances and hard work. (Side note: hard work includes lots of practice as well as sending endless emails, making websites and booking thousands of dollars worth of flights from your bed).
I have to admit, I have had a giant helping hand in the structure of this year from my incredibly fortunate acceptance into the Emerging Artist program run by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. I am, coincidentally, typing this in my room in Sydney on my 3rd tour for the year with the newly named ACO Collective – and with one more yet to go, I have already learned so much about playing, about music and what life as a touring musician can be like. As a fledgling in the freelance classical world, these sorts of programs are absolute gifts and are to be treasured.
The most glaring conundrum in a freelance or portfolio career is security – there are never any guarantees. Even though I have work in various orchestras now, there are only a few spots and a huge amount of young and talented players ready to work. I don’t mean to be sinister or imply there are hordes of hungry violin youths bent on orchestral domination, but it is imperative to work at a consistent level to maintain your own standards as well as your employer’s. As obvious as that sounds, it can be hard to motivate yourself to practise for a recital that may not happen or an audition that may not come on those days, weeks or months when work is scarce. This is the part that many musicians I know struggle with on a pretty regular basis, the solution to which is different for every individual, with varying levels of success. For me, a YouTube rampage of the artists I admire most along with the realisation I haven’t done a scale in thirds for a while is enough to kick me back into action.
All right, for parents of music students everywhere, let’s just briefly address money. A freelance performance career is rarely supplemented; I have some private students, I tutor at a school and am involved in a relatively healthy gig scene. Ultimately, how you approach your finances as a musician depends on your own personal priorities. I have many good friends who have chosen to make winning an orchestral job or similar their goal, and they love their work and that is wonderful. At the moment, being only a year out of an institution, the possibilities and freedom of a freelance career are so enticing that I’ve chosen to accept that every now and then I’ll pay my phone bill a bit late. If you don’t have the luxury of that choice, you are in the majority and we’ve all been there. I worked in a cheese shop for a while just after I graduated – it was lovely and tasty.
As it currently stands, I have one confirmed event for next year: a festival with my group, Penny Quartet. Having a self-run chamber group opens up another dimension of music making, and is both the most exhausting and the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. It is an opportunity to choose repertoire for yourselves, to make a bit of money, to lose a bunch of money, to get grants to study with the best groups in the world, to get better, to get worse, to stage your own concerts, to spend hours and years making something you know is yours. I have taken this tangent because chamber music is so important and special to me; it is an entirely different animal to playing solo or working in an orchestra and I think everyone should give it a go.
Penny Quartet is a relatively new ensemble and any booking is an opportunity to develop our craft in both rehearsal and performance. So apart from the festival being an incredible opportunity in itself, it has also become a sort of beacon to the future, an indication that we will grow and people will continue to ask us to play with them from time to time. Beacons like this are helpful when you have a bit of an abyss of blank space in the diary – you get an email and can finally jot down some dates and reassure yourself you’re not one hundred percent insane for pursuing a freelance music career.
So far in the “real world”, I have been extremely lucky to maintain a decent level of busyness. To get to this point has of course taken years of very hard work, a couple of good auditions and a balance of prioritisation that can become complex at times; for example, I am allegedly getting married at some point in the next year or so, however, that date will depend on any bookings either of us (he is a musician also) gets in the next few months. As flippant as my tone may seem, there are an infinite number of roadblocks on the road to a fulfilling and sustainable career in the “real world”, as I have only just begun to experience.
The best advice I’ve ever heard on why it’s all worth it is from Geoff Nuttall of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, who Penny Quartet have been lucky enough to study with. He was quoted on allstrings.com as saying: “You have to have this unbridled passion, this childlike enthusiasm for what you do, like a kid in a toy store,” … “You need to combine a dedication to the nuts and bolts with a willingness to let loose—to realize that you might not make that jump but you’re going to leap anyway.”
So I’m gonna buy my new Moleskine, refresh my email inbox an embarrassing amount and keep practising.