Thank You Notes

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

A young artist who seeks my advice from time to time recently asked me about a note she was planning to write to a conductor following what she thought was a very successful collaboration. She wanted to be sure that what she had drafted was appropriate. The conductor had given her his personal e-mail address and had taken a picture with her. In her note to him, she expressed appreciation for having had a chance to work with him and attached the picture. No problem at all. I found that charming. She then went on to inform him that her first concerto cd would be coming out soon and that she would have four additional concertos in her repertoire for the 2015-16 season. I told the young lady that unless the conductor had specifically asked her to forward her repertoire list, she was better off leaving that part out – especially inasmuch as she has professional management and that kind of follow-up should be left to them.

This particular question prompted me to approach a few conductors and presenters to ask them how often they received notes from artists and whether a nicely written thank you note following an engagement made any difference in the likelihood of an artist being re-engaged. I learned that such notes were not uncommon and were certainly appreciated, but unless a note to a conductor specifically addressed a conversation that had taken place during the visit regarding a particular project, work or composer, with an eye toward a future collaboration, the note was not likely to have long term impact. An exception to this might be a note about specific repertoire that wasn’t discussed, but the artist and conductor had connected personally to a sufficient extent that the artist’s suggestion would feel totally natural. Here is an example: “It occurred to me after we worked together that hardly anyone plays the Busoni concerto. I happen to love that piece and in light of the fact that two years from now will be a Busoni anniversary, I thought I’d mention it in case you like the piece too!” I was advised that if a conductor specifically says to an artist that they’d like to know what they are doing from time to time and that they should stay in touch, the artist can feel comfortable taking that comment at face value. An exchange of e-mail addresses would further confirm the conductor’s sincerity. The artist must understand that there may not be any outcome from such communications for quite some time and that they need to be patient. They should also carefully gauge the frequency of their communications as it would be counterproductive to come across as pushy or, even worse, relentless. One conductor told me about a note from a violinist that has stayed in his memory because it was very thoughtful and genuine and didn’t ask for anything at all. It simply expressed appreciation for the opportunity to work together in the Sibelius concerto and went on to say how the artist’s further performances of the concerto benefited from their collaboration.

The presenters I spoke to cited a few instances where a thank you note might seem very much in order – if the presenter helped the artist to commission a new work, if the artist stayed in the community for an extended time, or if a staff member did something out of the ordinary during the artist’s stay. They quickly added that anyone taking the time to write a thank you note would be well advised to write it by hand, rather than send it by e-mail.

To round out my “research”, I decided to speak to violinist , Philippe Quint, who has always impressed me as an artist with great savoir faire. I also knew that he had been the founder and Artistic Director of the Mineria Chamber Music Festival in Mexico City and thus could respond to my questions both from the perspective of a performer and a presenter. Philippe told me that his teacher, Dorothy DeLay, had encouraged all young artists who were starting out in their careers to write thank you notes following their performances. He concurs with that approach, since even the smallest probability of getting re-engaged as a result of such a gesture can be extremely valuable at that critical time. Today, when Philippe’s career is in high gear, any thank you notes he may write are typically to a conductor with whom he may have discussed repertoire and shared a meal during the course of an engagement, or an artistic administrator at an orchestra who may have driven him around and extended themselves in a special way to make him feel comfortable. He stressed, however, that at any stage in an artist’s career, it is important that their note come across as sincere, not contrived. It would be refreshing if the artist focused on an element of the experience that demonstrated the importance to them of returning to the community — perhaps something human and memorable, rather than career based.

As a presenter, Philippe has welcomed the occasional note from an artist who has had a connection to him, apprising him of a significant and exciting new development in their career. Constant updates with information that is easily accessible via Facebook or Twitter often get instantly deleted. He suggests that a periodic newsletter, prepared for family, friends and close industry contacts, may be well received by a professional contact  if forwarded with a personal note that acknowledges something nice that has just happened for them, or an expression of enthusiasm for a recent performance or recording of theirs that the artist might have heard.

Philippe’s last words of advice concerned an artist’s general behavior during an engagement.  He cited examples of some of the most beloved artists of our time, such as Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, whose humility, kindness and generosity to everyone they encounter on their travels, regardless of function or stature, has become legendary. Their special efforts to connect with donors at post-concert events have been of incalculable benefit to the presenter and resulted in memorable experiences for the donors that will always be treasured. All artists should be inspired by their example and remember that acts of kindness mean so much to all those who work hard to make an engagement a success. Thank you’s on site and thoughtful gestures are likely to be remembered. Coupled with an artistically memorable performance, they are certainly likely to enhance the chances of being re-engaged in the future.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2014

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One Response to “Thank You Notes”

  1. Michael Drapkin Says:

    I think that the basic premise in this article is dated and out of touch with today’s realities. Artists need to be more aggressive if they want to stand out of the crowd. What would garner much more attention is not saying that you play the Busoni concerto and that Busoni’s anniversary is coming up, but HARD NUMBERS that show how engaging you to perform with their orchestra will bring in more money and fill more seats. Speaking from my Brooklyn Phil board experiences, orchestras are inundated with artists saying, “hire me – I’m great.” What would make you stand out of the crowd is instead saying, “if you hire me, I will fill in X% of additional seats, yielding additional cash flow during my performances.” I wouldn’t waste time sending it to the conductor, either, because they typically aren’t concerned with the orchestra’s financials, except when it comes to getting paid themselves. Instead, I would find out who the decision maker is on the administrative staff or board and contact them.