Archive for the ‘Career Etiquette’ Category

Thank You Notes

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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

The Personal Touch

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

By: Edna Landau

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I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Chamber Music America’s very informative, helpful and free “First Tuesdays” workshops which focus on a different professional development topic each month. This particular one, which was called “The Art of the Cold Call”, was expertly led by Marc Baylin, president of Baylin Artists Management. When asked by an artist manager how they should communicate with a presenter who was not responsive to their calls and e-mails, I was surprised to hear him suggest a letter. My first reaction was, who writes letters anymore and why is that likely to prove more effective? Mr. Baylin believes that a letter demonstrates extra effort on the part of an artist or manager and it is less likely to be discarded than an e-mail which might immediately be deleted. Most people will at least open the letter and glance at it, since they receive very few of them. It is also something tangible that they might keep on their desk until they are ready to deal with it. This got me thinking about other types of communication that seem to increasingly get neglected in these very fast paced times.

Two of the most powerful words in interpersonal relationships may well be “thank you”; yet, too often, those words go unarticulated. I have met artists who didn’t feel the need to thank their manager for securing a particularly meaningful engagement or attractive fee for them because, after all, they pay them commissions for their efforts and the higher the fee, the more the manager earns. I have also met individuals who may have considered the idea of giving their supervisor or employer a gift on their birthday but chose not to for fear of coming across as trying to gain favor with them. In my view, generosity of spirit and genuine expressions of appreciation will never lead someone down the wrong path. In fact, they help to build relationships that enrich our work experiences and offer incalculable rewards over the course of a lifetime.

In speaking with Steven Shaiman, Senior Vice President and Artist Manager at Concert Artists Guild, I was very heartened to learn that there is generally a climate of appreciation from the artists for the work that they do for them in launching their careers. Some take the time to write personal notes to the staff and others may bring in home baked treats. A good number write notes to presenters following their performances, having been encouraged to do so by their managers. This gratitude continues after they have graduated from CAG, when they take care to mention in interviews the valuable role the company played in their career development. It is not surprising that some of these personal gestures may become less frequent as artists’ schedules become more demanding. I asked Ken Fischer, President of the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, how often he gets personal thank you notes from artists and he said it was rare. When it does happen, it makes a huge impression on him. One memorable note came from a singer who wrote to thank him for personally driving her to the airport early on a Sunday morning. I know that Mr. Fischer doesn’t think twice about doing something like that, nor does his staff complain about the work involved in preparing personal welcome packets for every guest artist arriving on campus, including individual members of foreign visiting orchestras, who receive packets prepared in their native language. Still, none of this should be taken for granted. He is gratified by the opportunity afforded by Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with artists after they leave the campus. The ongoing communication that some artists opt to have often heightens the sense of anticipation that precedes a return visit. He also stressed to me how much it means to him and his staff when a manager takes the time to pay them a visit. Many of us may come to a performance because we think the artist expects it of us. Over the years, I rarely thought about what such a gesture might mean to the presenter, especially in the case of a veteran such as Ken Fischer. Presenters also cherish the generous community that they are a part of, sharing ideas and celebrating one another’s successes. It was no surprise to me to learn that so many of Mr. Fischer’s professional colleagues are also close personal friends.

I asked Mary Lou Falcone, the venerated public relations specialist, how she felt about employees going out of their way to make gestures of support and appreciation. I gave the example of an assistant placing a bouquet of flowers on her desk at the conclusion of a week that had been particularly challenging. Would she ever think that such a gesture was motivated by some other agenda? She responded by saying that it should never feel awkward for an employee to show kindness to an employer if it comes from a place of sincerity. Even small gifts at holiday time or on a birthday are not out of place. For the employer, it can be deeply touching and memorable. I also asked her how many former employees stay in touch with her and she said that about 50% still do. One woman who worked for her 30 years ago and who has gone on to a highly successful career in real estate still calls once a year to say that it would never have happened without her. We shared our mutual admiration for pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who never fails to call us on our birthday no matter where he may be in the world, long after our personal representation services for him have ended. She confirmed my belief that there is no one at any level who will not appreciate a kind gesture and a congratulatory message on a job well done. She takes great care to pass along this message to the students in her course at Juilliard, “Completing the Singer”. She tells them that to say thank you and give credit takes nothing away from us. It helps to build and nurture relationships which are the foundation of a long and rewarding career in our industry. She summed everything up beautifully by adding: “No matter what your function, thoughtfulness is never out of style.”

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

Please Note: I will be taking a spring break from this column over the next few weeks and will return on April 11, in hopes that it will actually feel like spring in New York by then! If you are celebrating a holiday during this time, I wish you a very happy holiday.

The Artist-Manager Relationship

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

By: Edna Landau

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When I opened the Arts section of The New York Times three weeks ago, I saw an interesting article about a singer who was new to me, the South African soprano Pretty Yende. The first name certainly called attention to itself, as did the large picture of Ms. Yende, taken from her debut in Le Comte Ory at the Metropolitan Opera in January. The New York Times reported that “since Ms. Yende’s debut, her phone has been ringing with offers from agents. So far, she said, she has turned them all down.” This statement got me thinking. My first reaction was one of admiration and respect for an artist who felt she needed more time to complete every aspect of her training. (She apparently said: “This is my year to study.”) I felt it would take real courage to turn down management offers, especially if they were from well-established, reputable agencies. However, after a bit more reflection regarding this particular artist, who is already very much in the public eye and who had time to hone her craft during multiple years in the Academy at La Scala, I wondered whether she was wise to turn away management offers. The decision would seem predicated on the fear that a manager would push her too hard, too soon, but that is not what a good manager would do. A young, immensely gifted artist whose career is about to shift into high gear needs an insightful, skilled and sensitive manager at such a juncture, more than perhaps at any other time in their career.

Many people think that a manager’s role is simply to help an artist get engagements (and in a few rare cases, endorsements). That is certainly part of the picture, but an excellent manager will also do the following

1)  Consult with the artist (and possibly their teacher or mentor) about suitable repertoire at any given time. For a singer, this can be particularly critical. The manager may help the artist to resist the temptation to accept an opera role for which they are not yet ready. In the case of an instrumentalist, conductor or ensemble, the manager may have ideas about repertoire that is infrequently performed which, if it suits the artist, may help them gain attention. In all cases, the manager will attempt to find opportunities for the artist to perform new repertoire in smaller cities and venues before taking it to larger markets.

2)  Make introductions for the artist to major conductors and presenters and help them establish relationships that will become important and meaningful throughout their career. They may also have the ability to set up auditions for the artist with conductors who they think might be nurturing to them.

3)  Negotiate appropriately on behalf of the artist, based on their considerable knowledge of fees commanded by artists in different stages of their careers – something that is awkward and difficult for the artist on their own. They may also have some influence on finalizing a rehearsal schedule if it seems less than optimal for the artist.

4)  Act as an intermediary with presenters who may request additional activities beyond the performance which could place undue stress on the artist. Their objectivity can help artist and presenter arrive at a schedule that works well for both.

5)  In this time of increasingly complex media contracts and the potential for unauthorized use of an artist’s performance, steer their artist through these waters (perhaps with the help of an attorney), unless the artist prefers to totally delegate this responsibility to an attorney.

6)  Introduce the artist to public relations experts who can get the word out about important debuts and special projects, and who can help in pacing exposure for the artist, commensurate with the level and number of their engagements.

If an artist has achieved a modest amount of success but feels that they want to continue their studies or professional development for a few more years, that is not in itself a reason to turn down management. The right manager will be sympathetic to the artist’s wishes but will begin to create a buzz about them, while temporarily putting some seemingly premature high exposure dates on the back burner. If an artist is successful in building a relationship with this type of individual, it may develop into a successful partnership that could endure throughout their career.

Note: While writing this column, I learned that Pretty Yende is represented by Zemsky Green Artists Management. Nevertheless, I proceeded to post it because I felt that the topic merited attention.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

Reaching Out to Past and Potential Supporters

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

By: Edna Landau

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The end of 2012 has brought a deluge of e-mails into my Inbox. Some were holiday greetings, coupled with updates on an artist’s current activities. Others were invitations to a showcase or to visit with an artist at the conferences which take place in New York in January. I will share the best and the worst of them with you since I think there are valuable lessons to be learned.


Subject: Dreams DO Come True!


Dear friends…

Ever since our show, “White Christmas,” opened in November here in Arkansas, we’ve been “dreaming of a white Christmas” about eight times a week.

Well, we got what we wished for– a very rare white Christmas in Little Rock!!

In fact, I’ve heard it’s the first one in 80 years. It was beautiful.

And yes, the show went on!

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season wherever you are!

I also am delighted to announce some upcoming engagements around the country and in the UK for early 2013. If you’re in the area,

I would love to see you!!

Jan. 11th & 12th – The Juilliard in Aiken Festival benefit concerts (Aiken, SC)

Jan. 18th & 19th – Electric Earth Concert Series (Peterborough, NH)

Jan. 27th & Feb. 9th – “Hopelessly in Love: the Lyrics of Tom Toce” (NYC)

February 12th – 16th – The Crazy Coqs (London, UK)

March 24th – 26th – The Savannah Music Festival, double bill with Jane Monheit (Savannah, GA)

May 4th – The Caramoor International Music Festival (Katonah, NY)

Details on my website and Facebook page.


Keep warm and take care, friends..

and know that I wish you all a very happy new year!


YouTube Channel
Facebook Page
You Made Me Love You CD

The e-mail from Jennifer Sheehan (featured in my blog of March 30, 2011, The “je ne sais quoi” of Great Talent) immediately caught my eye with its nice positive title (Dreams DO Come True). I enjoyed the human interest story about the first “White Christmas” in Arkansas in 80 years. It related to what Jennifer was doing at the time and the beautiful photo of the snow immediately put me in a holiday mood. I liked that Jennifer’s tone was warm and welcoming and that she shared information about a half dozen upcoming, significant engagements, while avoiding overwhelming me with detail by providing links to her website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and CD. Well done!


The subject of The Hasty Ensemble’s (fictitious name) e-mail to me was “CMA Conference Meeting?”. The text was as follows: Greetings! Let’s meet at the CMA Conference. The Hasty Ensemble is currently booking concerts for 2013-14 and beyond. Do you have time to talk on Friday or Saturday, January 18th or 19th? A rather bizarre picture of the ensemble followed, which, in my view, would never entice anyone to book them. The face of one member of the ensemble wasn’t at all visible and there were no instruments in the photo. I had no idea what type of ensemble it was. Beneath the photo were two phrases from reviews and a link to a new record release. That was it. I find it hard to believe that the sender would expect any responses to such an e-mail.

If you are writing a mass e-mail to people you don’t know, your first order of business should be to ascertain if they are in a position to help you. (I am not a presenter and hence I don’t book any concerts.) You should attempt to strike a cordial and even humble tone that doesn’t assume anything, but rather expresses appreciation for the reader’s consideration. The e-mail should be attractive, with an appealing photograph and enough information to give the reader a basis for deciding whether to respond. The Chamber Music America (CMA) conference is small enough that a targeted, personalized communication, perhaps mentioning a mutual contact within the industry, would have a far greater chance of success. The bottom line is that if you write to a potential supporter or presenter, you have to make that person care about you and what you have to offer. Try sharing your draft message in advance with a few people whose judgment you trust. Their feedback may prove valuable as you continue your efforts to network and promote your ensemble.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

Exceeding the Limit on the Freeway

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

By: Edna Landau

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Dear Edna:

I have been working for the past five years as an assistant in the admissions office of an American conservatory. I would like to embark on a new direction – perhaps artist management or artistic administration at an orchestra. I know some people to whom I feel I can turn for advice but I’m not sure whether I should be offering to pay them or whether this is the sort of thing that people do for free. Can you please let me know how I should approach this and what one can expect from them? —R.S.

Dear R.S.:

Thank you for writing in with this excellent question. Happily, the world of the performing arts is a very nurturing one. Individuals who are in established positions are happy to share their expertise and insight with young people who are still building their careers. They probably benefited themselves from such input when they started out and this is one way for them to give back. They do not expect to be paid for their time, which typically will not exceed an hour. Nevertheless, one should not take this largesse for granted and there are certain guidelines that you might want to keep in mind:

1)    When you approach someone for this purpose, it is advisable to indicate as concisely as possible why you have approached them and to express your gratitude in advance for their consideration of your request, in light of their very busy schedule.

2)    It is best to avoid making an open-ended request. Be specific about the information you are seeking. For example, it is ok to ask someone if they think you are suited for a particular position but it may not be ok if you ask them to review your resume and tell you the kinds of jobs for which they think you might be qualified. It might be more suitable to address that to a paid consultant.

3)    Avoid putting time pressure on the person you are approaching. Try to make your request sufficiently in advance of the date by which you need the information. This is even more critical if you are asking for a letter of recommendation. If your need is sudden and unexpected, express your understanding that it may not be possible for them to respond in such short order.

4)    In general, if you are asking someone to share their expertise and they are not a family friend, colleague, former teacher, director of the alumni office of a school you attended, or someone with whom you have regular give and take with regard to sharing information, it is advisable to offer to pay that person for their time. Let them decide whether to offer their counsel for free.

5)    If someone has given you free advice in the past, perhaps as part of a mentoring program at a trade conference, do not assume that they will continue to advise you going forward. If they promised to follow up on some things, they will undoubtedly be true to their word, but do not expect or request any further action on their part without offering to pay them. For example, if they have agreed to let you use their name in expressing support for a project you are undertaking, that should not send a signal to you that they are happy to assist with your pitch letter or marketing materials unless they specifically indicated that in advance. Here, too, there are consultants who can provide such services.

6)    If someone agrees to give you free advice over a cup of coffee, try to grab the bill before they do. If they insist on paying, it’s OK to let them pay. A handwritten thank you note following the meeting is always welcome. If they happen to mention something that is important to them during the course of the meeting, with which you are in a position to assist, surprise them by following up on it. They may not have time to look for the perfect yoga teacher but if you know someone really good who is located near their home or office, send them the contact information. They will surely be impressed with your thoughtfulness.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

Telling the Truth about Injuries

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

By: Edna Landau

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Congratulations to Patricia Goodson who is Third Prize winner of the Ask Edna First Anniversary contest, affording her a free review of her resume. I am grateful to all of you who submitted questions and will be answering many of them in the coming months. Please keep them coming!

Dear Edna:

How should one handle having an injury? I recall a friend being advised to keep a hand problem quiet as presenters might avoid him, thinking he might cancel. He found himself unable to commit to concert dates because he did not know when, or even if, he would be up to playing again, and he felt nervous about revealing why. As it is not uncommon for musicians to suffer from some sort of career-slowing injury at some point, should we have contingency plans ready? — Patricia Goodson

Dear Patricia:

As with so many situations in life, I think that honesty is the best policy. I have heard of artists who were unable to perform due to a hand injury but who publicly canceled their concert due to the flu.  This can become problematical if the injury doesn’t heal as quickly as anticipated. The flu no longer seems like a credible reason. And who wants to stay home for weeks on end to cover up for a hand injury? Based on my experience, most presenters are very understanding about artists suffering injuries. They take it in stride and may agree to canceling or rescheduling the concert without giving a specific reason. However, they may be pushed by the press for more information, in which case a sprained wrist, infected finger or even tendinitis or a bone spur will not be a cause for alarm. Matters get a little more complicated if an artist has a chronic hand problem and the prognosis for complete recovery is uncertain. Even then, it is best for the artist or manager to be up front with the presenter, saying that they want to help them avert any last minute problems and therefore they are putting them on notice that the concert date could be in jeopardy. In such cases, the presenter might look for a substitute artist who is available, if needed. The presenter wouldn’t be booking the artist if they didn’t admire them and value having them on their series. Consequently, they will wholeheartedly hope for their recovery. If an artist or manager is dishonest with a presenter, only revealing the truth at the last minute, it could cause resentment and erode the trust that had existed between both parties, thereby making the presenter a bit hesitant the next time the artist’s name comes up.

As for contingency plans, I don’t think that most people go through life worrying about what they would do if they could no longer enjoy their current profession. They will hopefully have disability insurance, which will help to mitigate the potential financial loss that could accompany an injury. Artists should also have disability insurance. Beyond that, many artists also teach, or could turn to teaching, if necessary, in relatively short order. They might prefer to go in a totally new direction, such as artistic administration. I think there are enough pressures on any performing artist that they don’t need to live with the constant fear of possible impending injury.  They should trust that if faced with an unexpected disability that brings an end to their performing on stage, they will have many colleagues and friends who will offer their support and help them transition to the next phase of their career.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

Is There a Good Way to Cancel?

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

by Edna Landau

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Dear Edna:

I am a cellist studying at an American conservatory and I try to read your blog regularly. A few weeks ago, you wrote about proper etiquette for working with a presenter in a case where a member of your ensemble is unable to perform and you wish to use a substitute. Can you please tell me what proper etiquette is in a case when someone like myself has accepted a solo date and then a much more significant one comes along. I have made a commitment to play a concerto with the youth orchestra in my home town, of which I was a member for five years, and I just learned that the conductor of a more prominent professional orchestra, who heard me at a festival last summer, would like to engage me on the same date in the Dvorak concerto. It would be my debut in that particular city. I am thrilled at the prospect of playing the Dvorak with him but how can I go back on my word?  —Jeffrey

Dear Jeffrey:

Since orchestral concerts are usually booked at least 12-18 months in advance, it is not uncommon to find oneself in the situation you describe. Some artists delay for quite a while before accepting a not so prestigious date so that they will remain available if something better comes along. I’m not a big supporter of that approach. A little delay is ok but anyone presenting concerts at any level needs to plan ahead and be assured of getting the artists they want. In your particular case, there is a personal relationship that led to the engagement which can potentially make it more difficult to back out, especially if the youth orchestra is proudly advertising an appearance by one of their most prominent alumni. If there has been no advertising or announcement of the season as of yet, it might be easier to back out of the date. You don’t mention whether or not the youth orchestra date has already been contracted. If it has, you are on less secure ground but you still have options. Contracts can be nullified or modified if both parties are willing. A key element in your approach will be to understand the inconvenience you will be causing and to anticipate some displeasure on the other end of the phone. (I strongly urge you to contact the orchestra by phone, not by e-mail.) In explaining the situation, you should be careful to avoid giving the impression that the new offer is much more important to you. Instead, you should say that you have been very much looking forward to appearing as soloist with the youth orchestra, which was an important part of your musical upbringing, but that you feel that this new offer will advance your career in an important way and you are very much hoping to preserve both opportunities.  You should ask whether it might be possible to move the date by a week, or to another part of the season. If the date cannot be moved, remaining strategic options will depend somewhat on how imminent the concert is. If your participation has not yet been announced, you can promise the youth orchestra a firm date the following season, and maybe even some kind of free educational activity the next time you will be at home. If it has already been announced, they will incur expenses in the process of informing the public of the change. To show your understanding and appreciation, you can offer to take a reduced fee for the rescheduled engagement. If your request is accepted, it would go a long way if you would write a heartfelt  letter  to the orchestra, thanking them for their understanding and paying tribute to them for having provided you with valuable training and musical growth that led to this wonderful opportunity. You will want to assure them that you are not a person who easily goes back on their word but that you know how genuinely the audience in your home town wants you to succeed and you hope they will be generous with their support  and understanding. In announcing your cancellation or the postponement of your performance,  the orchestra might wish to quote from your letter and make the audience feel invested in this important step forward in your career.  If you are successful in orchestrating this scenario, your concern and diplomacy will be remembered and much admired.

Your questions are important to me and can be about anything! Please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011

Social Butterfly or Caterpillar?

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

by Edna Landau

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Dear Edna:

How important is the social aspect of one’s career—hanging out at receptions, meeting and greeting other artists at concerts (not my own), cultivating potential donors and charming presenters—in contrast to the time one needs to spend alone with the music? I am not the most social person and I find this public aspect enervating and distracting, but think it may be necessary if I am to be on the “inside track.” Please advise! —Not quite a social butterfly

Dear Not quite a social butterfly:

Although there is no denying that building a successful performing career depends on countless hours of musical preparation, it has become virtually impossible to sustain a successful career without recognizing the importance of good will and interpersonal relationships. A manager may get you your first engagement with a given orchestra or concert series. Your chance for a reengagement may well depend not only on how well prepared you were and how well you performed and engaged with the audience but also, what sort of impression you left on the presenter, their staff and even their donors. (See last week’s blog, “The Art of Reengagement.”) A post-concert reception will generally take up no more than an hour of your time (an informal dinner, a bit more). Donors absolutely love to meet the artist personally, to have an opportunity to ask questions, and to get an idea of an artist’s life offstage. It gives them a privileged feeling and makes their contribution all the more meaningful. It also allows them to brag to their friends that they met artist X—something that is seemingly minor, but incalculable in value to them. You don’t need to reveal anything that would make you feel uncomfortable.  A little speech by you thanking the donors, as well as the presenter for inviting you to perform on their prestigious series is certain to melt everyone’s hearts and leave a wonderful memory of your visit in their minds. This becomes all the more important if your concert was a debut with that orchestra or series and if you don’t have a manager.

Regarding meeting and greeting artists at other peoples’ concerts, this is a wonderful way to open new doors or learn about opportunities that could be extremely meaningful to you. Examples might be meeting a composer whose music you might want to commission, or if you are a composer, securing a possible new commission; learning of a new festival, concert series or performance ensemble that is in the process of formation; meeting a conductor or contractor who might be helpful to you; meeting a presenter who might take an interest in you – the possibilities are varied and seemingly endless. And if you’re really lucky, you may get invited to join the artists for a meal after the concert.  Artists love to let their hair down after a concert and enjoy good food, good wine, great jokes and inside-the-industry stories. That kind of bonding gives potential new colleagues a chance to get to know you and become acquainted with what you are doing, leading to future possibilities for collaboration. In such a case, if it is your nature to be shy, put on your best Academy Award-winning performance and join wholeheartedly in the fun. You can always get up an hour earlier tomorrow to be “alone with the music.”

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011

The Art of Reengagement

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

by Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Dear Edna:

I have greatly enjoyed reading your blog on Musical America’s website and have encouraged students to send in their questions. This time, I have one of my own:  During your artist management career, what were the most common factors or mistakes (within an artist’s control) that caused them NOT to be re-hired for a subsequent engagement?  —Barli  Nugent , Assistant Dean and Director of Chamber Music, The Juilliard School

Dear Barli:

In contemplating your important question, I thought it would be a good idea to respond separately for singers/instrumentalists and conductors.  In the case of the former, the primary reason would probably be the failure of the artist to render an artistically satisfying performance. This could be reflected in several possible ways:  technical sloppiness, unsatisfactory sound projection, absence of a compelling musical statement, or lack of stylistic awareness.  Any of these could be due to a lack of confidence that might stem from the artist performing  repertoire in a highly exposed situation without having had adequate opportunity to try it out beforehand.  If these were not an issue, we might move on to the matter of interpersonal relationships, especially in the case of an orchestral engagement. A vote of no reengagement is certain for an artist who tells an orchestra how to play while the conductor is on the podium, or who speaks disparagingly to the conductor about the orchestra’s performance within earshot of the musicians. Another pitfall to be avoided is a decision to play an encore without first checking with the conductor and with the orchestra manager. Although this may not, on its own, account for a failure to get reengaged, if the encore sends the orchestra into overtime, thereby incurring extra cost for them, their future recollection of the artist might not be all that rosy.

Interpersonal relations offstage are of equal importance.  An artist must appear on time (preferably early) for all rehearsals and for the performance. They should be reachable throughout the engagement and not change hotels without telling anyone.  Most presenters will ask artists to make at least a brief appearance at a post-concert reception. This request will be made in advance of the date of the performance. If an artist refuses for no apparent reason, it could have a bearing on their chances for getting reengaged, especially if the performance was less than stellar. An artist who resists playing in a smaller venue and pushes the presenter to put them in a larger and seemingly more prestigious one, where they end up drawing only half a house, shouldn’t expect a re-invitation any time soon and would be well advised to respect the presenter’s judgment in the future.

In the case of conductors, it goes without saying that someone who delays in sending marked parts (if they elect to do so) and rehearsal orders until long past the deadline, doesn’t start out with the orchestra on the right foot.  The rehearsal period is critical, especially for a young conductor making a first impression. Often, musicans’ impressions of a conductor are indelibly formed during this time and they may not change even if the conductor delivers an effective performance. A frequent criticism is that they talked too much during rehearsals, seemingly because they couldn’t adequately convey their musical goals through their gestures. The objection is exacerbated when the spoken words don’t enhance the musicians’ understanding of what is expected of them or enlighten them in some way about the music they are playing. They may be asked to repeat passages without being told why, leading them to conclude that the repetition was really for the benefit of the conductor who needed another chance to get it right. It should also be mentioned that a conductor who chooses to re-seat the orchestra without prior permission from the music director should not expect to return to that orchestra any time in the near future.

One can never stress often enough that the music business is built on relationships. Artists who endear themselves to presenters are more likely to be invited back. This includes something as basic as treating the presenter’s staff and the venue’s front of stage and backstage crew with respect and warmth, showing appreciation of their efforts.   The icing on the cake is an artist who attends a post-concert reception and tells donors how fortunate they are to have such a special presenter in their community and how their contributions make all the difference in the world. Some artists have been known to send hand-written thank you notes to a presenter following the engagement,  a certain way to stand out from the crowd. An orchestral soloist who acknowledges the orchestra’s excellent performance while taking their bows, clearly understands that their successful performance was a true collaborative effort  — a gesture that does not go unnoticed. I have known some soloists who have even baked cookies for the orchestra. While I personally think that may be going a bit far, if your students do it, my suggestion would be chocolate chocolate chip.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

©Edna Landau 2011

Concert Etiquette

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

by Edna Landau 

Dear Edna:

 I am a violinist in an Artist Diploma program at a conservatory and am currently preparing for some recitals, including my first in my home town. This includes thinking about what I am going to wear. I notice a trend among female violinists to wear strapless gowns and have heard that this is because the sound of the violin projects better when placed against the bare skin. I can’t help but think that they also believe it can’t hurt to look a bit sexy on stage since audiences like that. Is there a danger here of going overboard? —fashion conscious

 Dear fashion conscious:

 There most certainly is a danger of going overboard. Your main concern in a recital should be to display the musical gifts with which you have been endowed. Anything that causes the audience to divert their attention from that dilutes the impact of your performance and affects the memory of it that people carry away with them. Your chosen concert dress should certainly be elegant and show you off at your best. It should also be so comfortable and secure that you never have to think about it while performing. Nothing is more disconcerting than an artist on stage periodically pulling up a falling strap or the bodice of a dress that has slipped a little too low. You should also make sure that you are properly supported by more than your accompanist (!). My good friend and colleague, Monica Felkel, of Young Concert Artists suggests having someone video you beforehand in your concert dress, both playing and bowing. You will immediately be able to judge whether you are revealing more of yourself than you intended. When in doubt, err on the conservative side. You will undoubtedly still look beautiful and people will remember you for your artistry.


Dear Edna:

As a singer, I am often faced with the dilemma of whether to discourage audiences from clapping between movements of a song cycle. I realize that instrumentalists confront this issue as well but I think that there may be something particular about the mood that is established in a marriage of music and words that is easily shattered by applause after each song, some of which may be rather brief. Needless to say, all artists are grateful for a sign of appreciation from their audience but in this situation, it can be very challenging to sustain the flow of the entire work and not to lose one’s concentration. What do you think is the right thing to do? —D.L.

Dear D.L.:

Much has been written about this topic, ranging from a lively discussion on ( to a revelatory article by Alex Ross, entitled “Why So Serious?“. In that article he describes concerts in the 19th century during which audience members moved about and applause frequently broke out after individual movements, and sometimes even during them. The practice of withholding applause only became widespread in the early 20th century. There are many performers and music enthusiasts today who long for the spontaneity of the 19th century and advocate for easing up the formal concert behavior to which we have become accustomed. This is certainly reflected in the proliferation of alternative concert venues and more informal modes of dress.

My own feeling is that we should try not to alienate audiences by expressing displeasure when they clap between movements of a work, especially if the music reaches such a high level of excitement (for example, after the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto) that it is hard, and perhaps unnatural, to refrain from clapping. We want newcomers to classical music to come back for more and not to sit in fear that they will violate proper protocol. In orchestral circumstances, it might be possible for a conductor to hold off applause at a seemingly inappropriate moment by keeping his or her baton outstretched. However, when you are alone on stage with a pianist and feel strongly that people should refrain from clapping until the end of the work, I believe you have two options: 1) ask the concert presenter to print in the program that the artist would like to present this work as one continuous whole, without interruption, and respectfully requests that any applause be held until after the completion of the final song 2) you choose to speak to the audience just before this work, sharing a welcome insight about it, and then incorporate in your remarks your hope that should they enjoy your performance, they will choose to save up their applause for a hearty ovation at the end. One important note of caution: If you know you are performing for a highly knowledgeable and experienced concertgoing audience, it is better to take your chances and not opt for either of the above choices. You may still want to speak to them but you should avoid the caveat.

Copyright Edna Landau