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.
Since I declared my independence from the conventions surrounding classical music performance two years ago, many of my friends, colleagues, and fellow musicians have joined the Revolt with me.
It is a rather peculiar transformation for me to observe. I feel like I am liberating my fellow performers. It’s almost as if my example gave them the permission they needed to follow their bliss and take on projects that were before inconceivable to them. I’m proud to say that whenever someone presents a new idea to me, (regardless of my own gut reaction) I do my best to encourage them and to offer whatever advice I can to help them get closer to their dreams.
I hate, and have always hated the word no. In all the hare-brained projects and schemes I came up with in childhood, I would go nuts when someone told me that it couldn’t be done. Not the kind of “no” your parents tell you when they are trying to prevent you from doing something that could hurt you, or the no that means you are not allowed to do something. This was the kind of nagging skeptical “no” that always seemed to want to shoot an idea down before it ever had time to take flight on its own. To the skeptics of my past, and the ones in my present– I continue to balk in your face.
New ideas are fragile, timid things. They need research, positive reinforcement, and encouragement from others. When I started challenging the conventions that surround the way we perform classical music, many of my peers at Manhattan School of Music looked at me as if I was from a different planet. But I relentlessly asked why? Why? WHY? WHY!?!? Because I realized that much of how we present classical music to audiences is leftover from generations ago. To preserve the music– that is most important to our cultural heritage. But to preserve how we dress, what we say, and how we act on stage– this was only contributing to the demise of classical music in the popular opinion.
So slowly but surely my friends would come to me asking my opinion on new projects or looking for a new angle to examine an old problem. That is when I began to learn that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to see change. I wasn’t the only one who thought that things could be done differently, with more innovation and better than we were doing them. So I decided to encourage and to empower. I promote entrepreneurialism in music, I believe that if you have an idea you want to share with the world, then gather your resources and share it.
So now my platform reaches more people than ever, and my message is still the same. Embrace your creativity and imagination in all that you do, make your work authentic. I will always encourage your new ideas because that is what the music world needs most right now. More and more musicians are waking up and seeing that the status quo in the classical music world is not good enough anymore. There are new discoveries to make, and new uncharted paths to follow.