A Composer's Adventures

Music 24902

IngelsI’ve been reading about two people who broke with tradition in their professions: architecture and business.

One is British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who oversees more than 200 companies that he built largely from personal conviction and intuition. As far as I can tell, he bypassed the ordinary routes of doing market research and following the money. He describes his success as being “about people using their skills and figuring out ways of using the assets of their business to drive not only profits but a better world.”

Branson (B is for $-billions) wants his businesses to benefit society in general and continually, not as a charity. He calls this global idea “Capitalism 24902,” because that number is the circumference of the world.

We don’t often hear billionaires talk that way. Bill and Melinda Gates are in the same ballpark of understanding the need to improve health and development around the world through their foundation. But Branson is going a step further than philanthropy, suggesting that business can and should rest on two levels: making the world a better place and making a profit.

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has developed his own philosophy in architecture and city building. He is young and gives new meaning to thinking outside the box. Rather than delivering a golden concept of a building, he grinds it out of a process that accepts needs of the neighbourhood, sustainable energy, alternate uses and designs that make people live and think differently.

You can watch him speak here on YouTube or read his book “Yes Is More,” designed like a spunky comic book. ”Rather than whining about resistance, obstacles or failure, we say yes to reality, the city, life, when we bump into it. And get so much more in return.”

Can the music world take something from Ingels or Branson? From a business standpoint, neither seems very reasonable and yet they flourish. We know all the important words such as recession, cutbacks, downsizing and financial forecasts — so different from what Ingels cheerfully calls “sustainable hedonism.” The world of music sits on a great mountain of tradition, but can it cut loose and reinvent itself?

Most of us know the example of one music experiment that defies logical business models: El Sistema that was created by Venezuela’s Jose Antonio Abreu. He gave inner-city children instruments and taught them music with astonishing results. I just saw Gustavo Dudamel (a Sistema product) conduct Mahler’s 8th Symphony from Caracas. The orchestra and the 800-member choir also sprung from El Sistema. The alternative for many of them would have been a life in poverty or crime, but instead they have changed society and made a model for other countries to follow.

Some traditional music institutions — such as major symphony orchestras and opera companies — are doing very well, but others could do better. Many musicians can’t find a place for their talent.

Working in the arts is already a risky business, but it is also a world of great creativity that can spur great ideas. Maybe the Bransons, Ingels and Abreus can serve as models to inspire new kinds of musical activities that will integrate music into society everywhere, in venues large and small.

Michael Colgrass

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