It’s good to be back at the keyboard today and writing. Though the blog was a bit quiet this month, I’ve been working night and day prepping content and organizing projects for the coming year. I saw this quote on #pinterest a few days ago and was amazed by the simplicity and truth in it. It seemed applicable to my life right now, this week, this month, this summer. Action does in fact express our priorities, or as my wife always puts it– “Actions speak louder than words.”
It made me start thinking about what it is that I am doing each day to meet my goals. Do you think about that? Try it. Take a second to get out of your head as best you can and watch your actions as if you were another person. Notice the real actions you make each day toward achieving your goals. This can be both for yourself and/or for your organization. Don’t be shocked by what you might discover about yourself. If you are like me, you might find that you spend a lot of time thinking– but less time doing than you had imagined.
After just celebrating Tuxedo Revolt’s 1-year anniversary back in June, I spent some time figuring out what my priorities would be for this blog, my business, my performance goals, and my life in general. I think it is easy for us to get very idealistic and heady about what we want to achieve over a given time. For me, I was laying plans for the coming year, or more specifically, from now until June 16th, 2014. But the planning period is over; it’s time to start making progress towards my goals. I’m now at the place where actions should do all the talking.
I can make lists all day long– and if you know me, then you know how utterly maniacal I am about list making. (Try the free app called Catch if you are serial list maker like me!) However, even after coming off of last year’s successes, I almost made the same mistake I made in 2011-12, of planning without doing. It’s very easy to get into this kind of cycle and much harder to get out it. It takes not self-discipline, but rather, self-responsibility to identify with your goals and acknowledge that is you who must do the work necessary to achieve them. It’s the asking yourself at the beginning of each day “What am I actually going to do today?” and then at night, “What did I actually do today?” that spins the straw of planning into the gold of reality.
This month, I’m back in the saddle and the afterglow of Tuxedo Revolt’s one year anniversary is behind me. I’m working on a lot of great interviews to feature this year. I’m also resurrecting the Tuxedo Revolt Podcast Project (after losing all my previously recorded podcast material on a fatal hard drive crash). One new addition to the blog this year will be much more strategy content for both arts administrators and music entrepreneurs. I’ll be helping you to outline real nuts and bolts strategies you can use in your own projects— in other words helping you think of actions to express your priorities.
Thanks for stopping by the blog and stay tuned; there is a lot of great content coming your way.
- Tuxedo Revolt Report Card: A Year of Transformation (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
In the past week, many of my friends and colleagues finished their master’s or bachelor degrees. I’ve seen so many happy and heartfelt messages on Facebook and Twitter– so many great memories being made. I’m so happy for all of them. I know all too well the toil that goes into earning a master’s degree. It seemed appropriate that at this time I write my valediction for those artists and performers who are graduating from conservatories and performing arts academies this month. There is one question above all else that I wish someone had asked me when I donned cap and gown several years ago, and today I’ll put it to you.
Now that you are a graduate, how will you connect to the lives of other people?
After graduation, when the honeymoon is over, your calligraphed degree is framed on your wall and the cap and gown have been packed away– you will begin making plans for the future. I hope that you will ask yourself this question and you’ll really consider how you’ll connect to others.
It can be very easy to focus on the I, Me and the Myself. You must do so in order to seek financial security, to realize your dreams, and make grand plans for your future. But as an artist or performer, you must give consideration to how you will connect your artistic work with other people. The longer that you wait to get your art into the public, to perform for audiences, to put your finely honed skills and cultivated talent into the real world– the harder it will be as time goes on and the more hesitant you will become.
Class of 2013, I want you jump in feet first. I want you to go buy a megaphone if you have to and start getting people’s attention. You aren’t in school any longer– and that is a great advantage to you. Watch, listen, and observe people interact with the world around you for any and everything that will lead you to inspiration. Keep your finger on the pulse of society and culture and use your observations to guide your plans for the future.
Build as many relationships as you can to other artists, and people. Network until there is no one you don’t know (that’ll keep you busy!). Keep your family ties strong– you’ll definitely need them later. Talk about your ideas with other people until you are breathless. When you get exhausted, take a nap (but only a short one) then get out there and start connecting again.
Do your best to avoid isolation, except when your creative soul needs it. Constantly consider how your creative work will be received by your audiences and by the public. Your career as an artist, a musician, an actor, a playwright, a composer, a dancer— is eternally tied to public opinion. Therefore, you must be too.
When you consider connections to other people, you subconsciously understand that your creative work is not for you and you alone. Your music, choreography, plays, performances, and writing will be experienced by others and interpreted by those whom you’ve never met. My friends, if you never fail to consider your impact on other people’s lives, then you will stay on the right path.
In a captivating performance on Wednesday night, Eunbi Kim and Laura Yumi Snell crafted a new kind of performance art, a new kind of presentation format for live classical music and a new message for contemporary performing artists. With the spell-binding production of Murakami Music, Eunbi and Laura made it clear that if you are willing to take big risks– your art will thrive.
It’s taken me several days to begin to write this review (for lack of a better term) of their performance. I’ve been thinking about the experience, what I took away from it, and how in the world I would try to explain it to you. I knew that a simple recap would never do it justice. This post is going to be much more detailed than other reviews I’ve done; for when I get the opportunity to write about something that absolutely embodies the core ideals of Tuxedo Revolt, I have to be able to share it with all of you.
When Eunbi first told me about her idea for Murakami Music, I featured the concept in a post back in January. If you aren’t familiar with this project or need a refresher– click here. Last week’s performance took place at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. It was the perfect venue, living up to its definition as a 21st Century Salon. I must give a great deal of credit to the founding artistic director of the Cell Theater, Nancy Manocherian for her vision for such an innovative, elegant and multi-functional performance space. For a hybrid music/drama project like Murakami Music, the Cell provided a fresh and blank canvas for Laura and Eunbi to explore throughout their performance. But now— onto the performance itself.
Merely listing the order of events, pieces played, and highlights of the evening isn’t appropriate. I found Murakami Music to be so intellectually stimulating that I realized I would need to analyze the performance like a painting, or a piece of literature. This was no concert– it was a full-out experience.
When you consider that the project was based on passages of Murakami’s writings, combined with a performance of musical selections referenced in his novels, a book reading with musical examples is the first thing that comes to mind. The project’s director Kira Simring anticipated this perception and skillfully transcended it. As the program began, artist LauraYumi Snell read from a copy of Murakami’s book– as we might have expected. Then, as Laura continued to recite passages from the novel, Eunbi began to delicately introduce the solo piano into our field of perception. Laura continued to read aloud, but gently closed the book, all the while still reciting Murakami’s text. The dramatic narrative from the text then took on a life of its own. With flawless transition, our descent into the world of Murakami Music had begun.
This performance was focused on engaging the audience at all times. Murakami’s texts, so skillfully dramatized by both Laura and Eunbi, shared a symbiotic relationship with the music of Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev and other composers whose music was featured in the performance. Spoken word and live music gave meaning and context to each other. Audience members who had never read the works of Murakami were introduced to his world of dual meaning and pensive emotion through beautiful music with similar dramatic properties. Audience members who were not familiar with solo piano music were introduced to it in way that they could begin to understand its emotional depth as it echoed the emotions of the unfolding drama.
For the music-must-stand-alone-as-its-own-art-form critics who are reading this, I must say that Eunbi and Laura created a performance where both music and drama took equal roles. The music, brilliantly executed by both Eunbi and Laura, was in no way impeded by the precisely planned and well chosen texts they also presented. Under the gifted guidance of Kira Simring, the pair used both music and drama to appeal to the senses of sound, sight, and spatial awareness. As an audience member, I was on edge waiting for what was to come next.
Transitions between scenes and musical selections were handled flawlessly and the performance never lost its momentum. I am most critical of transitions between events when I attend performances. These are the moments when audience members are not lost in their own thoughts, but rather present with you and in the moment. Transitions present a golden opportunity to introduce new themes, new ideas and new energy. Too often, transitions seem like TV commercial breaks, interrupting the flow of a performance and flat-lining the energy of the overall experience.
Murakami Music reminded me of why the tradition to hold applause until the end of a performance came to be in be first place. Once upon a time, musical performances were so captivating to audiences that no one dared to release the energy or flow of a performance until the event was truly finished. Audiences didn’t know what to expect as the next great work began to unfold. Finally, at the end of the performance, the moment came for the audience to express appreciation for the performers and to release through applause the energy that was building within each audience member throughout the performance.
As the final tableau in Murakami Music drew to a close, I glanced around at my fellow audience members. I saw young and old on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, captivated and ready it burst into applause. When the final note of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in d minor, op. 14 sounded, we the audience, finally had our moment to thank the artists who performed for us. It was truly a genuine exchange of gratitude.
When I am able to attend such a great performance, I am inspired to keep writing this blog. I am refreshed and reassured that through adaptation and innovation, live performing arts can still be socially relevant and meaningful to audiences. With its solo piano and stage absent of scenery and props, Murakami Music brought to my mind images from the great American playwright Thornton Wilder‘s Our Town. When the audience is challenged to use its imagination, but is guided to do so, there is a freshness to the performance and each audience member walks away with a unique and memorable experience.
I’m reminded of a line from Our Town spoken by the character Emily Webb, “Live people don’t understand, do they? They’re sort of shut up in little boxes, aren’t they?”
In Murakami Music the audience shared in an emotional journey together. We heard live music and spoken words. We saw expression on the faces of the performers which led to an expansion of our own sense of empathy. And for just a little while, we weren’t shut up in the little boxes of ourselves. As an audience we shared in the experience together, and it became ours.
Congratulations to Eunbi Kim, Laura Yumi Snell, Kira Simring and the Cell Theatre for a performance that was truly in the in the spirit of Tuxedo Revolt.
- Haruki Murakami’s new novel reaches 1 million print run in one week (japandailypress.com)
- You: New Murakami novel tops 1 million (japantimes.co.jp)
- Haruki Murakami’s new release: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki (themindsplace.wordpress.com)
You probably follow the Tuxedo Revolt Blog because you support innovation in the performing arts. (If you don’t then you are on the wrong blog!). You probably also recognize that orchestras and performing arts organizations must work around the clock in order to come up with fresh audience engagement ideas. I talk a lot about how “good enough” or half-hearted efforts won’t cut it in today’s culture. If it doesn’t hit the bullseye of what modern audiences find accessible, then it misses the mark totally. I understand that is a rather harsh perspective. Yet, one of the greatest delights I have when I write posts for you is when I get to report on an organization who gets it right.
I just came off of a very busy week of playing in the Allentown Symphony Orchestra (Allentown, PA). I was doing a lot of commuting and performing which prevented me from writing. I knew as soon as I was able, I would write a post about the innovative performances in which I was able to play. “What made these performances innovative?” you ask. It was the use of original film to accompany Berlioz‘s Symphonie Fantastique that I found so fascinating and effective. Steve Siegel, a contributor to the Lehigh Valley Morning Call said the following of the performance:
“There was something to intoxicate everyone at the Allentown Symphony Orchestra’s “Psychedelic Dreams” concert last weekend…With the added feature of a full-length surrealistic video accompanying the Berlioz, about as high-inducing as one can get, at least legally, at a classical concert…[ASO Conductor, Diane] Wittry’s video, projected on an enormous screen above and behind the orchestra, combined still and moving images that complemented the music marvelously without detracting from it in the least. Just as we hear the beloved’s theme throughout the work, first sweetly on violins and oboe and then, in gross caricature on a clarinet, we see her haunting image float before us, hovering through smoke and clouds. The film’s creative imagery included shots of instruments being played, eerily in synch with the actual score. There was a dizzying sequence of a spinning chandelier during the sumptuous “Waltz” segment, frightening views of a guillotine in the “March to the Gallows,” and a “Witches’ Sabbath” sequence haunted by blood-red skies and flaming skulls. Adding to the surreal effects were the faces of the ASO musicians themselves, which, illuminated only by light reflected off their sheet music – there was no stage lighting other than the lights from the music stands – seemed to hover above their instruments.”
From Siegel’s description, you can create an image for yourself of what the performance was like. I have to agree with his description, and add that the ASO musicians did a great job collaborating with the conductor to meet the unique technical needs of making sure that the music aligned with the film as planned. Symphonie Fantastique is an incredibly complicated work. I have performed it in the past and also have attended performances of the piece by major orchestras and never have I seen so much effort put forth by an orchestra and its artistic planners to ensure that the audience would be able to relate to the music. If you are a classically trained musician, then you probably know the story and origins of Symphonie Fantastique by heart. If you don’t or would like a refresher course, click here.
Modern audiences don’t have the patience or desire to read through a verbose narrative in their program notes. The ASO artistic team boldly realized and accepted the fact that their audience needed another way to experience the narrative Berlioz defined for his music. Film was the obvious choice, but the film’s content could have proven fatal to the impact of the performance. The ASO should be applauded for rising to the challenge to create a film that both provided a point of understanding and a loose framework for the narrative, but yet, was still abstract enough to allow room for much individual imagination in the minds of each audience member.
This is one element of programming that I haven’t spoken about enough. If you desire to tell a very specific story with your performance, it is your prerogative to do so. But for large works performed by many artists, or works that are best interpreted in a variety of ways by individual audience members (for example, orchestral music), you must leave room in your presentation so audience members can use their creativity and imagination to make meaning from the music. It’s a tricky process that takes trial, error, experimentation and refinement. This kind of creative experimentation is where so many arts organizations fall short on their promise to deliver dynamic performances to their audiences. It is in this experimentation and refinement that we begin to understand what our audiences need and want from us and how we can best deliver it to them.
If a regional orchestra like the ASO can be a trailblazer and go out on a limb with projects like this, then I ask– why aren’t we all? Truly, if we want to continue to fill our seats and perform our music or other art form for large audiences, then we have to keep our finger on the pulse of what our audiences need as well as what they like. We have to lose our fear of pioneering new experiences, or maybe I should put it another way. We should become afraid of what will happen to our art if we don’t learn how to connect with modern audiences.
To the ASO, I say a job well done. To everyone else, I say take notice.
Winter can be a great time to jump start your creativity and your sense of artistry. Though it can be tempting to crawl under a blanket until Spring, you will later be glad you put this extra time to good use. We tend to have more time indoors than usual in the winter months and that can offer some great opportunities to exercise your creativity.
The first thing you can do to get those creative juices flowing is to do what Julia Cameron calls artist dates. Just because you have to be indoors in the winter doesn’t mean that you have to be in your indoors. Get up, get dressed, and get out of your habitat for the soul purpose of having and artistic experience. You could see a show, listen to a live performance of the symphony, see a ballet, visit a gallery, or loose yourself in an art museum. Do the first thing that pops into your head. But there’s one catch. You need to go have your artist date alone. I really like Cameron’s concept that on this artistic field trip, you are taking your I inner artist on a date. You are there to do what your inner artist wants to do, to spend time with he/she alone— just like on a date with a romantic partner, you will want to listen carefully and pay attention to whatever he/she tells you.
You may be saying “That sounds crazy— take yourself on a date… Who the f#%&@ has time to do that?!” Well, I felt the same way at first, but this little action of self care can really get those creative wheels turning. This is a good time for all those little ideas that have been floating around your subconscious to finally get the chance to break through to your awareness.
It’s also a good time for you to be quiet, be alone with your thoughts and become aware of how you are feeling. It is good to know yourself and doing so will put you in touch with the artistic side you that wants to express how you feel. If your music, your dance, your words, or your song doesn’t reflect how you are feeling, then it can’t be an authentic creation. Without self-awareness, our ability to work in our given art form may feel forced, contrived, restricted, or the worst of all— like we are faking it. These thoughts and feelings we have are subtle and can change in one direction or another in very small increments. On your artist date, you may find that now that you are finally alone with your thoughts that someone or something has really brought you down. You might have known that person was getting to you, but not until you are alone can you be truly honest about how much so. Or, in this better scenario, the experiences you encounter on your artist date might illuminate in your mind all the beauty that is in the world. From a grand painting hanging in the MET Museum, to the smile of a newborn baby you happen to glimpse on your train ride to the MET— your artist date can help you to seek out beauty and inspiration in things from that which is most grand to that which is most simple.
I like to think of the early winter like a blank notebook, and the artist dates I take are like the bits of pictures and ephemera I cut out of here and there to glue into that notebook. Once you’ve woken up your inner artist and treated he/she with special attention, you might begin to notice trends forming. “Why did I go see the same exhibit of still life paintings three times in a row?” Or you might ask yourself, “What is it about that orchestra that keeps me going back time and time again?” These simple questions which are posed to your inner artist can become creative inquiries that lead to the production of new work or projects. They can jump start your sense of intrigue and discovery.
I encourage you to make time for yourself, get out there, and pay attention to your creative self. Be still– and listen closely. Write down what you feel, think about it, dissect it, analyze it, research it– think about how you can express it in your art form. I guarantee that you once you start connecting your art form to the thoughts and emotions in your experience, as an artist, you will be compelled (and motivated) to express them!
Now get out there and go!
- Four techniques to tap into your imagination (onewildword.com)
- How to create rituals to improve your creativity from the new book I Just Like to Make Things (craftside.typepad.com)