Is It Dangerous to Cross Over Too Soon?

By: Edna Landau

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Dear Edna:

I am a parent of a very serious pre-college classical instrumentalist who has professional aspirations. Recently, she was offered a possible opportunity to perform and record with a singer-songwriter friend who has just signed a contract with a major agency and whose eclectic work is garnering increasing attention. While my daughter is flattered and quite eager to engage with musicians working in a wide range of genres, she is concerned about accepting this opportunity when she is aware that she is not yet well known in the classical world. We know a number of artists who have “crossed over” into other genres but it was always after they had achieved substantial recognition. Do you think our concern is unfounded? We both agree that your perspective will be extremely valuable in making a decision. –DLP

Dear DLP:

Thank you for sending in such an interesting and thought-provoking question.  In thinking about it, I realized that my answer now is probably very different than it would have been ten years ago. We are living in a time when we are increasingly seeking ways to attract younger audiences to classical music. I believe that the younger audience is drawn in not only by the music but by the personality of the performer. Young people listen to many types of music and they may shy away from classical music if they feel they don’t understand it. If they happen to discover your daughter via a collaboration with a singer-songwriter and they like what they hear, it may be much more comfortable for them to explore what she sounds like playing a concerto with orchestra. The bottom line, as I see it, is the quality of any venture that an artist undertakes.  If your daughter’s friend is extremely talented and both writes and performs at a high level, I see no reason why she shouldn’t consider a collaboration with them.  My guess is that we are probably talking about one track on an album and a few performances, which are not likely to cause any confusion with regard to your daughter’s major musical focus.  I would also add that in my experience, there is an enormous amount that instrumentalists can gain from working with singers, and even dancers. Instrumentalists concentrate a lot on the notes that appear on a page. Singers do too, but by necessity, they also have to concentrate on breathing and phrasing.  Dancers are, of course, always in motion. I feel that if instrumentalists would take the time to sing or dance some of the passages they regularly play, the music would come alive in an even more meaningful way. There are also genres of music that involve substantial improvisation, which is a skill and an art that I find sorely missing from the curriculum of many conservatories.  I encourage your daughter to interact with musicians from other genres whenever possible, having fun along the way and learning from one another. I am sure that her primary area of concentration will continue to be the classical repertoire and developing her artistry to the highest level possible, but she will become a much more interesting artist and she might play a valuable role in attracting new audiences to the music she loves so much.

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© Edna Landau 2012

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