Tag Archives: creativity

Snow Days and Creativity

 

My office is closed today, and I’m exceedingly grateful to have time to putter, write and read. Greg Sandow has a wonderful, thought-provoking article up at ArtsJournal today about music schools and the dearth of creativity found therein.

But how do we do this? How do we foster creativity — celebrate the students who already are creative, and encourage the others to be — without turning the school upside down?

When we hear auditions every fall, we hear hordes of singers who are doing everything right – intonation, articulation, dynamic variation, strong language skills, good dramatic arcs to their arias. And shamefully, afterwards I often struggle to remember their performances. Sure, some of my mental fog is due to the sheer volume of folks that we hear in a short time. But more often it’s because the performances we see are careful. They are note perfect and earnest but not very memorable. By memorable, I mean that the singer has demonstrated that they’re careful students and stewards of the repertoire, but they’ve left many of the most important questions unanswered: they leave the room and I find that I haven’t learned anything about them or their artistry, how the aria resonates with them personally. It’s like scanning a CGI crowd scene, looking for one true facial expression.

(Caution: there are those of you who are memorable, because you’ve put the passion into the performance but are not quite as careful as you should’ve been in the learning process. It’s a double-edged sword, I realize… but please know that the preceding paragraph is not for you – go practice!)

I’ll agree with Mr. Sandow – discipline is important. Strong choices are exciting. The two should not be as opposed as they seem to be. So I ask you – were you challenged in school to be creative? Who gave you the most support? Where did you struggle?

(The ArtsJournal article is one of a series. I hope you’re looking forward to the next installment as much as I am.)

 

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I bet Moriarty was a multi-tasker…

Elementary, my dear Watson!I am a new convert to the BBC Series Sherlock. Being able to (correctly – there’s the rub) infer personality traits, circumstances, travels through observing someone? Well, that’s a superpower that I’d like very much to have.

So, when I ran across an article in the New York Times alluding to my guy Sherlock? It immediately caught my attention. The article challenges the concept of multitasking, and focuses on mindfulness. Author Maria Konnikova writes:

More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there. His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness.

Ack! The inactivity! Where is the knee-jerk response, the running out of the room, the mad dash to the crime scene? Sherlock slows – nay, stops – the clock and contemplates before he makes a move. (I find the concept thrilling, as it is so foreign to me.)

Ms. Konnikova goes on to talk about mindfulness having similarities to meditation – that its core principle is to drown out distractions and to focus attention. She cites studies that track mood boosts, greater relaxation during timed tasks, and improvement in memory and cognitive function.

My “a-ha!” moment: isn’t that what we were doing in the practice room??

We spent hours of focused attention, ignoring distraction (well, for the most part) to concentrate singularly on our craft. Afterwards, leaving the small space I remember my brain being exhausted, but feeling good about the work that I’d accomplished. (Again, for the most part.)

My job, while in the arts, is an administrative office gig… I am a slave to email and the phone and instant messenger. I need to drop things at a moment’s notice, and so I’ve become more adept with juggling several things shallowly than really digging into one task or problem.

I’m considering a more measured approach to 2013. One that might make me calmer, happier, and even a wee bit smarter. (Heck, I’ll take any help I can get!)

 

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Creativity. Excess.

I have a healthy love for the dramatic…for larger-than-life moments, for the smells-and-bells of religious rituals, for intimate secrets. They can play out on stages large and small, in novels and chapbooks and blogs and photos. (I have less patience for real-life drama, as it’s never as tidily contained as in the pages of a book, or of the opera’s three-acts-two-intermission structure.)

My mother was my gateway to this world – a creative English teacher who would read aloud in thirteen differently-pitched-and-accented-voices, and who fostered a love of reading in her kids with the brilliant idea to censor television programs but not books. (I read every Stephen King book he had written up to the late 80′s. To this day I cannot make it the whole way through a suspenseful movie, and duck and cover as soon as those pesky violins begin.) I love a good story, but I love equally a mediocre story told with flair and verve.

(If you tell my mother that the reason I like to hang with artists is because of her, she’ll be equal parts offended and flattered, depending on the day. Make sure you have your exit paths mapped before you talk, is all I’m saying…)

So, the fact that I’ve found myself in a world rife with drama on all levels? (The High-Horse of Artistry! The Heart-Rending Budget Cuts! The Temperamental Diva/Divo! The Entry-Level Wage Slaves!) Not at all surprising, really. And I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has found my way here due to a love of tall tales and a willingness to suspend disbelief.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Anaïs Nin’s writings, but Maria Popova reminds me that she was a proponent of excess.

Excess. Indeed.

To quote Mae West, another iconic proponent of excess, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” Hoping that your Monday is excessively fantastic, dear readers.

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Thursday Link-O-Rama.

In a past blog life, I’d make lists of things that I stumbled across that were interesting and/or relevant. So, in that vein, I present The Inaugural Indirect Routes Link-O-Rama!

  • My fellow introverts? Proof that we know how to have a good time.
  • I tend to panic when I wake up (every night, ahem) at 2:30am, wide awake. This article says that maybe it’s not such a bad thing, and moreover, maybe I should leverage it for some real creativity.
  • The to-do list: more than an organization/procrastination exercise.
  • Creativity. Profanity. Beauty. Wayne White. Can’t wait to see it!
  • It might be heresy, but I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking of work along these lines more often?

I’m in the thick of the annual talent search (a.k.a. the Dream-Crushing marathon), looking at student résumés and wishing that more of them were better proofreaders…I’m pretty forgiving, but the blatant typos are starting to wear on me. (I’m pretty sure Los Angels refers to the baseball team, and not the town…right?) Final passes for Cincinnati, Chicago, and Houston applications tomorrow, and screening for the home stand on Friday. But, most fun? (Boy, I wish sarcasm read better in print…) a big chunk of time spent trying to figure out exactly how many pennies we have for next summer and our best options for squeezing the most we can from them.

It’s easy work to do, until I try to do it thoughtfully and consistently…then it takes all of the time and brain cells I have. So, if you have brain cells to spare, or advice? I’ll take it!

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Monday Inspiration

Again, Jessica Nagy of Indexed totally has my number. (Today’s example is this graphic, “Not Just for Kids”)

As does Bikram Choudhury.

“Never too old, never too sick, never too bad to start again.”

Indeed.

What would you start, if you thought you could?

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Show up.

I’m going to save the Leadership Intensive recap for another day as, quite frankly, I’m still processing a lot of the information.

Maria Popova, who curates Brain Pickings, came across a letter that Tchaikovsky wrote to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck (aside: that might be the coolest name ever, for the record.) about the correlation between work ethic and creativity. She parallels it with a video from Jack White of pop music fame. It’s certainly not a new thought, the slogging through when the Muse blows off your invitation and you’re left with a blank piece of paper, an empty mind, possible even a white text box on a blogging program…

I digress.

I would, however draw some additional parallels between creativity and work ethic and leadership. There’s a great article in Forbes by August Turak, that makes the argument that great leaders also need to be great followers.

In both cases, whether you’re wrestling an idea onto the page or climbing up the corporate ladder, you need to:

  1. Show up. You have to do the work, or at least be ready and willing to do the work, even if nothing comes. (There’s the Woody Allen quote about 80% of success is just showing up. There are days when that first step is indeed the most difficult – I totally get that. Show up anyway.)
  2. Be aware. Surroundings. Language. Subtext. In both situations that additional information can only help to clarify/troubleshoot/inspire.
  3. Stay flexible. The path down which you need to walk may not be something you had planned to tackle… but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the wrong path.

I find that #2 can be the trickiest…we can get bogged down enough in our own to-do lists, with our own inner judges that it can be difficult to really watch, listen, perceive. When we take that time, though, don’t all manner of things get easier?

I have thirteen days left in the summer festival season. My plans are to take my own advice (well, to try to anyway) for the next two weeks and apply it to my job. After that I’ll be making an early run at this, as a way to discipline my inner writer. (I got about halfway through – about 25,000 words – last year, before the fall audition travel schedule made the daily quotas impossible. Without that distraction maybe I’ll make it to 30,000!)

Today, if you do nothing else? Just show up.

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Out-of Office: Leadership Seminar

I’ve let this project lag just a little bit (Ahem. I may exaggerate a little…), but it’s for a great reason. As part of the Opera America Leadership Intensive, I’ve been spending the last several days in a sunny conference room in New York with 13 colleagues from the US, Canada and Europe, talking about the future of the art form – our art form – and our place therein.

I won’t lie: it’s an extremely exciting time for yours truly. My colleagues are smart, warm, witty, and generous. It’s a little ridiculous, actually, how fantastic these folks are.The facilitators are knowledgable and gentle, even as they push us outside of our comfort zones (hello, public speaking!) and challenge our assumptions of ourselves and the field at large. I count myself amazingly lucky to be counted among this group of students.

We’re all asking a lot of questions, sharing volumes of information. And of course, being in New York there are things to do, friends to connect with, any number of millions of directions to explore. Even if I weren’t in season (WHICH I AM. How am I not in the office? And more importantly, have you picked up tickets for Rake’s Progress yet?), I’d find it slightly overwhelming. I have an awful lot to chew on, with more to think about and tackle in the days to come.

On Tuesday morning, we were all tasked to give our 5-minute personal history to the group. Five minutes to let the group know how you came to be sitting around that table, focused and passionate about an art form that many would describe as a hard sell.

And can I tell you, singers who are doubting whether a performance path is for you? Those of you who fell in love with drama and theater and music but who realize that you may not light up a stage? (Or want to light up a stage?) Can I simply tell you that the group of people around that table – like me, maybe like you – had those same doubts at one point. They parlayed their love of the art form, and the self-knowledge that footlights weren’t their thing, into leadership roles at major and influential opera companies around the country. They are Development Officers, Artistic Directors, Community Programs Directors…the list goes on.

It is a beautiful thing, indeed.

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A Framework for Creative Change

There’s a lot of buzz out there about the creative class… those people, regardless of industry (and while I might take some serious flak for it, I am of the opinion that not every person pursuing a performance degree/career is, in fact, creative. But that’s a topic for another post.) are innovators. In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida states that “access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron ore was to steel-making.”

 

That quote is 10 years old, my friends.

 

Adobe did a research study on UK workers, which showed that most people – fully two-thirds of those surveyed – felt that they were not living up to their potential. To quote Dylan Jones-Evans (Western Mail, 7.14.12)

“Four out of five believe that there is an increased pressure in work on being productive rather than creative. In addition, risk aversion is seen as a barrier with “playing it safe” being the strategy usually adopted by organisations which results in those who are innovative and entrepreneurial having their ideas stifled by those who are less creative. They also feel there was a lack of time to create new things and that they cannot afford to be creative.”

 

Hello, US Classical Music Market.

 

We’re seeing the big 10 operatic warhorses in heavy rotation. We’re seeing young artists inhabiting the roles usually given to established singers. We’re seeing a heck of a lot of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms on chamber music programs. Companies are cutting back, scaling back, folding. Audiences are aging and shrinking. In terms of building a younger audience? We are the 98-pound-weakling trying to woo the quarterback’s girlfriend. (She’s mostly not giving us the time of day, but we’re not giving up yet.)

 

How much of that, I wonder, has to do with an art form in serious transition? In its heyday, having season tickets to the opera was akin to what having season football tickets are today. (singers/athletes; audiences; financial models and arenas…the sports analogies are really endless.) But that nostalgic glow is only attractive for a small margin of the population; those folks who are in a position to donate, to keep small companies afloat and to shore up the finances of larger ones.

 

It’s a difficult time to be an artist. (although, let’s be frank…has it ever been easy? I mean, we all know how Bohéme goes, right?)

 

In the current climate, it’s only natural to harbor some doubt… there’s some serious math to be done, weighing passion against sacrifice, talent and preparation against the national field. Personal preferences can take a backseat to financial necessity.

 

What if you’re the one playing it safe? With a desk job and a 401k and a nice apartment? And a constant headache and difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and the tendency to self-medicate because you’re just somehow not feeling it?

 

The Harvard Business Review has some advice. As a former (reformed?) teacher, there’s something inherently less scary/more doable when imagining a career leap as a curriculum or night course…setting up an experiment, finding ways to gather more information, sticking to a timetable rather than experimenting endlessly. (That’s called ‘having hobbies.’)

 

What scares you the most about making that transition?

 

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Common Sense, Illustrated.

I’m a huge fan of  Jessica Hagy, the author of Indexed. She has a new graphic up at Forbes.com called 20 Ways to Find Your Calling. And, in her beautifully succinct manner she defines steps to becoming an adult. (My favorite is obviously #3. (“Say yes to odd opportunities.”)

(Isn’t that how I got myself into this mess in the first place? Indeed, I think, happily, it was.)

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Monday Inspiration

Hugh says it best.

 

Hope your Monday is a creatively wonderful mess!

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