While universities do a credible job of training young jazz musicians for successful careers, the one course usually missing from the curriculum might be the most beneficial: “The Road 101”. Touring is an essential part of every jazz musician’s work, and life on the road typically entails unusual situations during travel, on the gig, and at the hotel. Most students have few clues about the rigors of touring, except from the anecdotes they hear from visiting professional musicians. To be sure, there are no hard-and-fast situations which vex every traveling musician, and that makes it difficult for colleges to offer sufficient coursework and advice. Still, as vocalist Elisabeth Lohninger notes in her essential new book, “Singer’s Survival Guide to Touring” (Lofish), jumping into a tour head-first can lead a musician into “a vicious learning curve”. As the title of Lohninger’s book makes clear, the text is primarily designed for vocalists. There is a lot of material instructing singers on proper vocal maintenance and special dietary concerns. However, Lohinger’s experiences are useful to any touring musician—vocalist or instrumentalist—wishing to gain an insight on the mysterious world of the road.
At 166 pages, Lohninger’s book is slim, but it is loaded with useful information. She splits the volume into two roughly-equal parts. The first half discusses the various preparations for a road tour (including an extensive packing list) plus detailed information about road and air transportation, sound-checks, food choices, accommodations—basically everything but the music! As Lohninger writes at the very beginning of the book, repertoire needs to be mastered thoroughly before leaving home. There is little time to work on individual practice while on the road. Rather, it becomes a matter of survival: eat when you can and sleep when you can. Lohninger acknowledges that her suggestions for food and beverage choices, pharmaceuticals, and warm-up routines are strictly her own, and she encourages readers to take what works for them and leave the rest behind. Indeed, anyone using this book to prepare for a tour would be wise to start their own running lists for packing and for dealing with obstacles on the road. Thankfully, the book’s compact size (5 ½” W x 8 ½” H) makes it convenient to pack inside a typical carry-on bag.
The road can be full of peril, but Lohninger makes it easier to bear with her light-hearted conversational writing style. She addresses the reader as “You” and expects a certain amount of basic knowledge (“You do have a voice teacher? Right? RIGHT???”). She also gently reminds us that contacting friends while traveling is an important part of maintaining sanity. She details her own methods of focusing her energy before and after a performance. While she reiterates that these are only the methods which work for her, I suspect that many musicians would benefit from her example (Personally, as a choir vocalist, I plan to take Lohninger’s advice by employing a cool-down regimen following rehearsals and performances). Lohninger correctly maintains that a vocalist must train in the same manner as a professional athlete. Being on the road is like running a marathon, and singers must take special care to consider the tour as a long and exhausting journey.
In the second half of the book, Lohninger shares some of her experiences on the road. Although based in New York City, Lohninger and her husband, pianist Walter Fischbacher spend most of their road time in Europe. She spins rich detailed stories about rustic smoke-filled nightspots in Austria, a dreadful hotel outside of Prague, outlandish sound-check and gig scenarios in Germany, and a church concert which demonstrated the danger of drinking carbonated water before singing, as well as the actions of a rude audience member who answered her cell phone during the concert. Naturally, all of these events must have felt like catastrophes at the time, but the passage of time has turned them into funny anecdotes. Still, readers can experience the shock of these unexpected events as first-timers, and to her credit, Lohninger takes time to reassure us that making music is indeed a worthy and fulfilling career. The final words of her book are quite inspirational, no matter if the reader is a newcomer or a seasoned veteran:
Play. Sing. Create.
Do it kicking and screaming, Or do it with love. Or do it because you can’t breathe if you don’t.
Every day you get out of bed, you do what you have been put on this Earth to do. In spite of yourself. Because of yourself.
I salute you. I’m there with you.
And I wish you love.
Thank you for reading.
See you on the road.