Finding Your Unmapped Territory

unmapped territory

On of the greatest benefits of being a musician is that our is career perfectly suited for for self-growth. But are you taking advantage? Are you seeking new things? When was your last adventure? The way we share music, they way we push ourselves to perform better when playing with others, and yes, even the practice room are all laboratories for improvement and heightened performance. But not applying those skills in new ways is a bit like the guy who buys a ton of state-of-the-art camping gear, reads tons of survival guides– but never actually goes camping.

Professional musicians have a lot to contend with both professionally and personally that can make it hard for us to be courageous. It’s true. You experience success with one piece or genre of music and that success or comfort can make it difficult to explore new repertoire later on. Many people advice young musicians to “find their niche” and while there is some good advice to this, it often means that musicians end up building their own gilded cages.

Remember, above all else, that you are an artist. An artist. An ART-ist. You have musical skills and training that are your tools to interpret and explore the world. Like the mountain climber with his rope, pulley and pick axe you have the tools in hand to do great feats. Don’t ever forget that. So if you are ready to take the next step, if you want something more, then try these 4 steps to exploring the unknown part of your artistry. You might be surprised at what you discover.

1. Step out of the comfort zone. It can be in the smallest of ways, but stepping out of your comfort zone is the first step to self-growth. Whether it’s picking new repertoire, collaborating with unlikely partners, or seeking new meaning in your music (among many other ways!), changing the status quo is the first step.

2. Understand that there is risk. For anyone, no matter the field, there is no reward without the risk. That is what makes the reward so, well, rewarding. You have to embrace the unknown. Embrace the notion that your new idea, or venture might not work– and that is okay. It’s not whether or not you succeed that matters most, it’s what you learn about yourself along the way.

3. Record your adventure. What great explorer or salty sea captain of ages past didn’t keep a journal of their experiences? Sometimes, we can’t fully understand the takeaway from a situation while we are experiencing it. Write it down. Take notes. Be observant. There will come a time for reflection and that is where you will learn about yourself. You’ll want to be able to remember your experiences vividly and writing them down will allow that to happen.

4. Move forward only. The hardest part of self-growth is fighting the urge to slip back into old ways. But think about that mountain climber again. Would he or she, when so close to the summit, turn back because it would be difficult to reach? If they did, we wouldn’t consider them much of a mountain climber would we? Why? Because the point of mountain climbing is to reach the peak– and so it is with you. Keep your sights set ahead of you. Imagine yourself as an adventurer. One step at a time, one tiny inch forward is a change that counts. Remember, everything counts.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

Old Ways Won’t Open New Doors

old ways new doors

If you are feeling stuck in your music career, take this to heart– old ways won’t open new doors. I won’t take credit for inventing this mantra, but it is true. Last week at the Chamber Music America 2015 National Conference in New York City, I served as a career counselor. The question that I most frequently received from my advisees was “How do I differentiate myself from other (insert: musicians, composers, administrators, etc.)?” In order to be considered as different or unique among others in your field, you actually have to be different. That’s right, you have to strike out on your own and take a different course of action.

In my past posts on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of breaking the mold and going against the grain of tradition in music. But you don’t have to leave the proverbial herd to differentiate yourself among your peers. Doing things differently can move you to the front of the pack instead.

But what does that mean? First it means being observant. Watch for the setbacks that hold others back and try to avoid them yourself. Often our awareness of others is much sharper (and also more critical) than the awareness of ourselves. Observe the setbacks you see holding back the careers and artistic projects of your peers. Study them. Listen. You can learn so much and save yourself from wrong turns in the future by observing others in a non-judgmental way.

Second, it means be skeptical of the status quo. Sometimes the way that everyone does something may be the best way, or perhaps it may not. The path taken by many is not necessarily the best path for everyone.  In contrast, isn’t differentiating yourself all about being different? In order to decide where to break from the establishment, constantly question the established traditions in all areas of your musical life. You’ll find yourself constantly asking questions such as “Can I phrase this differently than the tradition dictates?” “Can I engage my audience differently than program notes or speaking in the performance?” “Who says my music has to sound a certain way? What do I want it sound like?”

You’ll find yourself asking lots of questions. Though you may not have many answers at first, it’s the asking of the questions that gets your brain churning in new directions. It’s the enigma that boosts your creativity and passion. Keep asking questions, keep making your own answers and you’ll open new doors sooner than you thought.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

5 Resolutions for Classical Musicians

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundTo my readers, it’s been far too long since I last posted on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog and I apologize to you. But I’ve been watching and thinking, observing and taking notes. I’ve spent the past year being a musical participant, a maker, a creator, performer, teacher—and in many ways a student as well. I’ve been watching our world of classical music. I’ve been doing a lot of introspection into my own music making as well and there is much that I want to share with you.

Since it’s a new year, I thought we should start with a few resolutions. (I say we because I will be joining in these too.) While I’m not usually a big fan of them, I started to think about the meaning of a resolution, about how they demonstrate our “resolve” for change and improvement. A resolution is an opportunity to bring about positive change to our lives—and for musicians, to our art as well. As artists, we strive for excellence at all costs. We constantly seek to improve upon our skill, or repertoire, or musical achievement. This pursuit is part of our identity as musicians. With personal excellence in mind, here are 5 resolutions for classical musicians to consider for 2015:

1. Own your role in supporting the arts.

We are all in this together and as such, we all need to do our part in supporting the arts in as many ways as we can. Be active. Write a letter of support to your local school system or elected official supporting music education. Make a donation to a local arts organization (if you can) or at least make the offer to donate some of your time or talent. Share articles that advocate for the arts on your social media or write an iReport or Letter to the Editor of your local paper. Start a thread on Reddit. Do something to help us all.

2. Help stop the negativity in the classical music world.

“If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all,” my father said many times when I was young. Truthfully, I’ve not always taken his advice, but in the case of classical music, I’m pretty sure compliance is crucial. Let’s make this cut and dry: the general public has a clouded perception of our world and what we do. Many people see classical music as stuffy, outdated and worn-out. As many of us are working to change that perception, we face a further declining public opinion when vitriol over union conflicts, lockouts, and defamatory remarks come from both sides of disputes in our industry. We need a cease fire and moratorium on negativity. Do your part by only putting forth positive messaging about the importance of your art, your passion, and classical music more generally. Be on the side of peaceful progress.

3. Dig deep into your own emotions.

This is one is simple. Challenge yourself to find deeper emotional meaning from every note that you play this year. Take whatever commitment to emotional expressivity you currently have and add 30% to that. See how much more you can express your own range of emotion in the music you make. It might change the world.

4. Share your music with more people.

This year, make the effort to share your music with more people than you did last year. Sharing is easy in the digital age. Post a video on YouTube or Facebook. Upload a clip to SoundCloud. Get more of the music you love out into the world. There are bound to be others out there who will love it too.

5. Talk to your audience.

This is the year to change the way you engage with your audience. You have the power to transform an evening of great music into a memorable experience that lasts a lifetime in the mind of your audience members. You have to communicate with your audience. Do as little or as much as your feel comfortable, but do something. It can be as little as making sure you thank five individual audience members for coming to the concert at each gig you play this year, or as grand as completely revamping your concert presentation format. The approach is up to you, but we need to collectively do more to bond with our audiences. If we all did this, we could go a long way toward changing the public opinion.

So here’s to a great year ahead. Let’s do more this year than we have ever done before. Let’s make waves in the classical music world. Let’s change the state of play.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

 

 

TR Profile: Yoga for the Arts

Nicole Lotus FluteI love to feature artists on this blog who are passionately sharing their art and/or craft with others by means of their own entrepreneurship. Several months ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Nicole Newman, founder of Yoga for the Arts. After five minutes of conversation, I knew that I had to share Nicole’s work with all of my readers.

So what is Yoga for the Arts exactly? It’s stated mission reads:

 “Yoga for the Arts combats performance-related injuries and anxieties, which undermine confidence and performance potential. Yoga for the Arts is about preventing the preventable and early intervention through changes in habit. Artists are empowered to take ownership of their health by fully inhabiting their bodies through breath-centered yoga sequences, tailored to meet the individual’s specific needs and goals.”

When speaking with Nicole, I was captivated by her passion and commitment for the fusion of entrepreneurship with artistic training. While interviewing Nicole for this profile, I came to understand that for her, creativity and imagination drive both her artistry and business. I asked her to describe the moment when she came to realize that she needed to pursue an entrepreneurial path in order for her to find career fulfillment.

“I became an entrepreneur out of a deeply rooted conviction to help the countless musicians who unnecessarily endure debilitating performance-related pain and injury. A coherent health and wellness curricula for musicians does not currently exist, in spite of the very real need. I am responding to this unmet need – especially for young musicians, where early intervention is paramount.”

Filling the gaps that result in the absence of a well-rounded approach to a musician/performer’s training was an area of common ground between Nicole and myself. On this blog and in many public forums I have both spoken and written about the importance of building a complete ‘toolbox’ of strategies, skills, and resources that musicians can draw upon when they leave school and enter the world as professional artists.  I asked Nicole how Yoga for the Arts fits in the larger structure for the need of “life skills” in a musician’s training.

 “In addition to being an accomplished performer, the modern musician must excel in marketing, sales, networking, opportunity evaluation, mental fortitude and time management skills, just to have a chance of earning a living. Unfortunately, health and wellness falls to the wayside, to the detriment of all their other responsibilities. A simple approach to preventative wellness, however, can easily fit into a daily routine, but it needs to be made a priority and taught in concert with the other mandatory skills to create a sustainable career.”

As I usually close my profiles on The Tuxedo Revolt Blog, I like to ask my guests if there is any advice they’d like to share with readers about their entrepreneurial/artistic experience. Nicole has 5 tips to share with you:

1. Answer the 10 Questions inspired by Guy Kawasaki:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the solution?
  • How big is the market?
  • What makes it so special? (Find the underlying magic of your solution and package it in your 30-second pitch.)
  • What is the competition?
  • What exactly is your business model?
  • How exactly will you make sales?
  • Have you assembled a qualified team?
  • How will you secure required resources?
  • What are you proposing for an investment?

2. Network relentlessly. Tell everyone – even people who you think have no connection to your market.
3. Take reasonable risks and embrace failing forward.
4. Know how to pivot and innovate to readjust your business by listening to your clients, not your critics. (Tip: Read the subtleties of your clients’ micro-expressions)
5. Give back. What goes around comes around. You will find that paying it forward not only spreads the word – it contributes to your growth as an entrepreneur.

“And, as my teacher in India avows, “Be strong. Don’t fear. Lift higher.”

Thanks for stopping by to read today’s Tuxedo Revolt Blog post. I have more profiles planned in the coming months.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

 

Are Musicians in Crisis?

In recent years, there’s been a paradigm shift in what the career of the modern performing artist looks like. It is a difficult reality for many, as it was for me, that technical skills + talent are no longer enough to build a career in the performing arts. Make no mistake, these are still the perquisites if you want to (pardon the pun) play in the big leagues. But now we are asked to do much more than would have ever been dreamed of just a few years ago.

Sure– teaching, being a good orchestral musician as well as being knowledgeable of the standard solo repertoire, knowing how to lead a master class or give a pre-concert lecture– these have always been multi-faceted and reasonable expectations for a performing musician. But could you start an El Sistema nucleo or teach a room full of 9 year olds if asked to do so? What do you know about  attracting and engaging audiences, marketing, and networking through social media? I mean more than just Facebook and Twitter; what about other popular platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Digg, Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit? How’s your

ability to run a rehearsal, or apply for grants, or make a budget, or itemize a strategic plan for any ensemble or group with which you might be performing?

http://openclipart.org/detail/15703/poor-musician-by-romanov

Can you easily translate what you do when speaking to others? Or better yet, can you translate what you do when writing to others– and by others I mean potential funders? Can you make a clear

and simple argument about your passion for the art you practice? Do you want to play in an orchestra? That’s great– but how will you be able to contribute to the sustainability of your group? Are you familiar with good fiscal management? Do you have an arsenal of audience engagement ideas that you can offer to the Artistic Director?

And what about money? Do you have a plan in place to pay off those loans? Are you putting away money for a rainy day when work slows down? What are you doing to get more paid performance opportunities? Do you have a strategy to sustain your career over the long-term?

STOP. ENOUGH QUESTIONS ALREADY.

Okay— now breathe. I’ll agree that was a little rough. It’s okay if you don’t have answers to all of these questions (yet). I didn’t a few years ago. That’s when I confronted the reality that if I wanted to be a musician of the 21st century, I had to do more. The truth is, at first I didn’t like all the extra stuff. There once was a time when I thought that I would jump through the hoops of higher education, get my degree and win my orchestra job. Or at the very least, I would gig enough to make ends meet until I could win that big job. I wanted the simplicity of practice, perform, repeat.

But what I learned in my struggle to grapple with the enormity of all these new necessary qualifications was that I loved music more than I didn’t like all the other stuff.

I wanted a life filled with music, to perform, to champion music of others. I wanted to be on the scene, I wanted to be connected, I wanted to live the life of a performing musician. That’s when I realized that all the other stuff was present in the lives of nearly all the professional musicians I knew. This wasn’t knowledge I had to learn as a penalty for failing at a performance career as I had imagined and chided myself so many times. This was the real education. This stuff was what made the life I wanted possible. 

I urge you to think big and embrace an optimistic attitude towards all that you do in music. When learning a new piece of music  you might run across something that you can’t already perform. You  know you will slowly learn how to bring it to life. It’s the same idea with these entrepreneurial-administrative-organizational-whatever-you-want-to-call-it skills (all the other stuff). If you don’t know how, just invest some time to learn. It’s an experience of growth, humility, and learning–ironically, it’slike learning to play a new instrument.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan