Last spring, when I faced an appallingly large tax bill and very much needed to earn more money immediately (if not sooner), a choral gig at an Upper East Side church materialized out of nowhere. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and my long-latent inner choir nerd was soon happily ensconced in singing choral masses amidst the smells and bells of the Episcopalian church. Best of all, I was getting paid to do so.
Right after Christmas, just as my bank account had started to right itself and I had finally begun feeling more confident in my sight-reading skills, the choir director pulled me aside and apologetically told me that, due to budget cuts, the music program was being scaled back (a tale as old as the gospels themselves) and he had to downsize. As the most recent hires, one unlucky soprano and I were let go, and just like that, my heaven-sent gig disappeared.
I felt something akin to what I felt some years ago, when I received word that the Broadway show that had been my ticket out of waitressing was closing. Yes, there was mild disappointment and a little financial anxiety, but mostly I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for getting to do the gig, even if it was for just a brief time.
I have found that, when it comes to keeping one’s mental health in the always-shifting world of self-employment, it’s good to remember these words: easy come, easy go. One of the first things you learn as a freelancer, after all, is that gigs are like trains: there’s always another one coming. (Some of the other things you learn as a freelancer: always get a 50% deposit when booking a gig, don’t expect health insurance or paid sick leave, and there is no feeling more satisfying than the smugness of being able to shop at Trader Joe’s in the mid-morning on a Tuesday when everybody else is working and the lines are short.)
Lest I sound too nonchalant about my ever-fluctuating employment status, I should probably disclose that I pondered much of this blog entry while relaxing on the beach earlier this month, and it’s pretty tough to be angst-ridden when you’re wiggling your toes in the sand.
You see, for the second year in a row, I was the featured jazz singer at the Water Island Music Festival in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The festival takes place over the course of three evenings of intimate house concerts on a tiny residential island just off the coast of St. Thomas. By day, I ate fish tacos and soaked up the sun. By night, I sang 20-minute sets of jazz standards with a wonderful pianist-friend for a warm, appreciative audience. After the show, along with my husband and all the other festival performers, I drank beer, hung out in a hot tub, and talked about music and art under a starry Caribbean sky. Talk about a heaven-sent gig!
I’ve currently got a couple of feelers out for another church job, and there is already talk brewing about next year’s Water Island Music Festival. Maybe it’ll be easy to find another steady choral gig, and maybe it won’t. Maybe my annual Caribbean gig will continue for years to come, and maybe it won’t. Whatever happens, I hope to embrace the ebbs and flows of this freelance life with equanimity and, most of all, gratitude for a life spent in song.