7 Tips for Happy Holiday Gigs – Know Before You Go!

Dec 07, 2022

By Anne Sullivan 

Holiday parties are fun if you’re a guest. But when you’re the band, they can be tiring, monotonous, and if you’re not careful, a minefield of career-sabotaging traps. But by remembering a few simple things, you can ensure that you will survive all your gigs and still have work next year. Even better, you might enjoy playing them!

If you’ve never played for an event like this before, I can guarantee there will be surprises in store for you. You can’t prepare for some of those surprises, like an unexpected snowstorm or power outage. Others, like dim light or a noisy environment are just par for the course. 

The most important thing you can do - beside practice, that is - is to prepare to act professionally. A professional demeanor will help you navigate the various circumstances of holiday events with confidence. Read on for some of my most important tips.

  1.   Bring your best holiday mood. It doesn’t matter to your host if you’ve been practicing non-stop for weeks and you’re tired. It’s his party and it’s your job to contribute to the party mood. Suck it up, say “Happy Holidays,” and smile!
  2.  Put some sparkle in your attire. This is an easy one and it's fun. Basic black can be holiday blah. Ladies can try glittery shoes or hair accessories, and men may opt for seasonally festive ties.
  3. Choose your holiday music selections carefully. Consult with your host beforehand about the sort of holiday music he has in mind. Mormon Tabernacle choir or Nat King Cole? “Silent Night” or “Sleigh Ride?” We musicians are fond of saying that music, especially live music, makes a party. Be sure you are making the kind of party mood your host is envisioning.
  4. Practice! We only take out our holiday repertoire once a year. Be sure to dust off the cobwebs before you show up at the gig. A little preparation makes a huge difference. After all, everyone knows these tunes, and you shouldn’t depend on the party noise to cover up your mistakes (even though it probably will).
  5. Behave yourself. Your role is to make the party special for everyone in attendance, not to enjoy the party yourself. If the host invites you to eat, then use your break time to take a plate from the buffet and sit by your harp to eat. Table manners count!
  6. Be prepared for less-than-ideal performing situations. Particularly if you’re playing in someone’s home, your harp may be placed in a corner that’s not quite big enough and doesn’t have enough light. Do take a battery-operated music stand light with you so you know you will be able to see your strings and your music. You might not be able to create quite as much room for yourself as you are used to but don’t be afraid to speak up - politely - if you need more room than your host anticipated. You can remind the host that the harp sounds best when no one is standing right in front of it. NOTE: you can help your host understand your needs in the preliminary conversations before the event. This can help save your host from on-the-job furniture rearranging.
  7. Enjoy it! When you are tempted to grumble, try changing your attitude with gratitude. Be grateful for the work; be thankful for the opportunity to do something you love. Be inspired by the other musicians you work with and appreciative of the people who like what you do. (And yes, even at the noisiest party, there will be some people who will listen and care.)

Now, on to the next party! Anyone for a carol singalong?


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