It’s 5:30am in my Brooklyn apartment and the phone alarm chimes in my windowless bedroom. Its screen displays a new substitute teaching assignment and before my eyes adjust to the morning light outside I’m swimming in the New York City commute. I’ve a big show tomorrow at the Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side but today I’m a substitute teacher. The city is the ultimate amplifier; putting the balancing act we all do in our day to day on a high wire. Today’s stunt is to rest up for tomorrow’s show while substitute teaching at a public charter school in Manhattan. As the F train rolls above ground I fidget with my phone to double check directions, not taking a moment to notice the statue of liberty on the left, downtown Manhattan to the right. It’s rush hour and rush hour means walking with purpose and avoiding being stampeded. Out onto Manhattan’s echoing streets, breathing in the hovering stale air of the concrete canyon. This morning’s redeeming quality is that my assignment is surrounded by decades of history, dozens of stories tall. There’s City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the now new World Trade Center building beginning to sprout over Lower Manhattan. I’ve got just a moment to catch my breath at the ID check and metal detectors inside the school’s front doors before being handed a visitor’s pass – I’m cleared to start teaching. I know just where to go after shuffling the students out of the hallways and then settling into the day’s schedule. Between classes I put my feet up and rest the voice, both sore after a full week teaching. Usually these breaks are time to check emails and get in some phone calls – a lunchtime phone call from here got me a residency in Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory. Today though I rest, trying to make it to tomorrow as fresh as I can be. Even, once or twice during the day my mind floats and I consider how much this teaching is like being on stage, complete with a captive audience, planning, rehearsal, and of course instinct, and how it all working together to connect and communicate. In school, music can be a skill as well as an expression of identity. So even when I’m assigned to teach some other subject like history I try to squeeze in music somewhere, and I’m not alone in this. One of the history teachers I was in for taught the Bill of Rights and with a rap parody of Lil’ Wayne’s A Milli. These students live in the cultural center of the world. There was the jazz that once flourished here on 52nd Street and the Latin music of El Barrio, Spanish Harlem. And now I buy guitar strings on State Street that rapper Jay-Z mentions, while in a school I played on a classroom piano donated by Alecia Key’s grandmother. These kids I’m with today might not have a band in school, but look what’s on their doorstep. By the end of the school day I retreat to my ear buds, not playing any music through them, just putting them there to muffle out everything else. Forty-five minutes of this and nodding off on the subway and I’m in a corner store deli ordering a sandwich from a guy named Sam. Every time I come in they say “hey teacher, what can I get you today?” Its these little moments in which I recharge. All week I’ve taught by day and by night did the starving-artists-standing-on-a-street-corner-with-fliers thing, ending up at an open mic to tease the show. Tonight I’m staying in though, giving one last push on all the social media sites. I know I’m suppose to be relaxing now, but keeping busy also keeps the anxiety and insomnia, which are a natural part of living in the city, out of my head. Then before I know it, here we go again. The new day starts with a relaxed walk to Prospect Park and then I spend some nervous energy on a preshow checklist of extra strings and the like. The minutes to the show tick by like a slow roller coaster climb and I just strap in; no more preparing, no more practicing – everything’s in it’s place. All I’ve got to do is ride this car to the Rockwood stage and have a great show. The hour before downbeat I do a preshow ritual that starts on the subway ride there – then it’s a few blocks walk to Allen Street and It’s time to go. Some preshow nerves have kept me focused and now it just time to relax and get into the music. Like in teaching, planning and experience always make for a better performance, but spontaneity makes every show special. Being given time in front of people as a storyteller is a gift, and a time to be genuine and really connect. If all of this is done right, its natural and unforced like a good actor in a movie – but better because it’s a real person sharing the room with you. Performing music is my release, a catharsis; on stage or in the classroom I feel I have a purpose. New York, New York. “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere” was once said. Once the city’s energy got inside of me I knew this line was more than a catchy lyric. Because here, success and misfortune walk same streets day and night, so close to each other that I don’t think anyone really knows which side of it they’re destine for. Everyday I wake up on that high wire act, and all I know is that this place is extraordinary. And, taking another line from Sinatra, I hope that “the best is yet to come.”