I’m vlogging this year for Polyphonic On Campus, a website run by the Eastman School of Music with the mission of “enhancing the professional development and broadening the perspectives of young musicians.” One of the website’s main stated goals is “to encourage musicians to learn skills, obtain insights, and participate in a learning community with their peers, which will enable them to become more involved, contributing, and effective stakeholders in the musical world.”
So every two weeks, I am charged with uploading a video of me waxing eloquent about something I think might be important for young musicians to know.
Which puts me in a really good frame of mind for reflecting on my artistic past and planning my artistic future. My next vlog, which will be posted around September 15th, will contain nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned over my 25 years as a performing artist, teacher, arts administrator, impressario, producer and lover of arts. Here they are in a nutshell.
Continue to seek out learning moments after you finish your formal education. Most of what I know now I did not learn in school. Near the end of his life, Michelangelo drew a a sketch of an old man and scribbled “Ancora Imparo” in the margin; loosely translated, “I am still learning.” Make that your mantra.
You can always learn something from someone else. And keep in mind that sometimes you learn more from someone who is doing it wrong than from someone who is doing it right. Learning what not to do can be as instructive as learning what to do.
Don’t piss people off on your way up the ladder. Be strong, be opinionated, be passionate. But be open-minded, collaborative and patient, too. We often don’t realize that the ladder is actually horizontal and we’re going to run into these people again. Cultivate your relationships because they can benefit you later. Or bite you in the nether-regions. Which they do is up to you.
Remember that there is always someone in the audience who knows the difference. And there’s always someone in the audience hearing it for the first time. It is never o.k. to phone it in and give a lack-luster performance. Never. Whether there be five or five thousand, the audience deserve your best.
You are a living, breathing, walking, talking advocate for the arts. Watch what you say and how you say it because someone is always listening.
Keep your promises and do what you say you would do better than they thought you could do it. Be reliable.
Always question and evaluate what it means to be an artist. Being an artist sometimes often means doing menial tasks; it isn’t all going to be transcendent. But those transcendent moments make the menial tasks worth it.
Of course, this isn’t advice just for young musicians. I am far from young but I am still learning, obtaining insights, and participating in a learning community with my peers. So should you. So should we all, whether we be ninteen or ninety-nine. So this is advice for us all to live daily.