You know that scene in Indiana Jones, Temple of Doom, where Indiana is trying to outrun the giant boulder threatening to flatten him? Yep, that’s where I am this week. I’m headed off to go on tour with Ensemble du Monde to the Caribbean tomorrow, but don’t worry– I won’t leave you with out great Tuxedo Revolt content while I am away. Here is a quick look at the content you won’t want to miss over the course of the next week:
Yesterday, Tuxedo Revolt launched its first series of YouTube Webisodes. Click here to check out the new Tuxedo Revolt Youtube Channel. The first three webisodes are a 3-part interview with musician advocate and professional coach, Astrid Baumgardner. You’ve got to check out these short, fun videos. They are fast, free and informative– and they are a great place to start thinking about your career. What are your values, how do you set goals, how do you advance your career? Astrid gives you great tips in the webisodes, so check them out!
Guest Post from fellow blogger Matthew Sullivan
On Thursday, Feb. 21, my good friend and colleague Matt Sullivan is writing a guest post for the Tuxedo Revolt Blog– you won’t want to miss this. He’s got a great take on the do’s and don’ts of a music career in the 21st Century
If you follow Tuxedo Revolt on Facebook and Twitter (which would be great if you’d do right now…) You’ll get all kinds of tweets and posts from me this week. I’ve scheduled some great links and cool quotes to get your creative wheelhouse turning.
Last Friday, December 7th, I partnered with my colleague Kyra Sims (founder of The Harlem Sound Project) to co-present a concert called Winter Lights. We’d been thinking of collaboration between each of our two organizations for a while, and this concert was the end result. The concert went well, with great music by Schubert, Franz Strauss, and Beethoven. We had some great guest musicians as well, soprano Darla Diltz helped the audience connect the poignant text of Schubert’s Auf dem Strom to the recent tragedy of super-storm Sandy, and Kristi Shade of Duo Scorpio gave us new perspective on the Schubert and Strauss pieces by playing the accompaniment on harp, not piano. We also had a surprise guest of honor when innovative performance guru, Dr. David Wallace, came to hear the concert.
But today’s blog post is about something that had been nagging me since the very beginning stages of planning the concert. As we promoted the event and reached out to partnering organizations, friends, and colleagues, I noticed one question that continued to emerge:
“Why give this performance for free? You are going to lose money on this!”
So, here is my answer to this question as well as Kyra’s. I believe that in order for me to write this blog about innovative performance techniques, for me to doing consulting work for individuals, ensembles, and organizations about how to engage audiences— I believe that I must practice what I preach. I believe that I need to test my ideas and theories about innovative performance by actually implementing them, not just talking about them.
I get so much enjoyment from thinking of innovative performances that I jump at the chance to turn idea into action. It’s FUN! I get to make the decisions, I get to create and design, and perform—it’s a truly authentic process for me. I feel so lucky that I am able to do this, and I enjoyed this opportunity to create a great concert experience and offer it to others, not strings attached.
I asked Kyra the following questions about our collaborative experience and why she enjoyed co-hosting the Winter Lights concert. Here is what she had to say:
Why should artists collaborate?
“Collaboration delves into basic human interaction. Communicating and relaying ideas between one another exists in every branch of learning, be it science, engineering, or medicine. Why should the arts be any different? Together we can create artistic endeavors that are greater than we can do alone- that are greater than us.”
Why give recitals at all? How are they relevant to modern audiences?
“A recital is an intimate look into the music that the performer truly enjoys. Usually when someone puts on a recital, they personally choose the programming. That means that the musician has a personal and likely profound relationship with each piece on the program. That kind of love for an art form is an amazing thing to behold, and in a world of factory-processed pop music, modern audiences need to see that kind of love onstage, so that they can learn to love themselves.”
What message do you have Tuxedo Revolt blog readers?
“Sing. Laugh. Love. Listen to as much music as you can, and as many different genres as you can. Because life is short, and the world is large. Let music help you explore it.”
Why do you love to perform? What about performing makes you feel completely alive and electrified? Don’t be embarrassed by any part of what drives you to perform. Embrace it and share it with others whatever the cost. The rewards to your happiness, your self-esteem, and your spirit to create music will be duly rewarded.
The central thread that runs through each and every aspect of the Tuxedo Revolt can be boiled down to relevance. First, let’s all get on the same page as to what the word relevance means:
Definition of RELEVANCE
a : relation to the matter at hand
b : practical and especially social applicability : pertinence<giving relevance to college courses>
: the ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user
When relevance comes into the conversation about performance and the arts, I’m really thinking of the definition 1b (above) and the question it poses. How do the performances we give have practical and or social applicability to our audiences?
In conservatory, I learned a lot about music. I learned about the theory and structure of musical compositions, I learned about the lives and the histories of the people who composed these great and monumental works. I learned how to break a piece of music down and digest its form and many melodies, and of course how to be technically sound in my execution of the performance. However, nowhere along the way did anyone teach us about how to apply relevancy to the skills we had acquired.
This revelation is a recent one for me. Nowhere along my path of education was I ever offered instruction with regard as to how to ensure that the creative work I was toiling away at with my music was relevant to my listeners. This doesn’t make me angry or bitter about my education. But it does illuminate a serious flaw in the way we train artists these days.
There is a concept I have mentioned before, called cultural insulation that exists among artists in a certain discipline. For the sake of example I’ll use musicians in the conservatory. You have 300 to 1,000 musicians learning alongside one another. There is no need to explain to your friends and colleagues why music is relevant to everyday life. Music already holds a special place in the core values of each music student, and this insulation from other viewpoints causes the belief that everyone should/could/or does value music in the way that we as professional musicians do.
Not much thought is given to training young artists, (or even established ones for that matter) how to explain and justify the need for art, for music, and for our craft to non-musicians. When it comes to learning how to fully articulate the importance of the arts, we must all be able to explain our raison d’etre in a way that is both meaningful and doesn’t rely on cultural cliches like, “Because the arts are important” or “Because the music is the universal language.”
Granted, it is a tall order to train young musicians how to talk about the arts in an intelligible but user-friendly, colloquial way. It is demanding to seek out justifications for what we do, then back them up. Yet, this is the age in which we live. In the face of doubt and cultural stereotypes about the future classical music, live performances, and the arts in general, we must be able to speak with confidence and conviction.
Stay tuned in the coming posts about how to do this, do it well, and with confidence.
I’d like start off by saying welcome back and that I apologize for the hiatus in content last week. I was in the middle of a whirlwind of travel and preparation for a major audition that I took this last Sunday. I had been preparing for this audition for quite some time and last week was final push to the big day.
Auditions are a funny thing I think. They can be the most perilous moments or decisive victories of our careers. We strive for months to attain perfection in what may only be a 10 minute window for an audition committee of people whom we often can’t see behind a screen, or that we may not even know. But we train ourselves to meet what seems to be impossible circumstances nevertheless. We push our bodies to achieve a level of technical grace that we never before thought possible of ourselves. Many of you readers know exactly of what I’m talking about.
As I was walking to up the steps to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on the night before my audition (I was attending a National Symphony Concert prior to my audition the following day), I couldn’t help but feel the electric excitement about the imminence of my performance to happen the following day. It was a feeling of what some sports psychologists call “flow”. It’s that feeling where you have conquered your own shortcomings and you move past anxiety, you move past the way you physically feel, for I was getting over a nasty cold, but you suddenly feel as if you are floating above everything while still connected to it. I thought about this feeling– this energy about performing, quite a bit on my four hour bus ride back to NYC. I realized that what I was feeling was 100% pure authenticity about who I was as a performer, what I was doing, and why I was doing it.
This is the feeling I have written about many times to describe what is fundamental for effective performance. It is necessary for the kind of performance that grabs audiences and doesn’t let them go. When you have this feeling of mastery and of “flow”, you know it, and you feel like it is possible for you to do anything.
I had this feeling another time as well, when I played Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto Op. 11 at the historic Paramount Theater in Kentucky a few years ago. You stand before the orchestra and you bare your soul to the audience and the orchestra. Does this sound a bit melodramatic? Yes, I’ll admit that it does– and it should because that is exactly what music requires of us. Auditions are very much the same way only with complete anonymity.
You walk out onto that empty stage stripped of name, voice, face, gender, title, resume, familiarity. All you are left with are the sounds that you are able to produce. If they are hollow and purely technical, like exercises from a book of etudes, you can’t expect to grab hold of your audition committee and pull them to the edge of their seats. All they have is your sound, you have to be the one to infuse it with your soul, with your will and with your determination.
That is what I learned most from my experience this last weekend; that authenticity and truthfulness is centrally important to the work we do as performing artists. To truly make a connection with our listeners, we have to be in complete flow with the music, our instruments, and ourselves.
I often have wondered what people who aren’t musicians imagine when they are asked to describe the life that we musicians lead. I’ve heard everything from, “Well, you get to play all day long”, “It’s just music, why do you take it so seriously” to “So what do you actually do?”
I used to get my tail feathers all messed up over statements like these. I would be so frustrated that “other people” did not understand the dedication it takes to master a piece of music, or the sacrifices, and sometimes, even physical injuries that result from trying to bring to life a work of art. Sometimes, the artist’s pain is not metaphorical at all, it can be all too literal. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I had no right to be frustrated with these kinds of common responses about “What does a musician do?” from people outside the field.
I realized that it is just as much our fault that people frequently don’t understand the ins and outs of our profession, well, because we don’t want them to know. Or so it seems.
“What do you mean we don’t want them to know?!”
I believe that in the traditional world of classical music, we don’t really make an effort to let our audience know the backstory behind how the performance they are about to see rose from an inanimate page of music to a charismatic performance in a live space. Does your audience know what it took to bring this performance to them: How many rehearsals it took, how many pieces were considered before the final repertoire was chosen, the amount of practice it took, any special circumstances that surrounded the performance?
“So do you want us to make the audience feel guilty about how hard we worked?”
NO! You should never want an audience to feel sorry for you, or that they are obligated in any way to support you. Rather, relating the journey of a particular performance from start to finish, can be a great way of showing commitment and/or devotion to your audience. It’s a great way to establish a personal connection where they can understand just how deeply the act of performing means to you and how much you have worked in order to present them with a great performance.
For example, you or your chamber ensemble plans to perform a recital music that features all contemporary Swedish composers. (That actually sounds very interesting to me!) But, assuming that you or your group has a large enough audience base that you have enough audience members willing to branch out and try something new, and assuming that you have prepared and polished the music to near perfection, and assuming that you have done a great job marketing your performance to new potential audience members, what will guarantee that your audience will make a connection to these works that are (most likely) far afield from the music that they know by heart? (and yes all you smarty-pants out there, I know that was a run-on sentence.)
Even if you give a flawless performance, there is more that you can do to help you audience connect with the music. Let’s just say that, hypothetically, this contemporary music you are playing is not only very difficult (good for you for taking it on!) but it may also be rigorously academic. But, because it is contemporary and the composer still happens to be alive, you can help the audience not only understand what this piece means to you, you can research and discuss the composer’s intent for the composition.
You could share this information via a short, informal conversation before the concert, or as each piece comes up on the program. You could create an awesome mini-documentary of no more than 3-4 minutes that discusses the process of bringing the live performance to the audience. As you can see, there is so much more that you can do besides program notes.
It’s all about perception. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the importance of establishing a deep and meaningful emotional connection with your audience. There are many creative ways to do this. But, if you only plan to depend on making that connection through the music alone, then you should prepare yourself for the possibility of falling a bit short on your goal. You can harness the power of connection in other ways beyond your instrument to ensure that your performance is has a lasting impact.
- Build (a theme park) and They Will Come (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
- How to be a Great Musician in 5 Easy Steps. (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)