Tagged: Classical music

Mission Above All Else. No Excuses.

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Your mission statement, either your personal one or the one used by your organization, should be the guiding force behind all your decision making. 

It’s usually when I make a grand and sweeping statement like this when my clients start to get their tail feathers ruffled. You might think we where shooting a toilet paper commercial because of the parade of “buts” that follow. For example, in this case, I might hear something along the lines of  “But if times are constantly changing, then shouldn’t we bend our mission from time to time?” or my favorite, “But my budget won’t allow me/us to do the work of our stated mission?”

Simmer down folks and listen up. It’s time we had a heart to heart about what mission statements are and how they are intended to be used.  Mission statements are supposed to be your North Star when it comes to decision making in your career or for your organization.  Here are a few helpful thoughts to consider when examining your mission statement:

1.) Listen to the buts. If you find yourself constantly trying to reason your way around your organizational or personal stated mission– then maybe you need to re-examine the mission itself. In order to do take a second look at your mission statement and successfully determine whether or not your mission is effective, you will need to ask some important questions.

2.) What is the work we/I do? This is where you’ll need to get serious  and specific. For this program, or specific organization– what exactly is the artistic work you are doing? Spell it out. You might feel that you are limiting yourself, but I’d like for you to reframe your specificity as a way of focusing your efforts and putting the odds for success more in your favor.

3.) Determine who are your real stakeholders.  That means not just the people you think you are working with such as audience members and your performers. I mean EVERYBODY. Vendors, audience members by different types, local businesses associated with you, people in your outreach/engagement work, coworkers, friends, spouses and family— create a brainstorm map with you at the center and everyone else your work is connected to radiating from it. You’ll be surprised to discover that your artistic work may affect many more people than you had originally considered.

4.) Make sure the nuts and bolts are all there.  Your mission statement is not like Ikea furniture, and thus it should be made for the long term and not the short term. Your mission statement should include your unchanging values about the work you are doing, as well as a clearly defined purpose for your organization’s existence. (Or more simply, why do you do the work you do?). Here’s a hint– don’t be vague or ambiguous. If you can’t articulate how the artistic work you do fills a specific need, no one else will be able to guess it for you. You might also want to include a brief statement about the vision you have for how your work will impact the need you have outlined over the course of the future. This helps others to imagine the logical progression of the work you are doing.

5. Lastly, stick to the plan. Your refined mission statement can now act as a litmus test for all your other decisions. Consider your mission and ask yourself, “If I choose A, does this serve my stakeholders? Is it directly related to the work we do? Is this decision in line with my values?”  Sticking to your mission helps you to make strong and decisive answers to the questions you will face in your path, even when the right answer may be uncomfortable.

So remember folks, your mission is what it’s all about.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

 

Zombies are Changing the Performing Arts (sort of)

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zombie (Photo credit: Irregular Shed)

 

Whether you support new practices in the performing arts, whether you encourage entrepreneurial practices amongst performing artists—we can all agree that for better or worse, the performing arts world is changing. It’s changing fast.

 

I think we are all conscious of how the changes in global culture, society, and technology  have “some sort of” impact on our art. But part of the problem is that many are unwilling to analyze how change and growth in these areas can directly impact your artistic work.  There is a reluctance with many performing artists to study these challenges and find ways to adapt to them.

 

Think of Brad Pitt’s line in World War Z when he says “Movement is life”.   Of course, he’s talking about getting away from millions of newly converted flesh-eating zombies. However, that statement has a powerful corollary to the responsibility musician’s and artists have when trying to keep our art forms alive in the 21st Century.  Similar to the world World War Z, our world has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous twenty, thirty, or 40 years before that. Everyday there is a new app or social platform that can change your life.  Moreover, we interact with technology in a deeply more personal and distinct way. Technology has literally become an extension of the human mind. All these changes have come so fast that if you are standing still, you will simply be overcome by the hungry mob.

Evolution, flexibility and adaptation are the factors that will now insulate us against decline.  In order not to be fatally bitten by the onslaught of social media, tweets, glutted market of free high-quality media, incredibly low cost of entertainment, etc.— we have to be able to adapt and change to each and every circumstance we encounter while staying true to our artistic mission.

 

My question to you is this: in what specific ways are you trying to adapt your art to the changes in culture? How are you evolving and changing to stay culturally relevant to your audiences? If you haven’t been asking yourself these kinds of questions, it’s never too late to start.

 

Stay tuned,

 

John-Morgan

 

Action Expresses Priorities

http://justtheawesomestuff.tumblr.com/post/47057782979

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.

-John-Morgan

Ensemble 212 and Big Questions Answered

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Some interviews are easier than others—but not my recent interview with Yoon Jae Lee, founder and conductor of Ensemble 212 based in New York City.  I reached out to Yoon Jae a while ago because I admire his great entrepreneurial spirit and his ability to curate great concerts within Ensemble 212. It’s no easy feat to establish a successful chamber orchestra in NYC. So I thought, if anyone has had to grapple with some of the “big” questions surrounding engaging performance today, it would be Yoon Jae. 

I asked him for his take on the culture, environment and challenges surrounding classical music in the United States. Here is what he had to say: 

“I believe that the challenges facing “classical music” are numerous and extremely complex. Like most social issues in the US (immigration reform, health care, etc.) there are no easy answers can which solve all of classical music’s problems with the snap of a finger. However, there are many things that our generation, the young professionals, can and must do to make classical music a part of our everyday culture and at the same time enjoyable as well.

I often find myself asking this rhetorical question: What is “classical music” anyway? Is “new music” (defined as a sub-genre of classical music “classical”?!? Yet, aren’t The Beatles “classical” to most in the general public? What about Phillip Glass? Labels can be convenient but also limiting and harmful as music often defies categorization. For example, is Gershwin jazz or classical?

I think the single most problematic issue with “classical music”  is that for the general public, it is something of a “fringe” interest and definitely not mainstream. We need to change that and make it relevant.”

Classical music as a fringe element? I’ve got to admit that even I hadn’t thought the general consensus was that classical music was considered to be that irrelevant. However, it is an interesting point– perhaps even a truth that all of us who love and cherish this form of art need to acknowledge. It cuts a little close to home, but isn’t the first step to correcting a situation to know and understand its full scope and breadth? Yoon Jae makes a great point, one with which I completely agree, that bringing classical music back into the scope of what is culturally relevant with audiences of today should be our first priority. 

So where does this shift begin? Who is going to lead the change, and who will take responsibility for it? (I told you– all really big questions.) Yoon Jae  had some powerful viewpoints on these issue that are worth sharing:

“I feel that music education in general needs a radical reform at all levels. I think the concept of having separate concentrations of performers and educators is fundamentally wrong. How many “performance” majors are going to be just performing and not teaching? I believe that most conservatories leave their graduates ill prepared to face the challenges described above.  For me, it was only after I got out of school I realized what a perilous situation classical music and its professionals faced.  

If we are not given the tools to teach properly or more specifically, have the ability to relate to the general public about what “classical music” is about and why we do it, how can we expect them to truly appreciate what we do and why? The recent derogatory articles on the SF Symphony’s strike is a clear example of writers who have no understanding about our profession. I don’t blame them 100% though, I think we musicians are partly at fault for not relating what we do to the general public.

I experienced difficulty relating to non-musicians once I left conservatory, especially working in a teaching capacity. We need to do a better job integrating our performing and teaching skills while still in conservatory so that when we go out into the real world, we can better relate to the general public and help them understand what music is about, especially for those who are willing…”

I believe in what Yoon Jae Lee is doing with his Ensemble 212. The orchestra’s stated mission ” to propel the careers of young professional musicians as they develop into the finest performing artists of their generation”  is aptly suited to meet the demands of a changing arts culture. Ensemble 212 does not shape the careers of performers of past generations, but rather, shapes the careers of performers in this generation. 

To learn more about Ensemble 212, check out their website by clicking here. 

Stay tuned, 

John-Morgan

Tuxedo Revolt Report Card: A Year of Transformation

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report card 1944 (Photo credit: pjern)

 

I’ve told many of you how the past year has been an experiment and personal challenge for me. On my 26th birthday, I had a major revelation that I felt I had wasted the previous year. I didn’t have much to show for the passing of 12 months and I essentially felt that time had slipped through my fingers. Standing on the corner of 207th Street and Broadway, I made up my mind that every day until my next birthday I would work to make my 26th year the most vibrant and productive year of my life.  As my birthday is this weekend, it’s time for me to share with you what the past year has been like.

The first step for me was to determine my goals as clearly defined tasks. So with pen and paper, I set about making a list of all the things I wanted to achieve with Tuxedo Revolt, as a professional musician, and in my personal life. The list was long. Very long. After a few days and sleepless nights, I had my list of well over 200 itemized goals that I wanted to accomplish. Then I began.

Surprisingly, it was that simple. One day last July, I just started. I remember sitting at my desk, opening MS Word, and blurting out the first few sentences of a blog post. I’m not sure whether or not I ever used those first words, but they opened the floodgate and I’ve been putting my thoughts on the arts, classical music, audience building and arts education into the public arena ever since. When the Tuxedo Revolt Blog was featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed page, I was off to the races.

In order to keep the momentum  going, I studied social media, how it can help spread your message, and how it can provide insight into a person’s artistic process. I learned how to connect with people, and this is how I began to see that people are at the heart of all that we do in the arts. That all this is about people to people connections on some level or another. I worked to share new perspectives on arts traditions to you as well as introduce new revolutionaries in the performing arts. Through interviews, to artist profiles, to concert reviews– I have been able to share with you what others are doing to shape the performing arts world.

Tuxedo Revolt consulting grew from my readers’ desire to ask my advice on their own artistic issues. I found that I really liked working with individuals and organizations. Each person I spoke to had unique talents, traits, and advantages that they could use to ignite their artistic work. Click here to see what some of them had to say about the experience. What I discovered though was that I have a passion for helping people this way, to help them achieve their artistic goals. It is incredibly rewarding and I am privileged to be a part of their artistic work.

The momentum from Tuxedo Revolt has fueled wonderful change in my personal life as well. I see the world as a place of opportunity for change and progress, not just in the arts but in all aspects of life. I’m not bothered any longer by doom and gloom forecasts that litter the arts world. In the past year I have taken a proactive stance. I believe that the arts can be as vibrant as ever, can be a fulfilling career, and is worthy of lifelong pursuit if we are  willing to change our point of view. It is my (very real) experience that if we dedicate our lives to sharing our art with others–not just making our art alone— then we can live with artistic freedom and passion.

Thank you for being a part of my journey. Great things are coming in the next year.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan