Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dan, Dan The Tuba Man


What follows is an interview with Dan Nosheny, a local musician who resides in Philadelphia. Recently, he generously took time out of his busy schedule to share his personal evolution as a multi-talented (see picture below) artist. He speaks eloquently and with good humor about the anxieties, insights, and injuries that come with being a full-time musician. Enjoy!        
Dan is a man of many talents. 

Who are you?

How dare you!  You don’t know who the &*%$ I am?  Who the &*%$ do you think you are?

How long have you been playing the tuba? Discuss some of the other instruments in which you are fluent; how did these become an integral part of your practice?

I’ve been playing tuba and accordion for about 20 years.  I picked up the tuba in 7th grade when the band director asked if I was interested in playing it. I started accordion after becoming obsessed with They Might Be Giants. My parents bought me a $40 accordion from the flea market and I just started messing around on it.

I started collecting toy pianos at flea markets about 10 years ago, and they have been a fun addition to my instrumental arsenal. And along the way I learned the trombone, which is very similar to tuba. From time to time in certain groups, I’ll play one of them.

These days I consider myself a multi-instrumentalist with a focus in tuba/sousaphone, and accordion.  Lately I’ve been asked to play accordion in contexts I’m not accustomed to (Balkan brass band, Wind Ensemble), so that’s been a challenging but fun change.

Recently you transitioned from 9-to-5 worker to full-time musician. What has been the hardest and most rewarding aspect of this change?

The whole thing has been an intensive learning experience. I’m glad I came into it knowing there was a lot to learn and that I wasn’t really sure what it would be like. If I had serious expectations, I don’t know if I could have handled their not standing up to the reality of the situation.

The most rewarding part is definitely the time I have to explore the things that interest me. I get to dive into some of the black pits of imagination to come up with interesting things to do. For instance, I can focus on writing songs, learning different instruments, practicing, or anything else I want to do on a given day. 

I can also go to the post office during the day, which is great.

The hard parts are the other edge of that sword: unless I set something in motion, nothing gets done. In a full time job, there are so many moving parts that if you slow down for a second, the machine keeps going. If I slow down now, the machine grinds to a halt. There’s a very small sweet spot between when I start a project (book a show, write a song, arrange a new piece for a band) and see it to fruition (play the booked show, perform the written song, showcase the new arrangement) in which I’m feeling like all is well in the world and I’m being productive. After that, it’s easy to start to panic that I’m not doing enough.

That’s the hardest part; trying to feel productive. Even as I write this, there’s a worry that I’m not doing as much as I should be doing. I know that’s partially the fact that I’m very hard on myself, but also that I have to do income-producing work to make this new freelance life of mine come together. 

Speaking of which, how much am I getting paid for this interview?

Describe a gig that did not go the way you planned. Were you able to glean any life or professional lessons from this incident?

I’d like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at catching the red flags for troublesome gigs.  Most of them come from how the musicians are treated by the powers that be.

2 years ago I was asked to play a New Year’s Eve show in Philly. The pay was quite low for NYE (there’s usually a high premium for shows on NYE), but I had nothing else so I accepted.  We had a rehearsal and a show, but I could see during the first rehearsal that the organizers did not know how to run a rehearsal.  The charts were disorganized and often incomplete, and we were asked to fill them in as we went.  Also, some of the parts were challenging, and when members of the band couldn’t sight read them, the director would laboriously rehearse the parts until they were up to speed instead of giving the responsibility of learning these parts to the musicians to work on in their own time.  The rehearsal went long, and 2 more rehearsals were scheduled, making the ratio of money earned to time spent drop drastically.

On one side, I learned the dos and do nots of effective rehearsal. When I run a rehearsal, I make sure my parts are complete and easy to read.  When the musicians have difficulty with a passage, I try to recognize whether it’s an issue of the ensemble playing together or an individual who hasn’t learned his or her part. If it’s the former, we can work on it together.  For the latter, I respect the musician enough to work on it on his or her own time and come prepared for the next rehearsal (which almost always works). I treat their time as I would my own, meaning I don’t make outlandish requests. I also make sure that any gig I book pays enough to be worth our time.

The other side is that I learned to set limits to what I will and won’t do with my time.  In that example, I refused to stay if the rehearsal went over time.  In this industry, the notion of sacrificing your integrity to pay your dues is an oft-repeated story.  While it is important to be flexible and open to concessions when you’re starting out, building your career out of concessions gets you nowhere.  Or as I like to say, if you stop accepting shitty gigs, you won’t get asked to play shitty gigs any more.

What is “busking,” and can you tell us anything about the origins of this term?

Busking is playing on the street for money. 

It comes from the Spanish term “Buscar,” which means to look for, or slangly, try to get lucky. In the 18th century, street musicians were known womanizers who would play their guitarras, harpsichords, and hurdy-gurdys in back alleyways. High born ladies would send their doñas to look for the street musician with the greatest skills. He would then be brought back to their employers and offered a paella dinner before scandalously retiring to the parlour.

Actually I just made that up. I’d tell you the origins, but it would involve my going to Wikipedia to learn them myself. I’m of the “teach a man to fish” philosophy, which is ironic since I’m a vegetarian. Teach a man to boil wheat gluten into seitan?

I’ve had some fun times over the last few months busking in the SEPTA train stations. It’s given me a chance to hone my playing as well as make a few connections with people who wouldn’t otherwise hear me.

If you have one in mind, what is your “dream gig”?
I have no one dream gig in mind. It’s more a confluence of factors that make a show especially fun.  These include:
·      Playing with good musicians and people I enjoy being with.
·      Playing at an interesting location, where the sound is good
·      Having an engaged audience. The music I play can be a bit cerebral, so having people along for the ride is really rewarding.
·      Good food and good beer. Included for free.
·      Making money to make it worthwhile.

Pretty much in that order.

The Johnny Cash tribute with harp, tuba and violin that I play every February has been one of those. I’m playing with some of my favorite people who also happen to be fantastic musicians. I’m playing at one of my favorite locations in Philly (Dawson Street Pub) with a decent sound system. The crowd is very much into it, dancing and singing along. Their beer selection is fantastic and the food is also delicious. And we’ve done really well there the last few years.

You recently experienced occupational side effects resulting from busking. Are you comfortable describing them in brief and how you plan to remedy and/or prevent them from happening again in the future?

I’ve always had back issues. For the past 12 years I’ve had a 15-minute yoga routine I do every morning.  If I skip a day, I can’t really move by the evening.

It appears the physical toll of sitting at a computer truly is nothing compared to the physical toll of carrying and playing an accordion or sousaphone for 3 hours straight. I unfortunately learned this the hard way about a month ago when the dull pain in my shoulder blade became acute.  I had about a week in which I felt it constantly day and night. It was (and still is) really scary.

Since then, it has improved but not gone away. I have temporarily suspended my busking to give time to heal, and I’ve incorporated a lot more rest into my daily activities (which by the way, doesn’t help that feeling of unproductiveness I mentioned above). I have been doing special exercises to try to strengthen the affected areas and modified my yoga routine so as to not overdo shoulder poses (no side plank, no bridge pose).  I’ve tried to incorporate massage therapy into my week as well as chiropractor visits when necessary. I also have started studying Alexander Technique to use my body in a more balanced way.

I’m still at the point where I don’t know what is going to really help, which is scary. It’s hard to cut down on my workload, since at this point my workload is directly proportional to my income. So I’m trying to find balance and rest where I can. It’s a long journey, but hopefully I’m on the right track.

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