Finding Your Unmapped Territory
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.
5 Resolutions for Classical Musicians
To my readers, it’s been far too long since I last posted on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog and I apologize to you. But I’ve been watching and thinking, observing and taking notes. I’ve spent the past year being a musical participant, a maker, a creator, performer, teacher—and in many ways a student as well. I’ve been watching our world of classical music. I’ve been doing a lot of introspection into my own music making as well and there is much that I want to share with you.
Since it’s a new year, I thought we should start with a few resolutions. (I say we because I will be joining in these too.) While I’m not usually a big fan of them, I started to think about the meaning of a resolution, about how they demonstrate our “resolve” for change and improvement. A resolution is an opportunity to bring about positive change to our lives—and for musicians, to our art as well. As artists, we strive for excellence at all costs. We constantly seek to improve upon our skill, or repertoire, or musical achievement. This pursuit is part of our identity as musicians. With personal excellence in mind, here are 5 resolutions for classical musicians to consider for 2015:
1. Own your role in supporting the arts.
We are all in this together and as such, we all need to do our part in supporting the arts in as many ways as we can. Be active. Write a letter of support to your local school system or elected official supporting music education. Make a donation to a local arts organization (if you can) or at least make the offer to donate some of your time or talent. Share articles that advocate for the arts on your social media or write an iReport or Letter to the Editor of your local paper. Start a thread on Reddit. Do something to help us all.
2. Help stop the negativity in the classical music world.
“If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all,” my father said many times when I was young. Truthfully, I’ve not always taken his advice, but in the case of classical music, I’m pretty sure compliance is crucial. Let’s make this cut and dry: the general public has a clouded perception of our world and what we do. Many people see classical music as stuffy, outdated and worn-out. As many of us are working to change that perception, we face a further declining public opinion when vitriol over union conflicts, lockouts, and defamatory remarks come from both sides of disputes in our industry. We need a cease fire and moratorium on negativity. Do your part by only putting forth positive messaging about the importance of your art, your passion, and classical music more generally. Be on the side of peaceful progress.
3. Dig deep into your own emotions.
This is one is simple. Challenge yourself to find deeper emotional meaning from every note that you play this year. Take whatever commitment to emotional expressivity you currently have and add 30% to that. See how much more you can express your own range of emotion in the music you make. It might change the world.
4. Share your music with more people.
This year, make the effort to share your music with more people than you did last year. Sharing is easy in the digital age. Post a video on YouTube or Facebook. Upload a clip to SoundCloud. Get more of the music you love out into the world. There are bound to be others out there who will love it too.
5. Talk to your audience.
This is the year to change the way you engage with your audience. You have the power to transform an evening of great music into a memorable experience that lasts a lifetime in the mind of your audience members. You have to communicate with your audience. Do as little or as much as your feel comfortable, but do something. It can be as little as making sure you thank five individual audience members for coming to the concert at each gig you play this year, or as grand as completely revamping your concert presentation format. The approach is up to you, but we need to collectively do more to bond with our audiences. If we all did this, we could go a long way toward changing the public opinion.
So here’s to a great year ahead. Let’s do more this year than we have ever done before. Let’s make waves in the classical music world. Let’s change the state of play.
Eunbi Kim and Murakami Music: a Tuxedo Revolt Profile
One of the most fun things I get to do while writing this blog is to interview incredibly creative and dynamic artists who embody Tuxedo Revolt ideals. For the first Tuxedo Revolt Blog profile in 2013, I’m thrilled to profile my good friend and colleague Eunbi Kim.
Eunbi is an excellent musician, has a dynamic personality and an entrepreneurial spirit. As you’ll see, these three traits are integral to her artistry. Her recent performance at the Cell Theater in New York City, entitled Murakami Music, embodied Eunbi’s creative nature, pursuit of innovation in the performance of classical music, and the Tuxedo Revolt ideal to make classical music performances socially relevant. I sat down with Eunbi last week to talk about Murakami Music as well as her creative process in creating the performance event.
The details at a glance:
Performance name: “Overture”
The Musicians: Eunbi Kim , piano and artist-in-residence
Guest artists: Laura Snell, actress; Nelly Rocha, cello; Christopher Scanlon, trumpet
When: Friday January 18th, 2013 at 8pm
Where: The Cell Theatre (New York, NY)
What: A preview concert of performances to be developed into large-scale projects at the Cell in 2013-14 during Eunbi’s artist residency. Program included solo piano works by Debussy, excerpts of “Murakami Music” with music by Chopin, Schumann, and Beatles interspersed with live readings by actress Laura Snell, and performances by chamber group “Blink Ensemble” of contemporary works written by William Schmidt and Carson Cooman for piano, cello, and trumpet.
Like many Tuxedo Revolt blog readers, Eunbi is a young artist, recently graduated with her Master’s of Music degree, and launching her career in the midst of the recession. Sounds a bit ominous (and a little too close to home), right? Yet, in the face of opposition, Eunbi is moving forward. These are Tuxedo Revolt ideals; to be optimistic, creative and relevant. As a classically trained pianist, Eunbi sought ways to connect her performances to potential audiences and to make the socially relevant. She believes that she can, through her own innovation and creativity, sidestep many of the problems that plague the traditional performing arts– and she is doing exactly that.
I asked Eunbi what was her point of inspiration for Murakami Music– you might find her response rings true for you also:
Eunbi is a thinker and innovator. But the most unique aspect of her artistry is her ability to seek out creative performance solutions that integrate the social elements she found missing in the performances of others. Thus, the Murakami Music project was born. In our interview, Eunbi’s face lit up when I asked her to describe the project and its origins.
“I had the inspiration to create the Murakami Music program around one year ago when I thought about what I really wanted to say and create as a performer.” said Eunbi. “I had this idea in my head for the longest time of setting writer Haruki Murakami’s novels to music by taking selected reading passages and performing solo concert music with them. He creates amazing texture in his works through heavily referencing music. I saw the potential in my head for a live performance. Then I found an amazing collaborator, actress Laura Snell, who is also passionate about Murakami’s novels, storytelling, theatre, and also music- she is an accomplished pianist as well.”
“We proposed this project to the Cell Theatre in Manhattan, which they accepted. We workshopped and presented it this past October with ideas of making it an evening length concert in the future. At the end of 2012, the directors of the Cell asked me if I would like to do an artist residency, which was really exciting. It meant that I would have incredible support to present new works and projects at the cell. Then, this idea of a preview concert came about where we could show short performances of this project as well as my project with Blink Ensemble- performing accessible contemporary music for an unusual instrumentation- piano, trumpet, cello.”
I feel that there is much to learn from Eunbi’s enthusiastic response. First, we must understand that ideas need time to incubate and/or percolate in our minds for a time before they are ready to be introduced to the world. Second (and most importantly), we must realize the when an opportunity presents itself to us, we must jump at the chance to bring our ideas to life.
For Eunbi, the idea for her project wasn’t perfected in her mind before seizing the opportunity to make it a reality. I asked Eunbi what kept her going on this project, how she and her collaborators managed to tie together all the loose ends, and what it took to bring this project from a thought into reality. Her response was not the lofty or idealistic response that you might expect from a classical musician, but rather– a response filled with determination and work ethic:
“Truthfully, a deadline.” said Eunbi about what kept her on track. “It’s unromantic but it’s the truth. There was also a sense of responsibility.”
“We [the musicians] were all passionate about the concert and had so many ideas and dreams of its potential– but it can all become overwhelming when it has to be put into action. Creating something absolutely new and innovative like Murakami Music was daunting- it takes a lot of work and emotional energy (tons of self-doubt), more than people realize.”
“Even though I had the Cell’s support, there were lots of logistics and marketing that I had to take care of in order for the concert to be a success. There is responsibility to my audience that they have the best possible experience- they are my guests. There is responsibility to the other performers that I have an audience that will be there to support their creativity.”
You can see that Eunbi Kim feels a heartfelt and deep obligation to her audience– an obligation that transcends all aspects of the art she creates. From the music itself, to the logistics surrounding the concert experience, Eunbi puts her audience’s best interest as a top priority.
Eunbi is a great example of a much needed mindset for performers today. We must break away from any notion that what we do as performers we do for ourselves. It simply isn’t so. Our performances help our audiences connect with our art–and us as individual people. We must take these connections into every level of planning, rehearsal, and performance we undertake when turning our ideas into reality.
Stay tuned for more artist profiles from Tuxedo Revolt coming you way!
- Haruki Murakami? There’s an iPhone and iPad diary app for him… (guardian.co.uk)
Who is Making Classical Music Relevant?
The central thread that runs through each and every aspect of the Tuxedo Revolt can be boiled down to relevance. First, let’s all get on the same page as to what the word relevance means:
Definition of RELEVANCE
a : relation to the matter at hand
b : practical and especially social applicability : pertinence<giving relevance to college courses>
: the ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user
When relevance comes into the conversation about performance and the arts, I’m really thinking of the definition 1b (above) and the question it poses. How do the performances we give have practical and or social applicability to our audiences?
In conservatory, I learned a lot about music. I learned about the theory and structure of musical compositions, I learned about the lives and the histories of the people who composed these great and monumental works. I learned how to break a piece of music down and digest its form and many melodies, and of course how to be technically sound in my execution of the performance. However, nowhere along the way did anyone teach us about how to apply relevancy to the skills we had acquired.
This revelation is a recent one for me. Nowhere along my path of education was I ever offered instruction with regard as to how to ensure that the creative work I was toiling away at with my music was relevant to my listeners. This doesn’t make me angry or bitter about my education. But it does illuminate a serious flaw in the way we train artists these days.
There is a concept I have mentioned before, called cultural insulation that exists among artists in a certain discipline. For the sake of example I’ll use musicians in the conservatory. You have 300 to 1,000 musicians learning alongside one another. There is no need to explain to your friends and colleagues why music is relevant to everyday life. Music already holds a special place in the core values of each music student, and this insulation from other viewpoints causes the belief that everyone should/could/or does value music in the way that we as professional musicians do.
Not much thought is given to training young artists, (or even established ones for that matter) how to explain and justify the need for art, for music, and for our craft to non-musicians. When it comes to learning how to fully articulate the importance of the arts, we must all be able to explain our raison d’etre in a way that is both meaningful and doesn’t rely on cultural cliches like, “Because the arts are important” or “Because the music is the universal language.”
Granted, it is a tall order to train young musicians how to talk about the arts in an intelligible but user-friendly, colloquial way. It is demanding to seek out justifications for what we do, then back them up. Yet, this is the age in which we live. In the face of doubt and cultural stereotypes about the future classical music, live performances, and the arts in general, we must be able to speak with confidence and conviction.
Stay tuned in the coming posts about how to do this, do it well, and with confidence.
The Secret World of Musicians: How to Open Up to Your Audience
I often have wondered what people who aren’t musicians imagine when they are asked to describe the life that we musicians lead. I’ve heard everything from, “Well, you get to play all day long”, “It’s just music, why do you take it so seriously” to “So what do you actually do?”
I used to get my tail feathers all messed up over statements like these. I would be so frustrated that “other people” did not understand the dedication it takes to master a piece of music, or the sacrifices, and sometimes, even physical injuries that result from trying to bring to life a work of art. Sometimes, the artist’s pain is not metaphorical at all, it can be all too literal. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I had no right to be frustrated with these kinds of common responses about “What does a musician do?” from people outside the field.
I realized that it is just as much our fault that people frequently don’t understand the ins and outs of our profession, well, because we don’t want them to know. Or so it seems.
“What do you mean we don’t want them to know?!”
I believe that in the traditional world of classical music, we don’t really make an effort to let our audience know the backstory behind how the performance they are about to see rose from an inanimate page of music to a charismatic performance in a live space. Does your audience know what it took to bring this performance to them: How many rehearsals it took, how many pieces were considered before the final repertoire was chosen, the amount of practice it took, any special circumstances that surrounded the performance?
“So do you want us to make the audience feel guilty about how hard we worked?”
NO! You should never want an audience to feel sorry for you, or that they are obligated in any way to support you. Rather, relating the journey of a particular performance from start to finish, can be a great way of showing commitment and/or devotion to your audience. It’s a great way to establish a personal connection where they can understand just how deeply the act of performing means to you and how much you have worked in order to present them with a great performance.
For example, you or your chamber ensemble plans to perform a recital music that features all contemporary Swedish composers. (That actually sounds very interesting to me!) But, assuming that you or your group has a large enough audience base that you have enough audience members willing to branch out and try something new, and assuming that you have prepared and polished the music to near perfection, and assuming that you have done a great job marketing your performance to new potential audience members, what will guarantee that your audience will make a connection to these works that are (most likely) far afield from the music that they know by heart? (and yes all you smarty-pants out there, I know that was a run-on sentence.)
Even if you give a flawless performance, there is more that you can do to help you audience connect with the music. Let’s just say that, hypothetically, this contemporary music you are playing is not only very difficult (good for you for taking it on!) but it may also be rigorously academic. But, because it is contemporary and the composer still happens to be alive, you can help the audience not only understand what this piece means to you, you can research and discuss the composer’s intent for the composition.
You could share this information via a short, informal conversation before the concert, or as each piece comes up on the program. You could create an awesome mini-documentary of no more than 3-4 minutes that discusses the process of bringing the live performance to the audience. As you can see, there is so much more that you can do besides program notes.
It’s all about perception. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the importance of establishing a deep and meaningful emotional connection with your audience. There are many creative ways to do this. But, if you only plan to depend on making that connection through the music alone, then you should prepare yourself for the possibility of falling a bit short on your goal. You can harness the power of connection in other ways beyond your instrument to ensure that your performance is has a lasting impact.
- Build (a theme park) and They Will Come (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
- How to be a Great Musician in 5 Easy Steps. (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)