Monday, August 9, 2010
Following My Own Advice -Carey West
As a singer and a music teacher, I find many opportunities to make connections between my own creative work, and my paid proffession. When it comes to issues of entitlement, I find singing makes most people particularly vulnerable. I'm sure this issue has it's resonance in all art forms. Even in writing this blog I find myself asking the question: "Why would anyone want to pay attention to me?" Perhaps as women, we suffer from this self devaluation more then men, but perhaps not. The current incarnation of the internet has made is so easy to self publish. Hell, Twitter and Facebook have taken sharing our self reflections to a perhaps ridiculous level. The same technology has also changed the face and the core of the music industry in which I work. As I set out to record another album, I'm fraught with questions to which there are no answers: "How am I going to get this music out there?" "What will make it stand apart?" "How am I going to sell the project I've invested so much in?" "When anyone can sing and make a high quality recording and distribute it, what's the value of my work?" and finally "Is this just a big vanity project?" Really these are all just versions of that same initial question: why should I ask people to pay attention to me? Yes, this is a debilitating position to produce work from. Yet, I find when the tables are turned, and others seek my advice or approval, I have no hesitation finding answers. On a recent tour where I was providing music for dancers, the musicians were asked to join in the company warm-ups. Like children who have no expectations, and utter faith in their enthusiasm, we joined our professional road-mates with good humor and the kind of pride that only first-timers can have. No, we did not look graceful, nor skillful as we sacheted across the floor, or attempted to memorize a combo. But tongues out and arms flailing we demonstrated good sportsmanship if nothing else. All the dancers were charmed by our limitations and treated us with gentle and appreciative encouragement. I think we reminded them of how much they know as professionals, but also how much fun it was to be innocent. One afternoon in our hotel, my dancer roommate was absentmindedly singing while she checked her email. Suddenly she stopped. "Sorry! Does it bother you when regular people sing?" I hadn't even really noticed, to honest. I just took the sound for granted as a pleasant ambient noise. After all the accepting comments she had made towards my professional interloping during warm ups, it struck me how much we frighten ourselves away from messing in these most human art forms. "Not at all," I replied, "In fact I like it quite a bit." Another example of how easy it is to value others "voices" while questioning the value of our own came this past spring when my students were preparing for their graduation ceremony. Our solitary grade six student had set herself the goal of singing K'naan's "Waving Flag" (the celebration mix). She wanted to sing the verses all by herself, but invited the whole school to join her in the chorus'. During the dress rehearsal, it became clear, she would need a microphone to be heard over the drumming of her classmates. When I instructed the tech to set one up for her she said "A microphone? But then everyone will hear me if I make a mistake?". I could see that the full breadth of the responsibility she'd taken on by deciding to "front the band" was just dawning on her. I had to act fast to make sure she didn't retreat into regret. The forces that be opened my mouth and out came, "Yes, but everyone will respect the risk you are taking." I think as artists on the precipice of creation, or even presentation, we often experience this moment of fear: BUT EVERYONE WILL SEE ME. And some times additionally: IF I MAKE A MISTAKE. And over and over I'd love to make a habit of taking my own advice and answer: YES, AND EVERYONE WILL RESPECT THE RISK YOU ARE TAKING. If you ever suffer from these arrests in development, like I do, maybe write that last sentence on a piece of paper and keep it in your wallet. If you do, remember to write on the back, the one thing I couldn't tell my student: AND IF THEY DON'T, FUCK 'EM.