community

Cultivating A Creative Community

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A major focus for me in the month of October, though I didn’t plan on it, was building community. This has been something I’d craved for a while, and after a difficult summer of anxiety, recovering from burnout, and turning inward, then adjusting to the beginning of the school year, I was finally ready to look outward and connect again with friends and peers.

The life of a pianist can be very insular, which can be good for an introvert like me, but only to a point. I enjoy working on projects on my own, and it’s one of the ways I work best, but after a while, I start to feel like, “Hello? Is anybody out there?”, craving feedback and social interaction. While I may get more than my fill of human interaction in the course of a teaching day, most of it is not with adults, and only a quick hello to my peers as we cross paths in the hallway. So, I have to work a little harder to cultivate community for myself.

I have felt a stronger need to make music with others and collaborate with peers over the last year, or maybe it’s that I felt the lack of that more strongly. In any case, it’s been a focus of mine lately.

I have several communities that I have various levels of connection with, and I feel more satisfied now that I’m taking a more active role in forming the kind of communities that I want to see.

For one, my friend Lauren Husting and I started a series of networking happy hours for women-identifying musicians over the summer. It’s been small but very rewarding so far, and there’s been lots of interest. If you’re in Minneapolis/St. Paul and you want to stay in the loop about it, sign up for our mailing list here!

I also attended the Giant Steps conference here in Minneapolis last Friday, which was awesome - so diverse, both culturally and in terms of various creative fields being represented (including musicians, who are often left out of conferences for creatives). A major theme of the conference was being yourself, and what that means in terms of business - all of the panelists went much deeper than I expected, especially about creating communities that work for artists. I connected with some really interesting people, in a setting that definitely didn’t feel like the “networking” I usually wrinkle my nose at. I highly recommend Giant Steps, and I’ll definitely be going next year!

I reflected on what makes a strong community back in March, and here are some ways that I wanted to work on creating more of that:

  1. Supporting peers through attending their gigs and events (although simultaneous gigs are often a problem)

  2. Helping peers by promoting their events on social media

  3. Expressing excitement about what other musicians are doing, online and in person - if you think someone is awesome, tell them!

  4. Having more coffee dates with fellow musician/teachers who tend to have the same availability

  5. Brainstorm new ways to share music with my larger community

I have to say that I haven’t done as much of these as I would like, but my reduced teaching schedule this fall is really helping me have leftover energy for these sorts of things, and I’d like to do a daily challenge with #3 sometime soon. I think that what it comes down to is committing to making it a priority in whatever way fits into your life (even if that's an online community rather than an in-person one).

Having a creative community is also super helpful in keeping up your own personal creative habits - even if you prefer working alone, it’s still nice to have encouragement, moral support, and a sounding board.

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You can do this, too!

If you’re a musician who wants to compose more, and is also motivated by external accountability, you can join the Creative Musician Club to form some community around your habit! I’m taking a small group of people this fall to test out some prompts, starting Monday, November 6. (And don't worry if you have zero experience with composing - this is still for you!)

You’ll get 21 daily emails, each with a prompt to get you started writing a piece of music. These prompts aren't intended to make you finish each piece, but just to plant a seed, so, if you participate for a week, you'll already have 7 new ideas! You’ll also get an invite to join a Facebook group where we’ll share successes and struggles - a great place for encouragement and accountability. I'm going to be doing the prompts right alongside you, too, as part of my 100 More Days of Writing Music challenge - you can follow along on Instagram here.

EDIT: This 21-day challenge is over, but I'm formulating a free course that includes daily prompts and access to the Facebook group - to be notified when it opens, sign up below! 

How do you find your people (online and in real life)?

On Community

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Ever since I took Kayla Hollatz's Crickets to Community course last fall, I've been percolating on the idea of community and whether I'm satisfied by the communities that I belong to. And the answer is: not very - I feel pretty isolated most of the time, since, on most days I work by myself during the first half of the day and am teaching kids for the second half. While that is rewarding in its own way, it doesn’t leave me with much time to interact with peers, and the busier I get, the less energy I have for interacting (#introvertproblems).

So, even though I belong to many different music communities, I often feel removed from all of them as I get stuck inside the hamster wheel of work. Some of these communities exist on the internet, but I've had a hard time finding them (except for teacher communities). If you’re an independent teacher, do you feel like you're consistently a part of a community, or do you feel removed from it? I'm willing to bet that more of us feel isolated than we often admit. An added challenge is balancing the musician/teacher afternoon/evening/weekend schedule with friends and family in the 9-5 world without giving up much needed sleep or rest time (essential for me as an introvert).

I've always been a bit of a musical nomad, and as a result, I haven't always felt like I was fully a part of any one music scene (classical, jazz, composers, etc.). I actually belong to many different communities: the schools where I work (MacPhail and Chanson); professional organizations (APPI, SPPTA, and MMTA); piano teacher online communities, a number of other Facebook groups, and the Brazilian music community, which I feel most at home in (both here in Minneapolis, and the larger community that I've met as a part of California Brazil Camp). I’ve felt myself longing to be an active part of a community.

But, unless I'm meaningfully participating in these communities (which I don't have much time or energy for), it doesn't feel like I'm truly a part of them. Building and belonging to communities takes effort and contribution, and it’s hard to make effort unless you know what you’re working toward, so I started thinking about what I want from a community. Aided by ideas from a transcript of the Musochat Twitter chat (which I really enjoy) from January 2016 which covered this topic, here are some qualities of a great community:

  • Gathering around a common interest

  • Genuine connection / communication (the glue: communication and community have the same word root!)

  • Mutual respect

  • Support

  • Combining strengths, resources, and perspectives

  • Accountability

  • Diversity

  • Open and undiscriminatory (critical in providing support)

  • Effort + involvement (continuing to show up, otherwise it falls apart)

  • Access

  • Often an education or professional development component

So, no wonder it’s hard to create a strong community - we have to commit to truly showing up for others, while we’re also busier and feeling more fragmented than ever, and when virtual connection online often replaces in-person connection. (Although, online communities can be very supportive if they have many of the elements above.) Not to mention, there needs to be enough commitment to leadership for a community to have any longevity. And, I have to admit, in the past I had been known to avoid some professional organizations and communities because I had an aversion to networking that didn’t feel genuine. 

But, if I’m complaining about lack of community in my life, I need to do something about it. If I’ve learned anything about habits, it’s that multiple/huge changes don’t work in the long-term, so here are some small ways that I want to work harder at creating community and connection:

  • Supporting peers through attending their gigs and events (although simultaneous gigs are often a problem)

  • Helping peers by promoting their events on social media

  • Expressing excitement about what other musicians are doing, online and in person - if you think someone is awesome, tell them!

  • Having more coffee dates with fellow musician/teachers who tend to have the same availability

  • Brainstorm new ways to share music with my larger community

Now that spring is coming (and seasonal affective disorder is waning), I feel much more motivated and energetic in all areas of life, so this should be more attainable now than it was in January.

Can you relate to feeling disconnected from your peers? If so, let me know what’s missing from your community landscape. In what ways (even if small) do you create community?