Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On Musical Oil Changes

My auto mechanic has a sign hanging in his garage that says, "It's a lot cheaper to change your oil than it is to change your engine." I can relate to this in a number of ways, and one of those ways is the fact that, unchecked, my schedule can get absolutely out of hand. I am on the payroll in two churches, and I do a lot of subbing in other places as well, in addition to various other engagements that come along the way.

It is very easy in these circumstances to end up with a seven day work week without even realizing it. This is not good, and the only way to solve it is to organize your schedule--and to insist that others respect your time. This is particularly crucial in crunch times such as Lent and Easter.

Step number one is to decide on what your days off will be. There should be at least one; ideally two. Communicate to your coworkers that you are out of the office that day and that all your electronic devices are turned off. If anyone fails to respect this, remind them. (It does seems that many churches are quick to quote Rerum Novarum but slow to respect their own employees' time.)

Step number two is to reserve one other day per week which is free of administrative work--phone calls, emails, paperwork, etc. (Feel free to take a break to laugh uproariously at that.) This day should be devoted strictly to musical concerns--practicing, score study, programming, etc.

Step three is to carve out at least two hours at the beginning of each day for practice. I find that if the practicing is not at least begun first thing in the day, that it does not get accomplished as often. Tell the secretary you're practicing and unavailable and that you're not to be disturbed.

Even with all of these actions, it is still possible to get burned out. There are many risks to one's morale as a church musician, not the least of which is getting stuck in a rut. I would suggest a few things:

--Attend one non-sacred music related concert per month. Organ recitals don't count. Here in Philadelphia, we're lucky to have the Curtis Institute of Music, which has at least three concerts a week, and most of them are free. The quality of the musicianship is incredible. I have made this a part of my standard week, and the inspiration that can be gained from this is priceless.

--Put away the sacred music CD's. Listen to something else. Anything else. Jazz is a good choice. So is Ray Charles, along with Gustav Mahler.

--It's easy to become completely consumed by music, but I'm not convinced that this is good for one's musicianship. Find at least one other major area of interest, such as history or Austrian economics (two of my favorites).

--Take at least two weeks off per year. The parish will not implode without you, and if it does, it should (should!) thereby learn to appreciate you more.

--Don't fall into the trap, as I have done, of trying to prove to yourself that you're a hard worker. If you're even concerned about this subject you're probably a harder worker than most people.

All of these steps are akin to changing one's oil. It's crucial that it's done regularly, because you don't want to burn out.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: