I remember the day before I left for rehearsals the very first time in 2013. It was a hot summer day in Switzerland. We were celebrating my grandma’s birthday on the lake of Zürich. Yes, on the lake, we were on a boat. Everybody was congratulating me for getting a job as a drummer and wishing me good luck. I felt awesome that day, excited to leave for an adventure, leave my comfort zone and experience a new world. I was going to be a cruise ship musician!
I got my flight tickets the night before I had to leave for Miami, something like 12 hours before my flight. Luckily Switzerland’s small and I didn’t have to travel far to get to the airport. But still, until I got my flights I was pretty nervous because I had no idea when I’d be leaving the country. I had packed everything, cymbals, sticks, pencils, earplugs, headphones etc. All you need as a drummer. All my visas, my paperwork, my cloths, everything was ready. We drove to the airport, the whole family. Everybody was excited and nobody knew what I was going to experience in Miami.
At customs in New York the officers took me out. I had to go to a special room, I felt like a criminal. The officers treated me like I had done something illegal. I just went with it and waited for almost an hour. They called Carnival Cruise Line to check if I was really employed by them. I had a bonafide letter and a letter of employment from Carnival, but apparently that wasn’t enough. After an hour of this nonsense, I rushed to my flight to Miami, which was on the other side of the airport. When it was supposed to be time to board the plane they made an announcement that it was delayed. “Great, I was already going to be the last musician to get to the hotel and now I’m delayed”, I thought to myself. And so it was, I got to the hotel at 1am. I was tired, nervous and excited.
The concierge was already expecting me. He handed me the key to my room and told me that the musical director was waiting for me in his room. I met my MD super late that night, we introduced ourselves quickly. You could tell both of us were tired from all the traveling we had done. He was a nice guy but didn’t talk a lot. When we were about to say good night to each other, he handed me a pile of music, it was super heavy. He handed it to me and said: “This is for tomorrow.” It was a huge pile of music! Of course I didn’t act shocked, but believe me, I was getting more and more insecure. I thanked him for all the info and was about to leave the room when he said: “Wait, that’s not all. Here you go, but don’t worry about this, yet. We’ll get to it when we’re done with the other pile.” He had handed me another even larger pile of music. I acted cool and wished him a good night. It was something like 2am.
When I got to my room and put all my things down, I could have cried. This guy had just handed me 300 tunes to learn for the next day!
Well, I got over it and tried to sleep for a few hours. We arranged to meet at the lobby at 11am the next morning. I set my alarm clock early so I’d still have some time to take a look at the charts. I only got to look through a few of them when it was already time to leave and meet the other musicians. The musical director was American and played keyboards. At the lobby I met the other musicians. An older Italian guy was the bassist, the guitarist was Argentinian, the female and the male singer were Americans. Everybody seemed really nice but we didn’t talk much. We just said hi to each other and introduced ourselves. We went out to go to the van that the company had gotten us and drove to the rehearsal studio. Still nobody talked, the silence in the car wasn’t awkward; it was tense. We got to the studio, set everything up and still nobody had spoken a word to each other. The musical director announced what song we’d rehearse and we looked through our sheet music and waited until everybody was ready. At that point I was so nervous that I was sweating, shaking and had a hard time remembering how to hold my sticks.
I don’t remember which tune we rehearsed first; I think it was something from the Jackosn 5. The musical director counted off and the song started. I don’t remember playing the song. But when the song finished, everybody smiled and started talking to each other. In those three minutes all the tension was released, we got to know each other better, bar after bar. I felt secure again; I felt like a musician; I felt I was in the right spot making music with musicians. Of course we played mistakes, actually many of them. But even though we didn’t sound great, we started listening to each other. We started discussing the song, sharing our ideas, what we thought would work or what didn’t and which parts needed fixing. You know, a regular rehearsal, but with complete strangers from other countries, other cultures and other languages.
I’m now a musical director myself and every time I get a new band I still experience this moment. The tension release after the first song, after having made music together; it’s a beautiful feeling. It’s music.