September 2012 Newsletter

For the past two years I’ve been involved in teaching and developing curriculum for New England Conservatory’s Department of Entrepreneurial Musicianship. In undergraduate classes and graduate seminars I help young musicians lay the groundwork for not just a musical career, but a life in music.

One of the things about teaching is that you tend to learn at least as much as your students do. The conversations we have in class challenge me to think about my own professional and personal choices, past and present. We cover all kinds of ground from career visioning and planning, to time management, personal finances, self-presentation, project funding, creative renewal and self-promotion.

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Music and Entrepreneurship at the IASJ Meeting in Graz

Last week I was in Graz, Austria to present at the 2012 meeting of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. Both presentations concerned the future of the professional musician — from the standpoint of schools preparing musicians for professional careers, and from the standpoint of young musicians seeking to build the foundations for sustainable musical careers.

In these talks, I drew heavily upon work being done at New England Conservatory’s Department of Entrepreneurial Musicianship, under the leadership of Rachel Roberts. I’m happy to have played a key role in developing curriculum for undergraduate and graduate classes, but the success of these classes rests in is large part thanks to Rachel, Eva Heinstein and Dan Swenson who work together to create  and sustain a warm, dynamic, and supportive environment from which students (and faculty) can envision their musical futures.

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Parting Letter: Making a Life in Music

December 13, 2011

The conservatory is like an incubator for your music. Transitioning to the outside world can be scary and complicated. To complicate things further, not one of us has been handed the same deck of cards. But I know that each of you can survive as a musician. And I you can expect more than survival: you can set up a life that allows you to thrive as an artist. With that goal in mind, here are some essential tools.

1. Untangle money from music. While you’re in school, the relationship between music and money is suspended. When you get out, it can get complicated, fast. Without oversimplifying things, remember that money is simply a tool that allows you the time and materials to pursue your art to the fullest extent. Other than that, it has little to do with music itself.

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Musicians Speak for Themselves

In July, before I left for London, and eventually Kabul, I convened a group of musicians – friends, students and colleagues from Boston’s New England Conservatory – to perform in a fund-raising concert. I asked each performer to choose a piece of music that reflected his or her thoughts, feelings and hopes for the culture, history and people of Afghanistan. I’d sent around a couple of emails with pictures, articles, quotes, links to videos, and images by documentary photographers, but other than that I gave no specific artistic direction.

So on the night of the concert, I didn’t know much about what music that would be played, and I experienced the concert much as anyone in the audience did. One performer after another came to the stage, and introduced a piece of music that reflected a personal engagement with Afghanistan, with our (for many of us, adopted) American home, and with our global family of musicians.

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OpEd in the Boston Globe

IMAGINE A world without music. It’s like something out of a soul-deadening, dystopian future. And yet the people of Afghanistan living under Taliban rule in the 1990s were forbidden to sing, play an instrument, or listen to music except for prescribed religious or patriotic chants. Anyone in violation, the mullahs decreed, would have molten lead poured into their ears on Judgment Day – and be subject to jail or beatings here on earth.

The Taliban smashed instruments, burned recordings, and destroyed the archives of traditional Afghan folk songs at Radio Kabul. Even after they were routed from power in 2001, and fatwas gave way to the secular depredations of war and poverty, music has been treated with suspicion. Playing Mozart in Kabul can be a little like reading Lolita in Tehran. So it was an act of bravery as well as hope when the Afghanistan National Institute of Music opened last summer.

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Parting Letter: Sunrise, Sunset

I wrote this letter with Eva Heinstein for the students in my section of The Entrepreneurial Musician course at New England Conservatory. Eva is the Program Manager of Entrepreneurial Musicianship, and our writing together is an organic outcome of our regular post-class conversations. The Entrepreneurial Musician is a survey of important professional skills and resources, but it’s also a space for students to consider what they want the fabric of their work and artistic life to be. In writing this letter, Eva and I tried capture some of the principles we hope students will take away as they continue their studies and begin to lay the foundation for a life in music.

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