Searching for a daily routine I went snooping around to check out what’s happening with our neighbors. Being a professional musician for many years, a musician’s routine is known to me so I’ll start there.
Depending on what part of the musicianship ecosystem you are situated in, you’d be practicing your instrument or learning scores, attending rehearsals, practicing new repertoire, attending concerts, listening to recorded music, performing in live events or recordings. If you’re on the more theoretical side you’ll be composing and arranging music, conducting, researching, teaching and training others. You might also be a critique or a lecturer, where you’ll be reviewing, researching, attending concerts, working on your next presentation or class. You might get to be a musical director or producer, where again – you’ll be attending concerts, listening to recordings, meeting with performers, traveling, researching, reviewing, etc.
Even if you are an independent musician, there is a system you are connected to. That system may provide an infrastructure, administration, artistic management, connections, opportunities and everything you need to bring your art in front of an audience.
If you’re a professional dancer you’re most probably part of a troupe or a group. You’ll be on your feet between 10-12 hours a day, moving between warm-up sessions to rehearsals for various choreographies, visiting the physiotherapist occasionally, doing some choreography, dressing and performing. You’ll also attend others’ performances, mingle with musicians and occasionally with other stage artists. If you are a choreographer, you’ll be researching for a concept, listening to music, and working with dancers. Again, if you are on the more theoretical part of the ecosystem, you’ll be researching, preparing lectures and presentations, attending performances and reviewing. Here too – you are connected to a system.
Skill expands artistic possibilities and opportunities
But how did all these people become part of the system or even better – how did the system emerge? the system emerged because skill is involved. Skill expands artistic possibilities and opportunities. This creates demand for more musicians that can match-up. Trying to reach top performance on your own is a possibility, though you might get there and you might not. If you want to make sure that every performer walking into a rehearsal can actually do what is required – you’ll need a system that prepares them to do so and a system that will employ them or provide opportunities. The path is long but if you want to be part of the ecosystem, you’ll walk it. It’s the reasonable way.
Does everybody achieve top performance? no. Everybody can achieve their own top performance but that might not be enough to meet any position in the system. Musicians know from young age they might not become a solo player, a composer or a conductor. Even if they do, they know they might not be the best. Still, there is enough room for everyone and you can find your best place. In light of these understandings, the ecosystem creates a methodology. This helps people proceed to a good level or beyond and helps them find a way to match their aspirations – if they want to do the work. It also helps them make a living.
Moving to the lonely planet
You might think, “ok, but musicians and dancers work in groups. Playing or dancing solo recitals isn’t common practice for most of them. Storytellers work alone.” True, but we don’t grow alone from thin air.
Authors & Painters
These artists are closer to storytellers if we’re looking at the “loneliness” aspect. They might even be self made, like most storytellers. Still, no person is an island – there are influencers and mentors, there’s history and critique. Both arts can be learned via formal education and if you’re looking for skill and even a methodology – you can find them in more than one place. There is another common denominator between storytelling, authoring and painting: “they are a matter of taste, no?” maybe, but the outcome of our work does have to pass a certain level if it wants to be considered worth anyone’s while.
“Mirror mirror on the wall”
I’m writing this past midnight, back from a storytelling lesson. The participants are what you might call – advanced students; that’s what the system they are in calls them. I’ve never trained any of them or met them before this course. One thing I can say – advanced in storytelling they are not. Advanced in this case is just a phase-name given by the system’s administration, with no artistic justification. It’s supposed to make them feel good but it gives me cramps. On the other hand, if there are no rules there is no ruler. How should they be able to decide about the level of a student?
One of the participants lingered long after the session was over to talk with me. She couldn’t realize how I didn’t think her telling was awesome. As she was unraveling her thoughts about why I didn’t “get” what she was expressing I heard a little voice in my head reciting, “mirror mirror on the wall”. She couldn’t see anything besides what she wanted to look at – you can guess what that was. The guidance she received until we’ve met gave her no tools to evaluate what she was doing beyond, “I felt I was really expressing myself” “I liked the dramatic touch I gave the story” “didn’t you think that little dance in the middle was pretty cute?” the latter I would agree with – it was cute – but it wasn’t storytelling.
“You seem to have some sort of theory,” she said, “what is it good for?” “knowing where I am on the map of artistic skills required for being a fine storyteller, so I can develop, for one. So I can help you develop, is another,” I replied. She found it very difficult to agree with the fact there is a path there. “But what about you? what about what you want to express?” she asked. “What about individualism you mean?” her eyes lit up, I was finally “getting it”. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that question from storytellers. Never heard it from a musician though. Do you think musicians lack individualism?” it was my turn to do the questioning.
She seemed to have not met such a person – a professional musician worried about their individualism. “You might have met someone 17 wondering but not a professional. I’ll tell you why – all this deconstruction, theory and practice eventually re-combines into the ability to perform well upon demand. From that moment on, you can choose to fly wherever your wings take you. It can’t happen without a solid framework or else you’ll be constantly worried about the frame. If you seek freedom you need a frame.” That was a little too much to swallow I suppose. “I’ll have to think about it,” she added. I hope she does.
What disturbed me even more was the fact participants were complimenting each other in a false way. I’ve seen it in many other places and from my point of view it’s a bad habit leading people nowhere better than they are, just a little more numb. Is that where we want to be?
Mentioning numb, I need to get some sleep, so… to be continued.