Some musicians get to happily stay in one place pretty much all the time, and your home parish is your main place of work. But sometimes you may get asked to play or sing a wedding or funeral somewhere else, down the block or across town. What do you bring?
This question caught me up more than once during my years of full time ministry in one parish, but once I joined the ranks of the traveling subs and “visiting” musicians, I’ve been forced not only to re-think the question but to actually answer it. It’s like packing clothes for an NPM convention; the first couple of times you don’t know what you’re going to need, and then after a while you catch on and it’s second nature. (In case you were wondering, re NPM: At least 2 pairs of really comfy shoes, respectable-but-not-formal layered clothing that lets you not wither in outdoor heat nor shiver in a freezing ballroom, and a good wheeled bag with enough empty space in it to put the inevitable too many books/music you acquire while you’re there. I can do 5 days in a small overnight bag and 1 backpack and still have room for my computer and cables.)
After not very long I stopped asking the question every time I needed to do it, and just gathered what I needed into one bag in the back of my car, so now I don’t even need to check or search or decide; it’s all there. In fact, a lot of regular “musician travelers” I know have something like a “go bag” stashed in the back of their car or coat closet somewhere, packed and ready to go so they don’t need to overthink the process when it’s time to head out to a new place to make music. Here’s what’s in mine (bear in mind that I tend to drive places; if you’re on public transit, you’ll want to slim this down as much as you can):
1. Organ shoes, broken in and comfortable (for women: 1 pair organ shoes, 1 pair clean black flats)
I live in the Chicago area. And often I have to schlep through snow and ice and other grossness to get to my jobs. So knowing I have a pair of organ shoes and a respectable pair of “ordinary” shoes right there in the back of the car at all times has been a life-saver more times than I can count. (And that’s not counting the time I left the house in brown shoes, forgetting that I wouldn’t get back home before a choral concert that evening.)
2. 1 black concert binder, or 1 black concert folder + 1 plain black binder
This is less about music itself than having something respectable looking to hold it in, especially if you are singing. You don’t want to be juggling stuff or God forbid standing up somewhere with a photocopied sheet in your hand. I have a good black concert folder that has three rings in it, which is fantastic; I also have a thin and lightweight concert folder for when I don’t feel like lugging the bigger one around. (I have also had occasion to loan these to cantors or singers who would otherwise have been wandering up to an ambo with a couple of photocopies in their hand.) (Y’all. Don’t be this singer.)
3. my iPad/Hymnal app/ForScore app
Especially if I will be working someplace I know has wireless access, but even if not—this has saved my caboose more than once as well. I can put an entire hymnal of accompaniment onto my iPad, I can download pdfs I’ve legally purchased, and if I’m looking for a classical-type work published before the 20th century, imslp.org probably has it for easy and quick download. (It’s worth paying the annual membership for quick access. And it’s an extremely worthy cause.) While I get a little itchy about only having the electronic option to play from, I now pretty much always bring it. (Er…this one does not live in my go bag in the car, it goes with me into the house.) Chargers and cables too, of course.
4. Before I had a tablet, this next one was on my list, but now not so much: My own personal set of accompaniment books for the denomination I was mostly working at.
In my case, usually this would be Catholic churches or organizations. If you know what specific resource the church you’re going to uses, and you have that, that’s obviously ideal…but those sets get a little pricey, so it’s good to have a set of your own. My primary set is the Gather Third Edition, which has covered most of my bases for years, but I also make sure to own a fairly recent hymnal accompaniment set from the other major publishers as well.
6. What I call my “Survival Binders”
I actually have 3 of these: First, if you don’t already have a binder with the Ave Maria in all 17 keys, the Panis Angelicus in all 12, the Mass of Creation, and a dozen or so of your favorite preludes and postludes (particularly ones that are easy to register on an organ I don’t know very well), I highly recommend your pulling one together. Second, one has my favorite prelude/postlude pieces for solo keyboard, intermixed with versions for keyboard and solo instrument (and the back of it has the solo instrument parts, so I can pull one out for the violinist at a moment’s notice); and the third one has alphabetical dividers and holds all the “one-off” pieces I’ve needed to do for various traveling liturgies.
This is the dream collection one-stop-shop for traveling wedding musicians, and it has in it pretty much every standard wedding processional or recessional I can think of. Plus each of the pieces it includes are there in arrangements for both piano and organ, with separate available instrumental parts for either C or B-flat instrument. This one’s a keeper.
8. Favorite books and collections I’ve been schlepping around for years or decades
You know, those volumes you’ve had since college with your favorite solo organ/piano works, the stuff you can pull out cold at a second’s notice and don’t even have to find the page because the book just falls open to it. I know I don’t really need these any more, and it would be easier to just put the favorites into a binder or onto my iPad, but I carry them anyway.
So that’s my list at least…I started out with a tote bag for all this, but over the years I’ve transferred into one of those clear portable file boxes with a handle on top. I also keep a zipper tote in the back of my car so I can pull out what I need and not carry the whole thing in with me if it’s not needed.
I asked my friends and colleagues on Facebook what was in their traveling kits, and I got a lot of the same answers—things like tablets, comfy-but-respectable shoes, Ave and Panis in multiple keys, and such came up again and again. As did things like water bottles, cough drops, multiple pencils, or extra pair of reading glasses for those of us who are at that point in our lives. Probably my favorite response had not thought of but definitely will in the future was a small portable battery operated music stand light and extra batteries—I expect most of us have had the experience of finding ourselves someplace where there just isn’t enough lighting, and this would be a handy addition…
Anyone else? What’s in your musician go-bag?