What's in Your Toolbox - Pandemic Edition

What’s in Your Toolbox?

Pandemic Edition

May 21, 2020

This will be short because I need to get back to cleaning my house after four semesters of graduate school – it’s going to take a while. My office might be an entire summer project. If you’ve looked around my website, you’ve figured out I’m a middle-aged, female professional saxophonist. I’m a lot of things – a spouse, a mom, a teacher specializing in applied saxophone lessons but also ethnomusicology/world music pedagogy/music cultures, other aspects of musicology and well, whatever else the two universities at which I teach ask of me. That’s what an adjunct professor does. I work with middle school, high school and college aged saxophonists. I’ve been a clinician, summer camp faculty and I’ve played some pretty major solos over the years. This month I completed my master’s degree in music performance (M.M.) from Montclair State University and the graduate commencement ceremony would have been Tuesday, May 19, but the pandemic caused a change (cancellation) in those plans. Wait? Did she just say she only just finished a masters degree this month? Shouldn’t she have a doctorate?!? Well, I suppose that journey and why is material for another blog post.

For now, I want to ask you: What’s in your tool box?

Due to the pandemic, almost every musician is unemployed right now, as concerts, shows, tours, etc. are cancelled. The future is uncertain, but in reality, it always was, wasn’t it?

I submitted my grades yesterday for one hundred and seventy students, and tomorrow I’m starting my new part-time summer job as trail steward at our local forest preserve. For many summers and falls, I would supplement my employment as an observer-controller for a major leadership firm based on principles set forth by the US Army, including the Soldier’s Creed and West Point’s motto: Duty, Honor, Country. However, corporations aren’t signing-up for in person experiential training right now. So, I knew that job wouldn’t be a possibility. I’m also a part-time fitness instructor, specializing in indoor cycling (Spinning), but the gyms are shut down. We have no idea when group fitness classes will safely start again.

This new position is a combination of customer service/parking lot attendant/forest educator/safety officer/ecologist. I saw the advertisement two weeks ago and sent off my resume and cover letter within the hour. It was a split decision – a pivot. What made this forest preserve select me from my resume and interview? Is it because I know how to interview well from performing 30+ years? Is it the leadership skills I learned from being in the US Army? Maybe it’s the leadership skills I honed working as an observer-controller. Is it my instructor demeanor from teaching both one-on-one lessons and large lecture classes? Perhaps it’s my creativity and ability to explain that my musical skills and knowledge are actually an asset in any position I’ve held.

Is this my ideal job? Of course not! I imagine I’ll have a wonderful time working outdoors this summer. I’m in good shape and there is no safer place to work and social distance than a beautiful forest! I’ll enjoy helping people get navigated, stay safe and consider becoming a friend of the forest (sales!) I also think I may encounter people who will be disappointed or angry when the parking lot is filled or the trails shut because of capacity and safety concerns.

Is this a failure because I’m not working full-time in music?

I don’t think so.

I said many weeks ago that musicians and artists are some of the most well-equipped people to handle this extremely unsure and volatile situation. Why? Because we know how to pivot and use another tool in our toolbox.

Consider what are the skills that you have? What makes you outstanding at whatever the position may be? Assess your surroundings and evaluate – we do that every day in the practice room. Set some goals – you know how to do that, too. We are some of the most disciplined people around. Pivot. Plan.

“If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” This quote has been attributed to many people, and is a staple in inspirational mantras. I might also add:

Recognize an opportunity and pivot from the plan.

I certainly didn’t plan to work in a forest this summer. No, that’s not what I envisioned during the difficult days in graduate school, while juggling family and teaching; however, I imagine there will be moments standing outside in the forest air this summer (and fall) that I’ll have time to think and dream about what the next steps might be. I wonder who I’ll meet and what opportunities will be available.

In the meantime, back to cleaning – I don’t remember the last time these floors were mopped…

More about my journey in another post.

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