Updated: Feb 25, 2020
When my wife and I moved from the Greater Toronto area to the little city of Casper, WY, I searched for extra work to help pay the bills. I ended up landing a gig at the local ice arena - which made perfect sense being Canadian and a hockey fan. After awhile I made a comment about wanting to learn to drive the Zamboni. To my surprise, they agreed to train me. Living the Canadian dream in the U.S.A.! Driving an ice resurfacing machine is a lot more complicated than I thought, but I had lots of help and good people training me. So now I am a part-time member of the ice maintenance team, and I've learned tons of useful stuff. Which got me thinking, how can I apply what I've learned driving a Zamboni to music. Here's what I came up with:
1) Look ahead - There is a certain pattern used when resurfacing the ice. It's essential to look and think ahead to the next turn. Know where you are but more importantly, where you are going. Have goals for your music, short and long term. In a practicing situation, that means knowing what you need to work on and what you want to accomplish. When improvising, have musical goals. These can take on many forms - developing a melodic idea, reharmonizing the changes, establishing a certain emotion or mood with your solo.
2) Have a backup plan - Stuff goes wrong. You can take all the precautions in the world but inevitably, at some point, things can go sideways. Don't panic. Go to Plan B. Once when I was resurfacing the augers became plugged with snow - not great. But I was well-trained so I a) didn't panic, and b) went to Plan B (which basically consisted of me getting off the ice without leaving a huge pile of snow). I cleaned out the augers and tried Plan A again. Every musical situation is different and anything can happen - if your Plan A is foiled, have a contingency plan in place.
3) Be prepared - During hockey games you have ten minutes to resurface the ice. There's no time to waste, so being prepared is essential. That means leaving enough time to fill the Zamboni beforehand, making sure everything is working and ready to go. In music, do your homework. If you have a rehearsal booked, learn the tunes! Don't be the guy that bogs down the rehearsal because everyone else has to teach you your part. I've been that guy, and it's the worst. And always have extra gear on hand in case of accidents - strings, batteries, patch cords etc. Not only will it save your hide if something happens, it might just help out a bandmate in need.
4) Don't be afraid to ask questions - There is no such thing as a stupid question. If you don't know, ask someone who does. As a musician you may be able to fudge your way through something once or twice, but eventually it will catch up to you. Surround yourself with people more knowledgeable than you and pick their brains. Driving a Zamboni is a surprisingly complex endeavor, so I asked as many questions as I could (and still do, probably to the point of annoyance). Ninety percent of the time people are glad to help.
5) Keep distractions at a distance - Everyone likes to watch the Zamboni driver do his thing. For a guy like me who gets uncomfortable with crowds of people staring (ya, I know, poor career choice Jay) it can be really nerve-racking. So I have to focus on the task at hand, and imagine that I'm all alone in the rink. In music, dealing with stage fright can be a real challenge. Even if you don't have some level of nervousness before (or during) performing, keeping distractions at bay creates a calm environment to work in. Before playing I like to find a quiet place and just breathe deeply. It helps me shut out all the commotion around me and focus on what's most important: doing my job the best that I can.
6) Manage your time - My job requires more from me than just driving a Zamboni, so I need to manage my time efficiently to get everything done. Make sure you allot enough space for each task, with extra in case of unforeseen circumstances. In my music life, balancing my practicing with all of the other everyday things I need to do can become challenging. This is definitely something I need to work on.
So, there you have it. Making music and driving a Zamboni have more in common than you thought. And now, for no other reason than I like this song, here's 'Minor League' by Duke Pearson, from Grant Green's album 'Solid':