As I teach my arts administration course this fall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, you’ll be able to follow the journey along with my students right here on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog. Prior to each class, I hope to write a post that will give insight and depth to the issues we are going to cover. However, before we begin this sojourn of understanding what makes a successful arts organization in the 21st Century, I wanted to first explore the changes that must happen within ourselves before we can begin to change the world around us.
Change begins in you.
That’s the first major realization that is necessary for you to find success in any entrepreneurial venture. It doesn’t matter if you want to start a new chamber ensemble, re-envision an existing orchestra, start a rock band, or even a non-music business– your project will reflect your personal views, both conscious and subconscious. You must truly believe in the change you are willing to implement.
Let’s be honest, it is much, much easier to comply with the status quo than to lead change. It takes far less energy, less critical thinking and less time. But I believe when one identifies both a need for improvement AND a solid plan that would help that improvement’s realization, then we are obligated to bring the issue to the surface and argue for the change. In so many ways, this notion of identifying issues, planning out how to fix them, and taking responsibility for their realization is at the heart of what we call progress.
You have to believe that your plan to bring about change will work. Right now, many artists, musicians, and teachers see “music or arts entrepreneurship” as a buzz word. They often think that if they can find a use for this buzz word then they’ve done their due diligence– one more box can be checked off of the resume or todo list. This isn’t what entrepreneurship is about. The drive to break to go out on a limb, to differ from mainstream opinion, to prove something for yourself has to come from within you. No amount of in-class strategizing or note taking can replace that.
Entrepreneurship is about taking charge of your life, your art, or your organization and going it alone because you know deep down that you can do it better. It’s a deep kind of knowing oneself, knowing that you are capable of making your mark. Like in music performance, it’s very similar to the kind of craftsmanship that goes into crafting a beautiful solo, it becomes distinctly your own creation. Your voice shines through.
As we explore what it takes to create new kinds of programs, organizations, and experiences– we will take some time to get to know ourselves as well. What do you value? What problems have you identified in the arts for which you now have ideas how to fix them? From what kind of artistic work do you derive the greatest satisfaction? How far are you willing to go to see your idea all the way from a fleeting thought in your mind to real people, taking action in real time, doing real work, in the real world.
To see an entrepreneurial project all the way through is a long process. There are very few shortcuts, and I promise that I’ll share with you the ones that I know. But as I write this post, I doubt that the challenge is too much for you. You would never have become a performing artist, or ever worked in the performing arts industry if you didn’t already understand that in our area of expertise, adversity is to be expected.
I’ll also wager that because you’ve made it this far, to my blog, that your are already toying about with the idea of going solo and breaking off from the herd to do things your way. While I’ve previously mentioned that the work involved in entrepreneurship is nothing to take lightly, I am also obligated to say that the freedom to do what you want is incomparable to anything else. For me, that’s where my true creativity lives.
I’ve found that the brightest creative impulses I’ve have had coincide with my personal freedom and my disregard for the confines of the establishment. Over the next few months we will explore how our beliefs manifest themselves in our personal and artistic missions, in the effectiveness of our organization and in our ability to make a positive impact– and you’ll have the freedom to do it your way.
So let’s begin. Listen to yourself. Listen to the silent alarms that go off around you, the ones you sense and feel. Believe, even for an instant, that nothing is set in stone, that the world is play-dough you could mold with your bare hands— for indeed, it can be. Let that thought wash over you for just a moment. Make no mistake. You can change the world with your vision, your art, and yes, even with your bare hands.
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)
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.
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.
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.