Hearing the Artist’s Voice

By: Edna Landau

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One of the questions I am asked most frequently when I meet with students at music schools and conservatories is: How important is it to have a website? I increasingly tell them that it is very important. The challenge for a musician who is still a student is to generate enough information to fill a website, especially if they have only a few, or even no reviews, and their performance calendar is very sparse. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama’s Performance Enhancement class at the Juilliard School. The students are all Masters students. In preparation for the class, I asked Dr. Kageyama to give me their names so that I could get to know them a little online before meeting them in person. Only four out of eighteen had websites but one really stood out from the rest. It was created by double bassist Corey Schutzer, whose performance experience to date is largely as a collaborative bassist. He does not yet have a very busy performance schedule and there are no reviews on the website, yet he does have some impressive quotes on the home page, a very interesting and unusual performance sample on the Media page, and a sincerely written page entitled “Teaching Philosophy”, which should help him find new students. He generously lists links to resources that other bassists might find helpful. Most importantly, he succeeds in achieving a warm, personal style of communication and he impressed this reader with his expressions of gratitude to all those who have helped him reach this point in his career. I particularly liked how this was reflected in his bio on the About page, written in the first person. (He was wise, however, to add a more traditional short bio, suitable for downloading by presenters.) I also admired the overall design and the varied and high quality photos (by a violinist and Juilliard graduate, Arthur Moeller). Corey subsequently told me that he used a Wix.com template for the website, which he didn’t find too challenging, but that he spent considerable time composing the content and getting it all organized on the site. The most interesting thing for me was learning from Corey that going through the exercise of creating the website was a major step forward for him, as it reaffirmed the positive things about his career to date, and the process of expressing himself in writing also served to build his overall confidence in representing himself to others.

All of this got me thinking that anyone who interacts with artists, emerging as well as established, wants to hear that artist’s inner voice. We want to know what they are really like, what inspires them, and in the case of their concert performances, why they chose the program they offered. Since I was captivated by Corey’s first person bio, I spoke to a few presenters to see if they would ever print such a bio. The answer was negative, largely because they felt that their audience wants to read something more objective and it is hard for an artist to write objectively about themselves. I concur that it becomes increasingly difficult as an artist amasses more accolades and their writing may come across as bragging. However, what I did hear from presenters is that they are extremely interested in reflecting in their programs the thought behind the chosen program and that they welcome receiving this input in the artist’s own words. At Carnegie Hall, this may appear in the section of the program entitled At a Glance. It is even possible that a bit of biographical information might be included if it is relevant to the choice of program. Hanna Arie-Gaifman, Director of the 92nd Street Y’s Tisch Center for the Arts, told me that she has sometimes interviewed artists prior to their performance and printed a short introduction to them in the program, if she felt that the audience would benefit from knowing more about them. Clark Morris, Executive and Artistic Director of the Harriman-Jewell Series in Kansas City, told me that they encourage artists to contribute their thoughts about the chosen program and even write program notes, if they so desire. They regularly do a question and answer session on stage after the concert to further familiarize the audience with the performers and gain insight into the program they just performed. He also told me that he has been speaking with artist managers about producing short video clips for their artists in advance of a tour that would explain what the music means to them. He envisions something simple and authentic, not slick or overly produced. He would then post the video clips on his website, to complement the informative notes he already has there.

The message here seems very clear. In addition to practicing and honing their performance skills to the highest levels possible, artists (especially young ones) need to reflect about themselves and their artistic choices, and become comfortable sharing with others who they are and what drove them to make those choices. If they devote proper time to helping audiences get to know them, they will be successful in building a dedicated and ever larger following.

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© Edna Landau 2012

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