A Composer's Adventures

Is Talent Enough to Succeed?

ColgrassIf you are an extraordinary musician you will succeed in the music business. What could possibly stop you? A group of young musicians looked for answers last week at a panel called “Career Moves” organized by Ann Summers Dossena of the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists. Music writer William Littler was moderator of a panel that had music critic Colin Eatock, artist manager Robert Baird, publicist Liz Parker, along with two musicians, conductor Marco Parisotto and myself.

I prepared myself by making a list of principles that have guided my own career, which has been varied and required many decisions off the beaten track.
It seems to me that individual approaches and new thinking about careers in music are even more important today. Only a few musicians with ambitions to become soloists with major orchestras will be able to succeed, so new ideas are essential.

Here was the list I had in my back pocket for this panel:

—PRIMARY DECISION: Are you sure you want to be in the music profession? If it is just one of several career choices, you may not be bitten enough by the music bug to stick with it.

—PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: Learn everything you can about your instrument or voice or conducting technique; perform at every opportunity in all kinds of music, and practice diligently so you’re ready for anything anytime.

—ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Form or find new groups to play with, choose interesting repertoire and places to perform. Be daring and commission and search for new music to show how unique you are.

—INTUITION: Trust your gut reaction in all matters, professional and personal. The more you follow your intuition the stronger it becomes. When it feels right, the energy flows and overcomes what might have looked impossible at first.

—PERSONAL CREATIVITY: I create music for a living; but building a satisfying life is the most challenging creative act I know, and that’s the one I’m proudest of.

—MONEY: Pay for everything as you go and buy only what you can afford; don’t want things you can’t afford; save at least 10% of everything you make.

—LOVE, MARRIAGE, FAMILY, FRIENDS: Personal relationships strongly influence the outcome of your career. The beliefs and attitudes of people closest to you influence you and help determine the quality of your decisions.

—HEALTH: As a musician your body is your primary instrument; develop, tune and maintain it in top order.

—MODELING: Imitate those you admire and learn how they do what they do, either by meeting them, listening to them or reading about them.

—DOING AND BEING: Keep doing separate from being; first define your basic identity as a human being, your individual nature, what you are; and then create your activity, what you do. What you do is not what you are.

—CREATING OPPORTUNITY: Though I never promoted myself as a composer, I always hoped that quality work would open doors. That has not always worked for me, especially in Canada. My wife jokes that in the US I’m known as Superman, and in Canada I‘m Clark Kent. I could probably learn from the young people today who are connected by social media and are far more media-savvy than I. They have wonderful new tools and talent for promotion. Still, the strongest elements in your career are talent and that gut feeling that you are in the right place and enjoying it.

Michael Colgrass

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