I’m a music performer and teacher. In my experience, I am a better teacher because I perform, and I am a better performer because I teach. I really enjoy doing both, most of the time they complement each other beautifully, and it’s aaaall good. But sometimes, I get asked to do a gig right smack in the middle of term and there’s a direct scheduling conflict between my teaching and performing. In these instances I find it difficult to figure out what to do. Lately I’ve come up with this set of steps to try to help myself make the decision.
1. Figure out if there’s a conflict, and exactly what that is.
a) Have I inserted a buffer into my schedule to allow for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when going to and from the gig? In my case, probably not. I am the world’s worst over-scheduler; recently I decided that in one day, I could get from Bearna to Limerick to Santry to Crumlin to Portlaois and then back to Athenry in time for a class at 14:30. Surprise surprise, I didn’t make it … due to traffic I was 45 min late, and missed the lesson. Overscheduling, 1; Úna, nil.
b) If I have inserted a buffer, is it ENOUGH of a buffer? In my case, probably not! Úna, please triple the time you have allowed for travel.
c) Now I’ve inserted a buffer – is there a conflict between my teaching and gig? Like, obviously, coz there’s a lot of text following.
2. How much value will I get from performing this gig? This is not just financial. I need to ask myself:
a) How much will I get paid?
b) How artistically fulfilling is it?
d) Will I get any exposure?
d) Is there the potential to make some valuable connections?
Then I need to ask…
3. How much value do I get from teaching in general? My personal answer to this is: HUGE value. In no particular order: it gives me most of my income, amazing fulfillment, super social interactions, and financial security. On a good day it feels like I get paid to hang out with my friends. However, a weird Úna-thing is that when I’m lured by the siren song of a gig, I tend to falsely minimize the worth of my teaching. So it’s very important for me to remind myself of the worth of my teaching work in this decision-making process. Once I’ve done this, I look at the case in front of me today.
4. What is the student, whose class I might miss, working towards at the moment? Because of how our music school is structured, the student is probably working towards a performance of some description. Which then needs some analysis…
a) Will they be exposed in this performance? If playing background music, or with a massive ensemble, subtle improvements or mistakes in a student’s performance won’t be heard. Consider doing the gig.
b) if the student’s performance will be exposed, how high are the stakes in that performance? This differs from student to student and family to family, but in my experience the following solo performances are potentially very ‘high stakes’: a family wedding, a student’s religious ceremony, a school concert, a grade, a competition.
c) If the student will be exposed and the stakes are high, where does this gig come in their preparation timeline? If the conflicting gig is in the week before their deadline, then I can’t do the gig. In my experience the lesson one week before the performance is crucial for the student’s mental and musical preparation. Unless…
d) … how flexible is this student’s schedule? If they’re immovable, then I can’t do the gig. But if they’re a flexier type of student, if I could potentially reschedule a lesson the same week, then I could consider…
5. What’s my relationship with this particular student whose class I may miss, and their family? How long have I been teaching them? How many positive instalments have I put into their emotional bank account? E.g. some of the students I have for years and have brought abroad know how hard I have worked on their behalf, so would be more understanding of me wanting to do a gigeen than new students.
6. Have I rescheduled this class before? If so, Úna, you should trrrry to avoid rescheduling this class again. Last year due to demand I taught on a Friday for the first time ever, with the caveat that it was an experiment and gig bookings would get first preference. Despite my proviso, and the wonderfully understanding, open, attitude of the parents involved, it didn’t work. I got asked to do 5 gigs, did them, and in order to facilitate the students participating in the music school schedule it was necessary to replace those 5 lessons, which was just way more hassle than it was worth.
7. Could I get a sub? I am the first full-time harp teacher in my region, so a local substitute harp teacher isn’t available. However, piano and violin teachers in our music schools get subs when they’ve got cool things going’ on. If you work in a music school / area with another harp teacher, perhaps you could ask them to fill in for you… ? (Meanwhile, us rural harp teachers will dream on… 🙂 )
8. And a final caveat: what’s your health like? I’m v lucky and tend to not get sick, but if you have some health complications, you should try not to reschedule a class during the year for gigs because you may have to use up all your class-replacement-karma for your sick days.
I’m a great fan of lists to get mental clarity and make the right decision (as inspired by the mighty Cheryl Strayed). I am also a great fan of writing by hand, and find it helps me think more effectively (Sorcha Ní Chróinín was the first person to make me conscious of how important this element was. Thanks, Sorcha!). Ergo I would now take a piece of scrap paper, draw a ‘Pro’ and ‘Con’ column, and put each answer above into the appropriate column. Then I’d look at the columns, check into what my tummy is saying, and try to make a decision… to take the gig or not.
This may seem like a pretty painstaking way of making a decision, but I hope it helps! Regardless of what you decide, I hope this process has helped you take everything into account that should be considered, so you are confident you made the correct decision for you at this time.
Let me know if you find this helpful… and if you decide to replace the class, this might help.