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.
Imagine a World Where Artists Lead the Performing Arts.
This week is a special week for Tuxedo Revolt. I spent all summer getting the new website renovated and ready for launch, and I’ve also been writing like a fiend. But all my work so far is leading up to the public and official launch of http://www.tuxedorevolt.org and this blog (If you’ve been following me all along, I’m grateful. It’s been on the DL thus far).
But as you might have guessed, I’m not just going to announce the new projects without giving my faithful readers a freebie. On Saturday, I will release my “Declaration of Independent Arts” in a 100% advertisement free .pdf format. This is a project that has been burning in my mind for a while and I’m happy to finally be able to share it with you.
I want you to imagine a world where individual performing artists, musicians, actors and dancers are empowered to make the decisions about where the future of the arts will go. Decisions will not be made in a vacuum, or behind closed office doors. They will not be made solely by bureaucracies and administrators. Imagine a world where creativity is authentic and spontaneous, where ideas are born by the performers in the creative space. Imagine a culture in the performing arts where audience are treated like partners, and are respected as such.
This is what the Tuxedo Revolt hopes to bring to life. We are at the brink of a second Renaissance or Enlightenment, and I see great potential for the performing arts in the future. I refuse to believe that the arts are doomed.
If you feel stifled in your performance, if you are having difficulty finding authenticity in what you do, or if you are out of ideas– just breathe, help is on the way. What we need now, more than ever in the arts community is fresh perspective and new models that embrace relevance, communication and expression. The models I will propose, put decision making back in the hand of the magical performers and creatives that make performing arts possible. Over the course of this year, through both the blog and the Tuxedo Revolt website, we will explore these ideas together.
Don’t give in to the doomsday prophecies that surround the arts today. We can beat it. There is a way to revive your craft, your art both at the personal and global levels. There are effective ways to build audiences that both feel good and natural to the performers, and that your audience welcomes as well. The quickly changing landscape surrounding the arts reveals just as many opportunities as challenges if we only look to find them.
Times are changing my friends and the Tuxedo Revolt is here to move with the times, to embrace them, and to make progress in the performing arts. We will not remain static and passive
. If you feel the need for change and you grow restless with what the current culture expects from us. Then join me and all of us who want to see change. The time for a new era in performance is here.
Keep your eyes and ears open for the Declaration. I’ll be posting soon on how you can get your free download of the .pdf. All I ask is that you help me to spread the word.
- Enlightenment is one day away… (graeaetheatrecompany.wordpress.com)
- Every Leader Is an Artist (blogs.hbr.org)
Tools for Breaking Down the “Wall”
Invisible walls exist between the stage and the audience in performing arts organizations around the country. In my last post, I tackled the problem of making the wall visible. I showed you how to identify the problems that the wall was causing in your performance or your organization. Depending on what you do, there are many different ways your wall could actually look.
If you are a small ensemble or a solo performer, then you have lots of individual control over how you can tear down the wall that keeps you separated from your audience. If your performing organization is large and has many members, like an orchestra or a dance company, then you have to work together with your administration to decide what steps you will take to break down the wall together. This latter scenario can be significantly more complicated, but if you have identified that a wall exists, it is your duty as an authentic performer to initiate the changes you feel need to be made.
So to give you some ideas of where to start, I’ll use today’s post as a chance to make a list of some of the actions you can take to start breaking down barriers and drawing your audiences closer to you– and if you do it right, they might just begin to grow too.
So while there are countless options to consider, you must carefully take a look at who your audience is, what they like, and what they need. The following list is broken into several categories, but some may have dual applicability.
Your Audience Barrier Wrecking Ball includes (but is not limited to…):
At the administrative level:
1. Leaders that have direct one-on-one physical communication with all audience members, not just elite and wealthy donors. (and yes, shudder, tremble, quiver, this means executive directors as well.)
2. An environment where the administration pools the organization staff from secretary to executive director, and a retreat is held where all employees can voice opinions, exchange ideas, and take ownership in the way the administration interfaces with the audience. This is in lieu of relying on “consultants” to tell an organization everything that it needs–and much less expenses. Capitalize on every strength in your administrative staff. Use the intelligent, artistic, and valuable people that you pay to run your organization where they think the organization is headed in terms of its interaction with the audience. This advice is golden, because these people have a very personal stake in the success of the organization.
3. Be transparent, invite audience members to public discussion about the future of the organization. Don’t keep the public in the dark about what is going on at the highest levels. (I’m sure executive directors are trembling somewhere…) The days of back door deals and nepotism are not cool anymore. Don’t let patrons feel like they are shut out, they’d be thrilled if you invited them into all aspects of organization. It’s not hard guys, just put it on a blog.
For the performers in large organizations:
Ok folks, I hit the administrators pretty hard, but now let’s talk about what we can do to tear down the wall.
1. Mingle with audience members before and after the concert or performance.
2. Wear a pleasant countenance at all times. (Just smile) Even if you aren’t feeling it, remember you are onstage and you are acting. Make eye contact with as many audience members as you can, and smile at them.
3. Look your best onstage. Look like a million bucks, feel like a million bucks, and play like a million bucks. You are performing, you are doing what you are meant to do. Love every minute of it and let the whole world know it.
4. Form a committee in your organization to send hand-written notes to audience members, from you, to thank them for coming to the concert.
5. Put surprise tickets on the bottom of seats and lucky audience members will get to come to a reception after the concert to meet members of the orchestra or company, or group.
6. Put the audience on the stage once in a while. It is a more intimate setting, you can charge appropriately for the less availability with seating, but don’t gouge. Use this as an opportunity to let the audience know that you want to know them up close and personal.
For the Solo performer:
1. Talk to your audience. Forget about the old day of walk out on stage and play. Speak to the audience, acknowledge them, thank them, and engage them. I’ll write more about this in future posts.
2. Play a video before the concert that helps the audience put context around the performance that is about to happen. How did you prepare for it, what does it mean to you, why are you glad you have an audience. Tell them how you feel and why you love to do what you do.
3. Do away with program notes and have a live person announce each new event in the performance, or you can do it yourself.
4. If your audience is small enough, take questions and answer them honestly.
5. Receive your fans graciously after every performance, no matter how many (or few) of them there may be.
This list is as long as your imagination wants it to be. But rest assured, every action you take to bring your audience closer to you and the wonderful artistic work that you do, the bricks will begin to crumble into invisible dust.
Until next time,
Related articlesFringe frenzy takes over Edmonton (with bonus reviews) (metronews.ca)
- The Wall That Keeps Our Audiences Away (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
- Times are a changin’. (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
A Sense of Community in the Arts
There is a natural phenomenon within the arts community where artists generally only interact with similar artists—painters talk to painters, dancers talk to dancers, musicians to musicians and so on. But why is this so? I think that branching out and seeking inspiration from a variety of resources is key to creating highly original work.
Of course, there are the obvious reasons: similar lifestyles, similar challenges, and similar pools of knowledge from which to share. On some levels, I get it. As a performing musician who has spent the past seven years steeped in music school and conservatory, I understand why we gravitate to others like ourselves. However, I wonder if in some way that this may be hurting us or stifling our creativity? When musicians or any other kind of similar performers spend so much time around each other, how much truly original work can be generated?
For example, when only musicians hang out together, both professionally and socially, the strongest source of input into their artistic lives may only be other musicians. In fact, it gets more narrowly defined than that. It is my experience that horn players stick together, violinists stick together, woodwinds, low brass, etc. It is really common. Sure there will always be exceptions to the rule, and this is not an absolute truth (very few things are). But what is important here is to realize that this is the case in many performing arts settings. I call this social condition, cultural insulation.
Why is this a negative thing? Well, for a while it is actually not a negative influence. When performers are first to learning their craft, it is good to be around others learning the same thing. According to constructivist theories on learning, a process called scaffolding takes place where the learner joins together bits and pieces of information from various sources to make a mental construct about the subject being learned. For an (elementary) example, if I learn from Joe that I need soil to grow plants, and I learn from Jane that I need to water my plants, I have then learned that plants need both soil and water to grow. The problem with cultural insulation is that once we have a working body of knowledge, we have problems when it comes time to stop modeling others and make our own artistic decisions.
Throughout my time in conservatory, I saw time and time again hordes of talented young musicians all striving to be better than each other. Something you would expect to see in a conservatory right? The problem was, that because they were all mostly influenced by each other in this microcosm-music-society, the performances were all incredibly similar, reaching an almost homogenous level. It was literally recital after recital of exactly the same thing. This sort of problem has been going on for decades in music schools, and I will bet that it similar in other performing institutions.
PERFORMING ARTISTS NEED TO MIX AND MINGLE WITH OTHER ARTISTS FROM DIFFERENT GENRES.
Once we know a good deal about the mechanics and technique of our performance area, then we should start thinking about how to use the tools we have learned to create original and inspiring performances. This is key to the originality in the live performance.
Over the course of this blog, I’ll dig more deeply into why this is important for growth in our artistry. This is important for non-performing artists as well as it helps to create a richness and fullness in life.
There is so much out there for us to learn and enrich our lives and art by. I’ll help you think of creative ways to meet others, to invigorate your performances with new material and to make your life more well rounded by constantly absorbing ideas from the world around you.
Making a Statement with Your Music.
When we perform, we are making a statement to the audience. The difference between performers, however, comes from the level of consciousness we have about the statement being made.
When you take the stage and you make music on your instrument, you are participating in an act of communication and expression. How do you know what to say? How do you say it?
Fortunately, with a little bit of planning, your performances can be authentic and can truly communicate with your audience.
First of all you must ask yourself the important questions. You need to take a strong look at your values, your beliefs, and your convictions? What are the beliefs that make you…well, you? This is why deeply religious people may feel incredibly confident about singing religious music. The act of performing is directly related to their beliefs.
Think about one adjective that sums you up. Whoa. I know this one is a biggie. But bear with me for just a moment. Think of the words you might associate with major performing artists: Lady Gaga = acceptance, Adele = soul, Buddy Jewell = Nostalgia, Jason Mraz = playful. Do you see how the game works? Each of these artists has clearly defined what I call their artist message. Once you have determined this, then you can move forward with the planning phase.
Get in touch with you inner second-grader and make an idea map. I do this all the time for Tuxedo Revolt Projects. Put your artist message in a circle at the center of a piece of paper, then start drawing spokes from it and connecting it to performance related ideas. For example if your artist message was “Children” then your spokes might include: 1. kids concerts, 2. composing a song to go with a children’s book, 3. Kids guest conducting at the next concert…. the list goes on. This is where you start to brainstorm and collect ideas that are meaningful to you and what you believe as an artist.
Consider the “how”. Once you have selected the theme for your next performance project (that relates to your artist message), You can start refining the “how” of how to get your message across to your audience. There are so many ways of doing this and it is the best part. You can be subtle, or you can be neon billboard obvious. But, what is most important is that you have a message to say.
By taking the time to think through this process, you are much more likely to give a performance where the message is clear and well stated. And remember, never ever waste an opportunity to share your music and your message with others.
Until next time,
- You don’t need permission to be an innovative artist. (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)