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My Manifesto: The Sensible Flutist speaks out

The Sensible Flutist: My Manifesto: The Sensible Flutist speaks out

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Manifesto: The Sensible Flutist speaks out

Dear Music Community,

I've been sitting on this post for a few weeks now. With a couple of self produced concerts under my belt, the lessons I've learned along the way have opened my eyes to see things I didn't necessarily see before. In fact, I've been feeling intensely confused and frustrated as I notice walls where I didn't notice them before. No longer is making a living in music a dream, but it's a reality that I have to contend with. If this is what I want to do, I better figure out something.

The unfortunate reality is that I clearly see the division that exists in the classical music world. Music should be the unifying factor in our community but factions exist with multiple, sometimes unbending opinions. Some still hold true to the traditional system while others are jumping on board for the wild ride of the new economy. I want to post on The Sensible Flutist my aims and values so that I can start a conversation with others about the best way that we as a community can move forward and make a positive impact on our audiences. This is a conversation I desperately want to have with any willing musician. 

This is the mission statement I crafted for myself a few months ago when I knew I wanted and needed something to keep me grounded as I began working in a new way:

Empowering musicians and audiences through healthy movement in performance, education and collaboration.

This is a succinct statement that says a lot, and I feel now is the time to elaborate on this.

Here are the points of my manifesto:
  • Serve the community
  • Value yourself
  • Think outside the box
  • Teach yourself
  • Be fearless
Having come from a family of teachers, I was taught to value education and to help others in any way I can. Instead of teaching in a school like my parents and other family members, I have instead chosen to help people with my music via teaching, performance and writing. Furthermore, I am continuing my education to help musicians via Body Mapping and the wider population via Physical Therapy. My goal is to be as useful to as many people as possible, through music and wellness. This new path I'm forging for myself centers around music, but branches out to include a professional field in which musicians desperately need advocates and understanding.

Here's the thing - I know that as much as I love performing, my end game is to not pick up an agent. I have had to figure out a way to preserve my creative freedom so that I don't risk burn out. I have decided that as much as I love orchestral playing, winning a seat in an orchestra somewhere is almost statistically impossible. I would rather spend my time practicing solo and chamber music that gives me freedom and the ability to collaborate with wonderful like minded musicians. I don't find enjoyment in practicing orchestral excerpts ad nauseum. 

I'm interested in continuing to self-produce concerts, and finding ways to make them profitable for all involved. I'm also interested in figuring out how to use these skills to get invited to appear on a concert series, but one thing at a time. The bottom line is that I am a performer. I love performing and sharing new music with the audience and connecting personally with people that come to hear me play. New music is my passion and advocating for composers through performance is something that is very important to me.

Performing hasn't been a profitable thing for me. I pick up a paid gig here and there, but this has made me realize that I should not focus on getting paid more to perform. I am focusing on making my performance based projects financially sustainable. 

In the meantime, I'm choosing to pursue Physical Therapy that will give me the financial freedom to choose the projects I want to be a part of. Quite simply, I have realized that performing is a deeply personal thing to me and I cannot make that a commodity for my financial gain. 

You may be saying at this point, "Then how can you possibly make a living as a musician? Once you become a Physical Therapist, won't you just be a PT playing music on the side? You aren't legitimate."

This is where world views collide and here presents the source of my confusion and at times, frustration. My world view is that there is absolutely no job security for anyone any longer. We must work in new ways, and see the world as a fluid place in a state of transition. Anything can happen. "The Man" in the music world is academia and orchestras, and we see these once strong institutions failing with severe budget cuts. We see the facts, and there's STILL debate on whether these institutions will survive. Organizational change is slow to come by. 

When asked what they want to do, most every music student answers that they would like to play in an orchestra or be a college professor. This is what's familiar even though it is not sustainable. Unless music schools do a better job of showing to the outside world how a music degree prepares a student for success in any field or unless music schools are encouraging and educating music students to think outside the box for work opportunities, there's countless musicians out there being set up for failure. We have to stop the charade and start making changes NOW. Otherwise, the music that we love won't survive and we will no longer be able to make a living in this industry.

The question I want to answer is how can we serve our community and earn a living at the same time? In no way can we give everything away for free nor should musicians be expected to. Would you ask a surgeon to perform open heart surgery for free?

But everyday, there are musicians out there giving so much of their time away for nothing in order to keep performing and hoping that the networking and exposure will pay off at some point. What if you're stuck in the middle, between amateur players who can afford to play for free because they work in a different field and those musicians who teach at local schools and universities and pick up better paid work. That's me at the moment, and I don't begrudge those who are getting the work. All I want to do is make a living, and I want to make a living on my own terms. 

How do we start making these changes?

We need to have real, open and honest conversations about how to move forward. We each need to be willing to rethink our opinions for the greater good. We need to start putting into practice all these ideas we keep circulating and talking about. Musicians, composers, conductors, arts administrators, management and all the rest of us involved in music need to have this conversation together. We all bring unique perspectives, but we're all cut from the same mold - we love classical music and we want our art to survive. Our experiences have been uniquely individual and this enables us to innovate and change our community. These conversations may be uncomfortable, but it's important these discussions represent a cross section of our community. Solutions need to be proposed, openly discussed and implemented. 

I believe with all my heart it is possible to make a living doing what you love. Make it useful to other people, and you will find success. Perhaps we've spent so much time focusing on ourselves as musicians that we haven't given much thought to those we can serve. And for me, it all goes back to helping people. 


Alexis Del Palazzo, The Sensible Flutist
Flutist/Teacher/Writer/Andover Educator trainee (Body Mapping)/future Physical Therapist


At May 18, 2012 at 4:46 PM , Blogger Eddie Louise said...

I think this is a fabulous place for the conversation to begin: music as a connecting agent. Connecting audience to musicians, connecting musicians to composers, connecting composers to music, connecting music to an audience. It is a fact that money is drawn to exciting things happening. If we start with a goal of making connections, of making things happen, we can stop talking about what makes money and start building a vibrant scene that will attract money.

Step 1: Stop commoditizing music. An orchestra is a service, not a product. Musicians are artists, not employees. A 'business minded' CFO is all wrong for arts management, because art is not a business and cannot flourish as such.

There is a certain project we are both part of that is working out the details on a collaborative payment system that will reward artists with a shared payout of any monies we make by putting tracks on iTunes. If our joint efforts succeed in making our recorded tracks go viral and we see solid numbers of downloads because of it - we will all share the returns on a basis of effort in = payment out. A service based payment system that I hope will not only prove highly successful, but help pave the way for other innovations in the 'business' of classical music.

At May 18, 2012 at 5:35 PM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Thank you for the feedback. You make great points.

It all comes to connection, and I think that's a place that makes us very unique and valuable for the general public. In this day and age where we're "connected" yet in fact, we're more disconnected thanks to all our electronic gadgets, there is a need for something such as classical music to help reconnect communities again.

There's a lot of exciting stuff, especially with Twtrsymphony. There's no where to go but up and it's an excellent starting point to begin to have these kinds of conversations.

At May 18, 2012 at 8:26 PM , Blogger anna said...

Love this post! This is important not just for musicians, but for everyone in the arts. You can't just sit in the practise room / art studio / sewing room floor and wait for someone to start paying you to keep sitting there. The online world is opening up so many more opportunities, industries are merging (physical therapy/music) and there are so many ways to make a living as an artist now.

Unfortunately much of the classical music world is so closed minded and boxed in. If you spend your time waiting for someone to die in order to get an audition with hundreds of others for the one position then you will not succeed.

Branching out lets us be so much more creative, and is the best way now to make a living as a musician (or artist, writer etc).

At May 19, 2012 at 3:53 AM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Thank you for commenting, Anna! Yes, it's important to be creative and think about what combination of skills makes you unique. When we utilize them to realize our potential? That's when good things start happening.

At May 23, 2012 at 9:43 AM , OpenID bluecavalier said...

As someone who is trying to pursue a dual-career with music, this really resonates strongly with me. I feel that musicians bring a unique skill set to any table because of the nature of our art -- we're highly collaborative and very good at executing tasks. And thinking creatively, of course!

However, I have seen attitudes from employers that don't value musical skills or degrees because they feel it's not a specialized degree. In a world that rewards specialization, people who are jacks- or jills-of-all-trades need to find a way to stay relevant.

Perhaps that means that we use our musical influences in ways that are completely beyond the 'box' in our other fields, which might ultimately mean we can't be 100% committed to music. Or at the very least, committed to every aspect of performance, writing, teaching, et cetera.

While this might seem as diluting the idea of a classical musician (which I personally find the concept completely blurred, but I digress) it creates a hybrid musician that is livable for those who don't live in a place with rich musical resources. I think that is a wonderful goal to strive for.

I think the question of legitimacy of classical music traditions needs to be asked. We can't objectively view art with monetary goggles on our heads because it defies that materialization, but we can ask ourselves if there is any subjective worth to continuing the traditions and styles that we use. There's always an inherent backlash of going against an institution, and sometimes even proof of another way is not enough to change the established beliefs.

I also think that the monolithic view of classical music as an unchanging and undying art is unworthy of growing and changing audiences. Perhaps it is different in places where those classical traditions can hold weight, but that is not always going to work.

And here's where I agree with you that the music becomes less about the star composer or the star performer and more about communication and art. I think that's a hard thing for musicians who have gone to some sort of college to swallow. I was instilled with values that my writing should be unique and introspective and that it should all be about my relationship with the player and the piece. But maybe we need to have a broader conversation and include the audience in a way that diminishes egos in a respectful way.

I'm not saying that the values that I was instilled with are wrong, or shouldn't be expressed, but maybe that isn't what audiences need now. After all, that mindset imposes its own unique set of challenges of getting paid if you're removing yourself almost entirely from the equation.

This has been a verbal-vomit reply, but attitude changes are going to tax our skills as amateur-professionals or professional-amateurs and force people to re-examine everything. And that is going to mean a lot of garbled writing while we figure everything out. Let's start with a pebble to get the boulder rolling.

At May 23, 2012 at 8:59 PM , Anonymous Jodi Bortz said...

If you were closer, I'd say let's go get some coffee and talk! So much of what you say rings true to me. When I have students that want to go the professional musician route now, I say many of the same things to them. How are you going to make a living at this? What is your unique voice? Much of what I do in a day toward making a living I didn't learn in college. I'm not knocking school, they gave me exactly what I wanted and asked for, a music degree. And I use it! But more and more of my time is spent marketing, researching, and promoting. And what do I get for all of my efforts? Requests to perform for "exposure."

Two things you say get at the heart of it. First, communication is key. Second, know your unique voice.

Friends of mine started a small independent publishing house. They said something that I think relates well to your points above. They said, they don't yet make a good living, but they do make a good life. I feel the same way. I'm not getting rich as a musician and teacher, but I am so happy and grateful to do what I do.

At May 24, 2012 at 7:44 AM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

EXCELLENT! Many thanks for reading and posting such a detailed reply to only add to what I originally said.

For instance, as I think about how I want to continue producing my own concerts, I have to think hard and be creative in what I think audiences will come for. We either have to be really good salesmen and sell people on our art (which doesn't intuitively make sense based on our values as musicians), or we have to be aware of our audience at all times and be sensitive to what they find value in.

I think we'll have audiences if we make people feel like they matter and know they're there for art, not for my ego. I don't want people to feel out of place at my concerts. Heck, when I played in my hometown, people clapped between every movement and I LOVED it. When I think about it a month later, it still puts a big smile on my face.

Yes, everyone needs to be involved in this conversation.

At May 24, 2012 at 7:47 AM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Thanks, Jodi! I'm happier now than ever before knowing that I have my skills as a musician and that I will be adding to them and providing a service that still largely doesn't understand our special needs as musicians.

In the meantime, I've learned a lot from life experience and taking risks. I'm happier living in the real world than living in year after year of school. I feel like I can control my destiny a lot better.

I just wish my 16 year old self had known all this :)


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