The Individuality of Change

December 11, 2012

Photo: Alex Barth

Photo: Alex Barth

We’re in the midst of some pretty big changes.

Multiple orchestras across the US are facing huge deficits and are putting the pressure on their musicians to make enormous sacrifices while hoping to preserve the artistic integrity of these organizations. It is not my intent to discuss or debate the current issues, but instead address how individual musicians may respond to these changes.

The future of classical music has been a breeding ground for infighting in the ranks. Gary Sandow’s blog eloquently discusses these challenges and reading the comments to his blog posts have expanded my horizons since sometimes, the arguments are ones I haven’t necessarily considered. It baffles me how some don’t appear to believe that things are shifting, or they believe that we’re merely in a chaotic part of the cycle and things will return to “normal” soon enough. I think the concept of normal is changing, and we’re beginning to see shifts and artists who are no longer satisfied with what once was.

It’s no secret that I’ve begun creating a new path for myself. I’m shunning the audition circuit and seeking creative freedom. I’ve never felt happier or more liberated. I’m now able to more easily deal with criticism. Rather than doing what everyone else is doing, I’m doing my own thing. Because I’ve done so much soul-searching and have arrived at a musical philosophy that works for me, I feel that I’m better able to look at these issues from a balanced mindset since I have no self-preserving interests in the matter. This is what works for me, and this is where the beauty of these changes lies. Musicians will be empowered to begin making individual choices about their careers, and I believe they will become more able to sustain careers while making a living.

Did I see the current lockouts coming? No. I’m not involved in the orchestral world; however, I am a trained musician. I’m aware of how music schools and conservatories place emphasis on orchestral training. When I think back to my college days, I think about all the time I spent working on excerpts. That training took precedence over the various chamber music experiences or solo performances. I trained to become an orchestral musician. I believed for many years that getting into an orchestra was the pinnacle of a serious music career (that, or making it as a soloist…the orchestral career seemed more likely).

Because I was so involved in this training, my ears were closed to pearls of wisdom that I may have received about doing things my own way. It’s not like I wasn’t interested in entrepreneurial ventures. I even researched taking some business classes, but I wasn’t able to enroll in any due to various issues.

We had a “Business of Music” class that was offered for a few semesters but by the time my schedule allowed me to take the course, the person teaching it had moved on to a different school and no one replaced her since it was an elective. More and more schools are adding essential courses to their curriculum to expand students’ skill sets, but the question still remains of, “What is academia emphasizing? Are students being encouraged to become free-thinking individuals with creative dreams or are they simply being trained in a system that better fits what used to be?”

I’ve instead spent my own time expanding my horizons. I knew what my options were and I faced reality. Every musician’s circumstances are different; however, one thing remains the same. Every musician must take personal responsibility for their career. We’re lucky, you know. We can and should be able to adapt as artists when something happens that knocks us off kilter.

The changes that are coming and that are currently happening will affect everyone individually. I am inclined to believe that funding will begin shifting to smaller groups and individuals. I believe that audiences want to be personally connected to artists and they want to know exactly where their money is going and for what project. Crowd funding successes through platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe confirm this. Audiences will have to be cultivated on an individual basis. No audience is the same.

Perhaps the orchestral audience is diminishing, but I don’t believe the audience for the larger art form is diminishing. Be brave, be courageous and above all, find your audience. Be creative in your artistic endeavors, but also approach your art with an entrepreneurial mindset. If a concept or idea doesn’t work, then try something else.

The shifting winds have the potential to either harm or help the parties involved. I want all the musicians to come through these storms unscathed, but I know that won’t be the case.

I’m pretty excited about these changes. If you allow the changes to happen and forget what you thought you knew about classical music, then the future becomes a collective of individual change. Let’s keep it going and support each other.

©Alexis Del Palazzo, 2012

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A Dark Day for Music Lovers

December 5, 2012

It is with a genuinely sad heart that I pass along reports of the deaths of two major figures in music. Both Johnathan Harvey and Dave Brubeck have passed away in the preceding hours.  Details can be found here:

Jonathan Harvey – Jonathan Harvey dies aged 73 (Guardian UK)

Dave Brubeck – Dave Brubeck, jazz pianist, dead at age 91 (Chicago Tribune)

I had the privilege of having an extended composition lesson with Mr. Harvey and also got to hear him speak on a few occasions. While I’ll leave it to others to say all the things that should be said about the high quality of his music and teaching, I will encourage you to listen to some of his music. His repertoire has a wide range of styles and emotions, but there should be something for just about everybody. Much of it (although not his most famous works) are available on Spotify and Tombeau de Messiaen might be the most appropriate given it’s subject matter.

While I am not a frequent listener of Mr. Brubeck’s music, I did, in fact, enjoy some earlier this very week. His lively and charming arrangement/performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria ” appears in a crucial scene of the wonderful Silver Linings Playbook.

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