Today’s Five Things Friday post was written by trumpet player Christi Wans.
For the last year, I have been traveling with the North American tour of Kinky Boots. The show has a great message, the music was written by Cyndi Lauper, and I’m getting to see parts of the country I never thought I would see. Most importantly? I have a full time job, with benefits, where all I have to do is play my trumpet.
That being said, it’s not always the most glamorous life. There are several things I have learned to help me survive:
1. Develop a routine early on.
This doesn’t just apply to playing your horn. When you’re traveling all the time, food options can be very limited, traveling is exhausting, and it can be easy to fall into the rut of laying in bed playing Candy Crush all day. Staying healthy became necessary for my sanity.
If you start out your tour active and making good decisions, it will be a lot easier to maintain. I like to run, so I decided to sign up for races ahead of time in the different cities we visited. Some people would hit the gym like clockwork as soon as we got to the hotel. Exercise becomes even more important for the musicians, because we are sitting in one place for three hours while the cast is running around burning calories on stage. Set yourself an alarm to be out of bed by a certain time on non-travel days so your internal clock isn’t completely backwards.
Try to resist the temptation to go out and drink every night. Some of this is important for building relationships, but it gets expensive and your body will hate you. Also, eating gas station food and McDonald’s all the time will drop a sodium bomb on your body. We would make the occasional bus stop at a Walmart or Whole Foods, and during these times I would try to stock up on healthy options (protein shakes, tuna fish packets, etc.) I also travel with a small bullet blender so I can make myself green smoothies (kale, apple, lemon, cucumber, chia seeds). Everyone has their own diet they need to follow, but one universal truth is that nobody can live on cheeseburgers.
Lastly, one of the biggest perks of traveling nonstop is that you get to see all different parts of the world. Do some research and plan ahead to see what there is to see (unless you’re in Flint, MI…nothing to see there). Plan a quest for the best cheesesteak in Philly, go for a hike in Alaska, tour the Alamo in San Antonio. Take lots of pictures.
2. Keep an organized suitcase.
On Kinky Boots, we were each allowed ONE fifty pound bag and then a small carry-on size bag (which I wasn’t able to bring because my case is my carry-on…sound familiar?). While we did have a few layoff weeks, I never went home during them because I have a boyfriend who is also a touring musician. All of these considerations combined meant that I literally had one suitcase of clothes for 9 months of tour.
My BIGGEST recommendation would be to buy a set of packing cubes. If you aren’t familiar, these are small rectangular nylon/mesh pouches that work to compartmentalize your suitcase. It transforms one large catch-all into essentially a dresser, providing separate spaces for everything, so when I inevitably couldn’t find the one shirt I wanted I only had one section of the suitcase to blow up instead of my entire belongings. I’m sure they’re all very similar; I like these ones because they are cheap, come in lots of sizes, and I can use the shoe bag as a small laundry sack for my dirty socks and underwear:
Gonex Rip-Stop Nylon Travel Organizers Packing Bags Red https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9R0CC1/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_q3jiBbAWPPJ7W
A few other useful suggestions for packing: as you find yourself not wearing certain things even when they’re in season, ship them home in flat rate boxes and save yourself the extra poundage. Keep Tide pods in a ziplock bag to spare yourself the need to buy new detergent in every city (not to snack on, silly kids). Invest in a handheld luggage scale so you don’t have to repack at the airport and slow your group down.
3. Find ways to keep your playing fresh.
If you rely solely on playing the show to keep your chops up, you’re going to end up with issues. In our setup, I am surrounded by Plexiglas covered in acoustic foam panels. We each have an individual Aviom and in-ear monitors, which is a curse and a blessing: even though I was completely deadened and blocked off from everyone, I could make my own mix in my ears and add back that reverb I was missing. We all hate playing with ear plugs in, but at least you can pipe back in your own sound (and protect your hearing). I adjusted to this all fairly well, but whenever I had the opportunity to play naturally it took a chunk of time to find my center again.
My absolute favorite thing to do is play piccolo trumpet and soprano cornet, and there is none of that on this show. While I feel like the show has helped further develop my lead playing, I found myself really missing what I was passionate about. Somewhere in the middle of tour I decided to start plugging away at the Charlier book again, and that helped. I would meet up with fellow trumpet players and play with them, trading off on flow studies, flexibility, articulation. We are heading to Asia in a month, and I just purchased a little single picc case so I can take it with me as a personal item and work up some repertoire in my free time.
4. Maintain your contacts at home.
This was something I worried about a lot – you spend so much time building a freelancing career and making those relationships, and if you are out of the picture opportunities can vanish very quickly. It’s not at all impossible, but very important, to keep in touch with your home network and keep them updated on your schedule. A few weeks before a layoff, call the church you used to frequent and see if you can arrange something. Set up a meal with your old professor. I’ve been busy filling my break with meaningful performance experiences that also help pay the bills and keep me in the loop – I just finished up a concert series with the Sacred Winds ensemble in Kentucky, and next weekend I get to play the Haydn Concerto with the Oklahoma Haydn Festival! It’s been great to have a goal to practice for.
5. Be fearless.
As a musician and a person! The commercial music and theater industry is very heavily dominated by men. People are going to look down into the pit and be shocked to see a female musician (we were lucky enough to have two in ours). Do everything you can to break that stereotype. One of my old teachers was actually convinced that women were not physically capable of achieving the same power on the trumpet as men because he had encountered so many timid female players. Shocking, right?
The best thing I learned in graduate school was to stop worrying about how I looked, worrying about not being ladylike, worrying about missing notes, worrying about what everyone else was thinking. Trumpet is an inherently masculine instrument in that it takes a powerful and aggressive approach, but that does not prevent anyone from lighting it up on stage. All it takes is confidence and hard work.
To quote Kinky Boots, “you’ll change the world if you change your mind.”