Our Life in the Arts

Questions, reality, and musings on a life of joy and wonder

Vol. 3, No. 1

January 18, 2023


By Rich Holly

I can recall, from when I was a small child, the allure of travel. Magazine ads and brochures were how we discovered which glorious options existed, all of which looked and sounded magnificent and completely worthy of our time and money. I suspect many photographers and visual artists did quite well for themselves producing the images used in those ads and brochures.

As a child, my family took a two-week vacation each summer to a lakeside cabin in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It was a driving trip from our home on Long Island. I vividly remember the cavernous interior of our 1956 Chevy Bel Air, with its rear window sill large enough to be a bed (no kidding!) for either me or my sister. We’d leave around 4:00 am, to avoid New York City traffic and to arrive at our vacation spot early afternoon in order to unpack the car and begin enjoying our new surroundings.

When I became a parent, I quickly learned and understood all that my parents had to go through to plan, prepare, and pack for such a trip. Before even starting the vehicle, at times my wife and I were exhausted, not to mention how we felt after a lengthy drive. Before I forget, kudos to all parents who have made driving trips with their kids.

The first time I flew on an airplane was for a tour of Europe with the Long Island Youth Orchestra, on a beautiful KLM Boeing 747. I was all of 14 years old, and this was when people actually dressed up and behaved themselves on airplanes. And my motion sickness pills didn’t have any positive effect on me. Ugh. Welcome to travel as an artist.

Air travel on a Boeing 747 in 1970

I was fortunate enough to participate in two more international tours with the Long Island Youth Orchestra during my high school years. And despite my ill-fated experiences with air travel, when I went to college, this was my predominant thought: “I want to be the best percussionist I can possibly be, but what I really want is to be the drummer in a touring band.”

My welcome to reality was during the spring semester of my freshman year, when I was on a one-week tour – via yellow buses – with one of the school’s orchestras. We stayed in a combination of people’s homes and cheap hotels, four to a room. We ate bad food and food that was bad for us. We bumped and grinded and swerved our way on the buses from town to town. I hardly slept and my body was screaming at me for help by the time the week was over. Thus, my conviction that I wanted to be a member of a touring band was ended.

Thankfully, I’ve learned over the years what medicine best controls my motion sickness, and I’ve learned to plan, prepare, and pack with much greater efficiency. And yet, as I have wondered for a very long time, why don’t arts schools provide some kind of seminar on what life as a professional would really be like? Travel, accounting, customer service, staying healthy, negotiation techniques – these are all facets of our lives as artists and yet (perhaps with extremely few exceptions) no arts program teaches and prepares you for these.

Here’s a classic song about musician travel to enjoy:

My experiences are almost entirely about how a musician – a percussionist, specifically – can prepare and handle travel. Visual artists, dancers, actors, theatre and film tech specialists (and so on) all travel, many quite extensively.

Nutrition, workouts and sleep are paramount to the health of a dancer. Voice rest is important to an actor. Appropriate packing and shipping materials are important to traveling visual artists.

Have you had a chance to travel for your artistry yet? Do you have your travel needs and preparation down to a science? I won’t try to duplicate what’s available elsewhere, the many articles about travel tips and hints. If you need help, the help is readily available.

Perhaps the two things I enjoy most about my travel for artistic reasons are, number one, the fabulous people I meet and the lasting friendships we forge, and two, invariably a great travel story or two emerges.

Here’s my all-time favorite travel story: I was in my 20s, flying from New York City to Denver following a performance in NYC. I was assigned the middle seat in a row. As I got to my row, the aisle seat was already filled with a woman of perhaps 70 years old. She began talking to me before I even was fully seated. Her third or fourth sentence was a question – what do you do for a living? I responded “I’m a musician.” All excited, she replies “So is my son! He is an orthopedic surgeon in southern California…” and, I kid you not, for the next four-and-one-half hours she proceeds to tell me, without pause or any questions to me, all the wonderful things about her son, the doctor. Finally, as we were on the approach to Denver’s Stapleton Airport, she asks “and what specialty do you have?” I said “You misunderstood me. I said I am a MU-SI-CIAN.” She huffs and puffs and straightens her body, looks straight ahead and says “Oh,” and then would not speak to me for the final 10 or so minutes!

As many of my readers know, I hope that each post helps you in some way. If you don’t yet have your travel “chops” where they need to be, reach out for help. Look online, talk with friends who travel more frequently, or reach out to me. Knowing how to stay healthy while traveling after your careful planning, preparing, and packing is what it’s all about.

Rich Holly serves Arts NC State and the NC State University community as the Executive Director for the Arts.

All posts in the “Our Life in the Arts” series are available here.