Impressions and Appreciations; a gentle reminder for all artists

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Many times I wish I could go back to my younger self and share what I’ve learned the hard way. I suppose it’s the personal journey and self-discovery through a career that gives the greatest gift, but I can’t help wondering if my career would have been more meaningful early on if only I knew what I know now.

So I take what I’ve learned and pass it to my students and young professionals seeking advice.  This is the final part of the series called “Do Over.” After discussing approaches to life that colleges and conservatories don’t cover (how to live happily, and how to eat well and save money) this final part of the series is devoted to impressions and appreciations.

Why: A Reminder

Why are we in our field and to what end? It is so easy in high school and college for young musicians to know how to love music and art. But, even at this early stage, the why should be at the front of the mind.

Why are we involved in art? For everyone it is likely a different answer, but it is important to know your personal reason as it gives relevance and reasoning to a career that constantly tests one’s commitment. In my humble opinion, “because I like to play” should never be the only reason.

Enjoying performing is great but there needs to be more. So here are some questions artist and performers should ask and ponder:

Why does my involvement in music mean anything?
What am I contributing to society as an artist/musician?
Am I sincere with my goals as a musician?
Is it worth the personal struggle and sacrifice?
Am I perpetuating the art?
Am I helping sustain it in the minds of society?

No matter what your personal answer(s) to why is, knowing why you are connected to music will keep you focused and positive, and your appreciation of music will be easier to convey to society. If you forget the why, you lose direction and your impact in the art vanishes.

Perpetuate Music Without Turning People Away

Add up all the hours, weeks, years, and decades of learning and studying music from every aspect and you become dangerous. You can fall easily into one of these categories. 1. “I know so much about this subject, why doesn’t everyone appreciate or want care about what I know or do?” Or, #2. “I know so much about this subject, I want to share everything I know right now so everyone can immediately understand it and love it, too.”

Certainly many musicians wants to share their knowledge as thoroughly as possible, or at least have an audience appreciate their own knowledge. But it is a fine line to walk when sharing this knowledge. Share too much and you essentially are shoving it down people’s throats making people metaphorically gag.

My guideline for this thin line is pick three things you find interesting, no more. If people like what they hear they will come for more, ask more, this is just the beginning. You open the door, offer some interesting tidbits, and see if there is any interest. If there is, the audience member will do their own research, ask the questions, buy some CDs, and come to another concert. All they need is the invitation and the introduction, not a dissertation.

Generally, if your audience finds their own path in the world of classical music they will introduce and share it with their friends.

First Impressions Matter Everywhere, Every Time

First impressions have never been more important in the Classical Music field than now. With the constant threat of losing ticket sales, labor disputes, and orchestras going out of business, it is absolutely critical to put a good first impression package together:

  1. Appearances when traveling on plane, train, or walking to/from work one should never be schleppy or disheveled. You never know who might be in the seat next to you or who you might bump into walking in the streets. Not that people need to be in a three piece suit or Sunday best, but look put together and not like you just rolled out of bed. Look like you respect yourself and your career; it does matter.
  2. Your dress at rehearsals should be professional and put together as well. There is no excuse to show up to a professional orchestra rehearsal in pajamas, without shoes, in worn jeans, without hair combed, etc. It instantly devalues the years and thousands of dollars invested into your career. Additionally, it is disrespectful to your colleagues and the potential donors, board members, press, city officials, whoever, who might show up at any given point. Also, looking professional gives people the first impression classical music and the musicians are worthy.

First impressions also applies to how one acts as well.

  1. When in public places, especially if you are carrying your instrument, be polite and respectful. Example: when ordering a pre-concert coffee, say please and thank you. Patrons notice, potential audience members notice. If you appear nice or even, approachable, chances are people will associate your art the same way.
  2. If you have a vanity plate on your car, perhaps it says CNCRTMSTR or OBOE1, be extra careful not to drive like a jerk, especially on the way to and from concerts.
  3.  Guess what happens if you look glum, pissed off on your way to or from concert where patrons can see you? You’ve just classified your art in that same vain.

While one little damaging first impression probably won’t kill the entire art, it would be far better to have one little positive first impression.

Musicians put so much into the art, there is no question! How much we appreciate what we’ve put in sometimes gets pushed to the side. And how we impress upon people also gets pushed to the side. It is imperative to reconnect with why we are in the art, why we need to share it thoughtfully, and why we need to value our impression we give to our society. Only good can come from that kind of thoughtfulness.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.
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