For two seasons, I ran a concert series in San Francisco called Curious Flights that shined a light on rarely performed works for solo, chamber, orchestra and other large ensemble. Despite the stomach-churning rollercoaster of highs and lows, successes and failures, it was one of the most important experiences in my life as a 21st century classical musician looking to forge my own unique path. This blog series will share my story and the lessons I learned along the way.
Looking back at the early stages of producing one-off concerts and launching my own concert series, I can see how similar this was compared to the beginning of a romantic relationship:
STAGE 1: DATING
I was a lonely, single musician, looking for love in the classical music world. Although I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, I decided to put myself out there by testing the waters with two random, independent concerts.
STAGE 2: RELATIONSHIP
These two concerts were fun but something was missing. There were elements of both that I enjoyed immensely, but neither provided the complete fulfillment that I was looking for. I finally settled on establishing a stable, structured concert series and realized that committing to “the one” would bring me ultimate happiness.
STAGE 3: INFATUATION
Once I had found my one true love (or what appeared to be…), I was wildly excited and could think of little else as I forged enthusiastically ahead.
I realize the analogy breaks down if you think too hard about it, but bear with me here…
We’re going to look at the infatuation stage partly to avoid spoilers but mostly because this is a critical moment in the stage of any classical music startup “relationship.”
This is the moment where you need to take a step back and gain perspective with a level head. The joy that comes with launching a new project is a powerful motivator but as I personally found out with Curious Flights, long-term success hinges on early attention to detail and forward planning.
And this all starts with the mission.
Congratulations! You’ve committed to the concept of starting your own string quartet, teaching studio or arts presenting organization. You know it will require a ton of work but you’re ready for it.
Well…you’re about as ready as anyone can be with limited experience in running an arts organization and no crystal ball to predict the many twists and turns to come.
Thankfully, these unpredictable twists and turns are more easily managed if you take a moment to gain clarity and perspective on the core mission of your new startup.
It’s easy to write on your website biography or grant applications that your organization “strives to bring classical music to the masses, to welcome and delight audiences of all ages and to make the art form cool again.”
And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that mission statement. In fact, it’s strong and noble.
However, the problem arises when the excitement of this early stage blinds you from your own personal set of truths, beliefs and intentions.
You might want or wish that classical music was “cool” but what if you’re actually more of a traditionalist deep down?
What if “welcoming audiences of all ages” requires working with children yet you struggle to connect with or flat out avoid younger demographics?
Let’s take a look at the following (long) mission statement for Curious Flights:
“Curious Flights is a concert series designed specifically to uncover and present new and rarely-performed works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Serving as a platform to breathe new life into forgotten works, Curious Flights provides audiences with an opportunity to experience music written by composers that are already well-known, those that are perhaps more obscure and contemporary composers living and working today.
Artistic Director Brenden Guy founded Curious Flights to perform intriguing and unique works of music from around the world, with a particular focus on the United States and United Kingdom, and to combine established artists alongside young, emerging artists in a fun and collaborative setting. By fostering cultural relations domestically and abroad through the collaboration of artists from various backgrounds, musicians can continue to evolve and improve international relations.”
Underdog – I have always loved the underdog story. I see these “lesser-known works” as the underdogs that deserve their chance in the limelight.
United Kingdom – I love my country and I love performing and sharing works by British composers with new audiences.
Cultural relationships – as an immigrant in the U.S., creating new relationships in a foreign land was essential for a variety of different reasons and music was a huge component. I felt it was important to continue using music to build on this idea on a broader level.
For me, this mission could not have been more personal. Yet at the same time, it had the dual effect of being relevant and important for prospective audiences too.
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that you’re being self-centered by building an organization around that which is personal and meaningful to you. But as with any relationship, whether romantic or plutonic, it won’t last if the benefits are loaded entirely on the other side. This works both ways too.
Be sure to take a step back from the intoxicating happiness that comes with something as exciting as realizing your ideas, concepts and dreams. Give yourself and your organization the best chance possible now, before the twists and turns test your resolve, by focusing on what matters most: the truth of your core mission. If you know this now, your chance of long-term success increases even if you need to redefine the mission further down the road.