Trumpet Voluntarily! from Paul Baron, my first reply on Tales from the Pit!
You are primarily a theater musician. What does that mean? To me, this means being skilled in a very wide range of musical styles. It's not at all unusual to play a show with styles ranging from classical to swing, disco to klezmer, rock to Baroque, etc... And sometimes all in the same show. The most musically varied show I think I've played was Monty Python's Spamalot. Also, being a theater musician means that I am comfortable playing in a variety of group sizes depending on orchestration size which is often times dictated by finances more than musical considerations. Being comfortable in variously sized orchestras means being confident in my own playing without relying on strength in numbers. Many shows these days are written for only one trumpet.
How did you get interested in music initially? When or how did you decide it would be your career? I was initially attracted to the trumpet because of an uncle who played the trumpet. Although I never got to hear him play, since he quit very shortly after I started, I was still very drawn to the instrument. Believe it or not, after just a couple weeks of playing the trumpet, I announced to my parents at the age of 6 years old, that I was going to be a professional trumpet player. I had no idea what that really meant but I was pretty adamant. If only they talked some sense into my back then. LOL
Most of us earn degrees in music. Did you ever imagine you’d find your home base in Broadway shows? I never imagined this would be where the majority of my work would be when I first started playing. I love playing big band but also really love the variety of being a commercial player. My main goal was to be a studio musician, which is what I primarily did for the first 20 years of my career. Due to technology, finances for recording budgets, and changing musical styles, the recording industry is much less lucrative for session horn players so I adapted and started playing more shows.
How did you get started in the business? Were you a sub first, word of mouth? Did you aspire to become a music director or contractor? I started out as a sub in community theater as my friends, mostly about 4-5 years my senior, were moving on to more lucrative work. As I progressed, I became a first call player for community theater and then one of the busiest first call players for professional work. I've never had aspirations of being a musical director but have done some small contracting stints. My contracting duties has been for more one-off type shows like the Temptations, jingle sessions, but not musical theater.
How do you manage your days? As a pit player, the circadian rhythms are completely opposite the majority of the community. This can be a positive or a negative. How do you make it work? I find that having some structure to my days really helps on a touring schedule because, as I've found in the past, it's really easy to digress into a lifestyle that is centered around the show and basically accomplish little else. By this I mean, it's very easy to get into a routine of getting out of bed in time to play the show, party until the bars close, and then start the daily routine again. Yes, our schedule is a little different from the nine to five crowd but only by about 6 hours if we choose it to be. I love having Mondays off work, except for travel days, when the rest of the workforce is busy, but I also try to maintain a sense of normalcy. So I typically go to sleep about 1:00 to 2:00 and wake up about 9-9:30am. The important part about being on the road as a show musician is physically peaking at the right time. It's hard to wind down after the show but I've found that with the other business endeavors I have, it's better for me to get to sleep about 2am and up around 9:30. I can maintain a certain business schedule and accomplish what I need to do, while physically peaking when I need to for the show. Ultimately, the show takes precedence over my day since that's the reason I'm on the road. All of the same comments apply to my days when I'm home and working a show.
How do you handle moving from town to town? Do you travel with the show or on your own? I travel both with the company and on my own. It all depends on the mode of transportation and what the potential travel reimbursement will be. I really enjoy keeping my own schedule. On tours, it's really good to discover the things that make you happy and the things that drive you crazy. For me, I hate long lineups at the airport and doing large check-ins with the airlines. So, even if I'm booked on a company flight, I'll spend the extra cab fare to arrive at the airport earlier so I can avoid the long check-in process. Sometimes I travel by rental car between cities to avoid that and if it's only a few hours longer, I'm happy to drive. I enjoy being able to see some sites.
What do you do on the days off? Do you have other hobbies or passions that you explore? I love getting to know the cities I'm playing. One of the biggest treats for me is when we have local musicians hired and I can find out all the things they love to do in their city. To learn a city from a non-tourist is so great. I also enjoy a lot of walking so it's a great way to learn a city. I have other projects on the go including a series of books that I'm working on.
How long have you been on the road, or playing shows as a local theater musician? Do you have any amazing road anecdotes? I've been touring on musical theater shows since 1999. I did other tours prior to that, but the really the long-term commitment shows started about 1999. I have so many anecdotes that I could write a book. Actually, I have. "Trumpet Voluntarily" is my book and in it, I share many anecdotes about local players, things I've learned on the road, and things as a local player I learned by trial and error (mostly error) myself.
What are some of your favorite shows? I love playing Aladdin. It's such a swinging show and I'm thrilled to have a 3 trumpet section for a change. These days I'm very lucky to even have a 2nd trumpet. Monty Python's "Spamalot" was one of my favorite shows as well. There are a number of reasons but mostly it's because I got to play almost every style in Spamalot.
After you learn the show, how do you keep your chops up, especially your sight reading? Great question!! Keeping my chops up and sight reading are two totally different subjects for me. Keeping my chops up is easy to talk about and less easy in practice to follow through. It's very easy to show up for the show and warm up just enough to start the show and hopefully, the show warms up the chops. Most shows I play I have to come right out of the gate with everything working so my prep is important. I treat the pre-show time as a two-hour window to get my act together so, I show up two hours ahead of show time and spend however much time needed to get my chops working. Sometimes I'm done in 10 minutes, and other times it takes 45 minutes to be show-ready. I think, for the most part, my sight reading skills don't atrophy much on a long-running show maybe because of all the years in the studio where every session was sight reading.
Any “aha” learning moments from a show? Yes, there are most likely "aha" moments on every show. The biggest aha moment came when I was trying to find my pacing on "Spamalot" and I asked the sound man if he would record a few nights. The first night I played 85% volume. The next night I went all out. 100% volume and effort behind it. The sound guy told me a few things. When. I played full out, not as much sound was hitting the mic so he had to turn me up. Conversely, when I played about 85% volume the same sound guy told me he turned me way down. So I concluded or had an aha moment when I realized that just focusing my sound and not worrying about how the sound is getting to the audience was a big learning experience. I discovered how to play more efficiently.
We couldn’t do this without our mentors. Who were yours? Any additional comments? I grew up with many friends who were also colleagues as well, so I was always trying to play catch-up with them. I'm mostly a product of the "apprenticeship" method so I was very fortunate to have some great guidance, but as well, growing up where I did there were a lot of opportunities to play so many different styles. I feel this was a huge education for me and something I could bring with me to other jobs as well. I had so many playing mentors, amongst the most notable was Arnie Chycoski (he named me "Lil Goz") and have learned and grown from each experience. I believe that mentors are all around us and we can learn something from nearly everyone we come in contact with, both what to do and also what not to do.
If you want to read more from Paul Baron check out his book "Trumpet Voluntarily - A Holistic Approach To Maximizing Practice Through Efficiency". https://qpress.ca/product/trumpet-voluntarily-holistic-guide-maximizing-practice-efficiency/