I'm grateful for this contribution from Karen Holvik, (chair, NEC voice department) following up on the March 2017 conversation about surviving in Boston as a freelance singer.
When I first got to New York City, my Upper West Side neighborhood was still not gentrified, so the pawn shop was close by. I bought a manual typewriter because it was cheap, and found a Typing for Dummies book at Coliseum Books (now gone, sadly) on 57th Street across from Carnegie Hall. I taught myself to type -badly- and signed up with a temp agency.
Since I didn’t have good typing skills, I was sent out on receptionist jobs, which came in handy when I finally landed a job at a major law firm in Rockefeller Center that had an in-house temp arrangement called a "floater pool” which was made up of singers, dancers, actors, writers, etc. It was great because we could do auditions, concert gigs, even short tours, and still have a job when we returned. (Renee Fleming worked there at one point.)
The arrangement fell apart when the firm hired a new personnel manager who didn’t want people to be coming and going so much. I was lucky enough to inherit a job from a friend who was working for a solo practitioner attorney in another Rock Center building. That’s where my typing really improved! I hated office work, but until I decided to quit so I could be more free to travel, this job served me well.
I had other survival jobs in NYC, but the office work was what kept me going the longest. As I tell my students, we all have to decide what we're willing to do to finance our lives as we follow our dreams.
"I came to the Wednesday evening discussion after an intense forty-eight hours. Literally every waking moment that I was not rehearsing, teaching, in a meeting, driving, or eating, I had spent furiously writing a grant. The discussion was a relief because I walked into a room of people who knew exactly what my crazy forty-eight hours felt like. They had all been there before and they were talking about it! Both the practical challenges and the philosophical questions we all ponder, and why we started our organizations in the first place. I felt less alone.
It is rare that I get to have such important conversations with fellow musicians who understand my working life, because we are all so busy trying to make our projects happen! I learned so much from the questions that were posed and the experiences that were shared.
I made it a priority to attend #MusiciansAtWork because Palaver Strings had been coming up in my newsfeeds and emails lately, and I wanted to get to know the group better, as well as connect with other attendees who I knew are also part of Boston's cultural ecosystem.
Heath has a gift for bringing together passionate, motivated, intelligent people and getting them to have important conversations. He asks amazing questions that get to the heart of the matter. He does it in such an honest way that it invites others to also be honest and vulnerable in their responses. #MusiciansAtWork discussions fill a great need for community, encouragement, reflection, and learning from each other. I don't know of any other place where this happens."
Continuing the recent theme of mobility and engaging communities, I was inspired to check in on Yellow Barn's Music Haul, which first hit the road in October 2015. More recently, Music Haul toured Boston and was profiled by Malcolm Gay in The Boston Globe:
“We exist in the world as musicians that is in a way so finely controlled and tuned,” said Yellow Barn’s artistic director, Seth Knopp. “Music Haul removes some of the ceremony, which can be a barrier for people who are not often exposed to that world. There’s an element of taking something out of its accustomed place and allowing it to take people by surprise.”
"Knopp said when it comes to Music Haul, which is also equipped with marine speakers to blast Yellow Barn recordings en route, a key element is in the wonderment afforded by surprise.
“Because it’s unexpected, people will not have preconceptions, and they won’t feel the fear of ignorance in the face of an experience they’ve never had before,” he said. “Without that expectation, you have a kind of vulnerability, an openness, that one needs to listen in the best possible way.”
Recently, I have been thinking with Andrea Landin (Sistema Fellow '13) about how to help her find the best possible successor when she steps down in June from her role as founding director of the New West Symphony Harmony Project of Ventura (CA). Whoever takes over from Andrea needs to be able to lead the musical development of the Project's many young students, but when considering the program's youth development mission in the context of the community it serves, it is evident that the program's next leader cannot be measured by his or her music education credentials alone.
Someone recently used the word "unicorns" to describe the challenge of finding musicians and music educators who are both predisposed and prepared to do creative youth development work that is responsive to community needs and assets. I love the way that Andrea has chosen to describe the unicorn that she is now actively seeking. I'm crossing my fingers that her search is successful.
Sharing excerpts of the learning happening in "Building a Community-Based Residency"