How to Land Your First Professional Piano Gig ~ My Experience
If you've been following any of my content over the last years, you know I've made a lot of progress as a pianist. Although I've been playing the piano for most of my life, the truth is I'm mostly self-taught and I lack any sort of traditional music education, let alone professional music experience. However, as I steadily improved my piano playing and music knowledge throughout the years, and I (very) slowly but surely gained more confidence in my abilities, I realized this was about to change. And so it did! Today I want to tell you the very recent story of how I landed my first professional job as a pianist, as well as how it all went down, which hopefully inspires other aspiring musicians out there that find themselves in a similar situation as I was.
It all started 2,5 months ago (in December 2022), when a student board reached out to me, telling me that they were interested in my services. This didn't come out of nowhere: I reached out to them months prior, offering my services for the yearly National Notarial Student Congress they were planning for notarial law students, which I knew is always accompanied by live background music during the evening. I had a slight edge, since I knew the organisation and many of the students involved (I come from the same law school). If you're an aspiring musician, make sure to closely observe your social circle: your first lead will most likely come from the people around you. The video call between me and the board following their message was probably the scariest part of this experience, since I needed to show my confidence and ask a fair price for my service. I knew the large amount of hours that would go into practising this 2,5 hour long session, so I aimed for a few hundred euros. They were very respectful about it and accepted my offer! Although it seems scary at first, it's important to know your worth in such a situation, which naturally comes from practising your craft thousands of hours. If you don't feel confident enough yet, you might want to reconsider whether you're ready yet for your professional goals. It's not a shame at all if you aren't, as long as you're being honest with yourself. Going back to my story, the board also mentioned I could compile the complete setlist of music myself, which I thought was amazing. I had 2 months to prepare myself for this evening, all the way from coming up with a 2,5 hour long setlist of music to practising it every single day. I don’t like classifying myself as a one genre pianist, so I knew I wanted to diversify my music. Hours of brainstorming led me to the following theory: I would be starting with some calm Einaudi pieces as people walked in, building up to more intense (soundtrack) pieces like River Flows in You and eventually Howl’s Moving Castle, to then be peaking at true Romantic Classicism with pieces like Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Sharp Minor and Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3. Halfway through my performance I would be switching over to some lighter pop songs by the likes of Adele, Stevie Wonder and Justin Timberlake, and, now that people would be getting increasingly drunk, I would be ending my set with the joyful sounds of various boogie, blues & ragtime tunes (obviously including Pokémon & Super Mario)!
Last Thursday, on March 9th, the day had come to bring my setlist to the test. I was accompanied by my dear friend and, in this case, hired assistant, Joost Diederen (a talented musician himself), who drove me all the way from Amsterdam to Groningen, where the congress would be taking place. We arrived hours in advance so I could get a feel for both the setting and grand piano. Besides, Joost needed his time to build a complex setup of mics and cameras in order to record my entire performance! Compliments for my playing from the surrounding employees (who were setting up the diner) eased my nerves while I was warming up, and after a few hours I was ready to make some noise!
Not only did the board pay me well, the location was STUNNING! The Martinikerk (‘kerk’ = church in Dutch) in Groningen was completely redecorated to host a feastly dinner. Hats off to all the hardworking people that made it happen. Between the huge diner tables at the centre of the church, a mighty Feurich grand piano was positioned, just waiting to be played by a seasoned pianist. Its tones were incredibly deep, echoing through the immense church from just the smallest touch.
And so my performance took place that evening, as the guests entered the church and sat down in anticipation of their food. Although I was not sure if they could even hear my playing, since I could barely hear it myself through all the noise, my concerns quickly faded as people told me the opposite within my first break. They even started requesting me songs, which I made sure to save for the end. On multiple occasions people would walk up to me to watch and even hold conversations with me about my playing (mostly law student friends). I don’t think they realized how hard it was to multitask like that, but I really appreciated the gesture. I felt connected to the audience! My piano playing that night was far from perfect (with honestly a few blackout moments), but I guess that’s inherent to such a noisy, cozy setting. To my complete surprise, I did receive a standing ovation with passionate cheering after finishing my performance. Furthermore, I received a beautiful flower bouquet from the congress board. Don’t just believe my word for it, but check out the full livestream I did of my performance, which is still saved across 3 separate videos under the video tab of my Instagram. Unfortunately I could only record my hands, due to the EU’s privacy law. Some higher quality edits are coming soon though, made possible by the earlier mentioned Joost Diederen✅ Just wow, what an experience! To all the aspiring musicians out there, I hope this story illustrates the levels you can reach with enough passion and persuasion and without possessing any sort of music degree. If you want it badly enough, you can slowly yet surely work towards your goals and desires. I’ve known I've wanted this for a long time now, and I’m excited to keep on expanding my projects and improving my skills even further in the future. Besides, I'm truly grateful to have you along for the ride. Stay tuned! Yours sincerely, Thomas