When was the last time a performance of any kind gave you cold chills? Not that squishy-made-for-tv-movie kind, but rather the visceral and literal sort of chills that lets you know something inside you has been moved? That was how I felt at last night’s performance of InsightALT: The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing commissioned by American Lyric Theater and performed at Merkin Hall in conjunction with Opera America’s 2017 New Works Forum.
The question “Why opera?” was posed earlier in the day at a group discussion facilitated by Marc Scorca. And as if the question had been a call, the performance last night was its obliged response. Opera is indeed an often complicated and cumbersome art form, but it is so out of necessity. But to answer “Why opera?” we must also realize that very same complexity offers the possibility to provide an in-depth perspective on any topic—no mater how cumbersome or complicated that topic is. It allows versatility, drama, and helps us to relate, exam, criticize and reflect on the human condition.
The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing is the brainchild of composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico. The workshop performance was presented in a concert version with piano and with what might seem to be the most economical resources to perform an opera–no sets, no costumes, no theatrical lighting. But throughout the performance, the audience was reminded that a powerful opera is a dramatic chameleon able to shift and adapt to its circumstances while still being able to convey a narrative and message.
Baritone, Jonathan Michie sang the lead role and demonstrated clear mastery of its dramatic elements. Michie sang with an expressive voice that easily convinced the audience of the explosive and complicated emotions contained within the role. An unexpected delight of the performance was the dramatic integration of the chorus, performed by MasterVoices, who displayed versatility and played a major role in keeping the narrative of the opera moving forward. Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya led the cast and chorus with a surgical precision and provided the balance and style necessary for the audience to appreciate all elements of the new work with equality.
It has been so good these past several days to be reminded of the value and veracity found in new music. It was a powerful experience to be reminded that we have countless stories that need to be told and that contemporary opera is one of many ways in which we can tell them. As we move forward, we must continue to look to luminary organizations such as the American Lyric Theater to light the way for new work and to champion the evolution of the genre.
Let’s talk small. In my last post on the musician’s micro economy, I described how we should consider resources available to us as different forms of currency that can be used to improve our careers and more generally, our lives as artists. I also introduced the concept of the portfolio career, which is essentially a vibrant career that is the sum of many small projects, talents and skills—including performance—that all contribute to financial stability for the 21st century musician.
Now let’s explore what makes up a micro economy. Follow my logic; if businesses make up the economy (in the traditional sense) then micro businesses make up the micro economy. So now, let’s talk small. I mean, really small. Marcel-the-Shell-with-Shoes-On small. Let’s talk about how you can make your claim in the music micro economy by being excellent, by being focused and by starting out very, very small.
For many musicians, the word business makes us anxious, second only to the word taxes. It makes us want to run back to our practice room and play scales until we are calm again. Don’t laugh; you know I’m talking to you. Yet income, finances, taxes, and dare I say it—money—are essential to our everyday lives. So whether we want to think about it or not, money rears its green, ugly head in all parts of our career. The concept of the micro economy is applicable to all kinds of artists, but for musicians of the 21st century, it’s actually a way of life. Have you ever given thought to all the ways money influences your career? Whether it’s trying to purchase that new instrument, cashing a paycheck from a gig, travel costs for a gig, paying other colleagues fairly to perform with or for us, the list goes on and on forever. We need to make money and we need to spend it. That earning and spending is the most basic essence of what an economy is. Therefore, it’s not too far of a stretch to then think of individual artists as little businesses—micro businesses who specialize in creativity and art. We are micro-businesses in a creative economy.
I realize that I may have just lost some of you. I compared you to a business and you were like #bye. Just hang in there for a moment. The good news is that there has never been a better time in the history of the world to be a micro business in a creative economy. As you might have read on this blog, I’m fascinated with the millennial culture. After all, I am one myself. I’m constantly marveling out our rebellious nature, our determination to see ideas come to life, and the effect our sheer will has on society. Artists have always been a rebellious lot but millennial artists, those young people of the millennial generation from all artistic disciplines who identify as professionals in their respective art forms, are undeniably impacting the global society and economy in ways we never before thought possible. In the coming Tuxedo Revolt blog posts, we’ll explore how you can embrace the idea of being a micro business and also explore new platforms and marketplaces allowing the modern performing artist to grow their micro business. We’ll look at how small and excellent is the new model for the emerging artist professional.
Marcel-the-Shell said, “Some people say my head is too big for my body—I say, COMPARED TO WHAT?!” Marcel had the right idea. Another way of saying it might be though our size as a micro business is small (obviously), we can still have (and do have) an enormous impact on the world’s creative economy.
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.
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.
I 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.