Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Don't Assume Anything" (Part 4 of 4)

This is part four of a four part series that chronicles three major tenets of my personal (non-academic) experience. I've developed three new primary mantras. First, “Do it, for you, because you want to.” The second--I’ve learned it’s best to say, “I don’t know,” when referring to my future if I really don't. Finally, I’ve learned that assuming anything is probably the number one error that students can make. So the last is, “Don’t assume anything.”

This entry clarifies the third tenet. “Don’t assume anything.”

My mom and friends were right when they said I wouldn’t know unless I tried. There are so many opportunities of which I could have taken advantage. I was sure that I’d enjoy the experience in DC, but I didn’t think that I’d become this completely new person taking back personalities, inspirations, and impressions that I will not forget from the “big” city.

I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t think that I was such a good dancer until the crowds at Rock and Roll Hotel, Apex, Town, JR’s and DC9 told me so. However, I guess the biggest revelation about myself is...well, I’ll just tell you a story. (I’m sort of teary eyed—jk!) This is the last one.

Monday and Tuesday (April 28th-29th) was the national high school poetry recitation competition with upwards of $80,000 dollars of scholarships at stake. This competition, Poetry Out Loud ( was held at the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. I was there for most of the day running errands and assisting with the National Endowment for the Arts media table. It was really interesting to see these kids from all over the nation (50 states and 2 jurisdictions) compete. It wasn’t so much that I was interested in who won, but I was freakin’ inspired to go stick my face in a poetry anthology.

Later than night, I met friends from my Johns Hopkins class. Of course I look up to these folks who will be graduating from the graduate Government program. We talked about all kinds of stuff, from our challenges with academic lives entering our personal lives, etc. This was a couple of hours before my night class with them. In class each student then presented his or her research about the nonprofit world per our assignment to either design our own nonprofit organization or to research an existing one.

I got home that night (left the house at 8:00 AM, home at 10:00 PM) and just felt completely exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was sit at the computer and flesh out more thoughts. I wanted to be thoughtless. But, I couldn’t. Although I was tired and just completely not in the mood for any more cerebral activity, I felt compelled to talk to my roommate about the course of the day. I said, “Andrew, I know what I’d like to do for the rest of my life.” It was sort of odd because he’s so quiet and I’m totally not. I run into the apartment, like I used to do the music studies department, and would be hyped to tell anyone who would listen about my day so far. I, too, listen well.

That day was extremely exhausting, yes, but I was interested in every aspect of the day. I enjoyed helping with the students in the competition. I felt inspired by their passion with what they were doing. Well, I guess I’d be passionate about potentially winning $20,000 from just reciting a few stanzas as well. Shoot, get me a poem and let me try. Okay?

I also enjoyed talking about the challenges in academia and listening to lectures by colleagues in this class. I found all of this really, really interesting.

“I want to teach,” Andrew heard me say. Of course the generic questions came afterwards.

“What subject do you want to teach?”
“What age level?”

I didn’t have polished answers exactly. I did, however, know that I was listening to myself and well...I didn’t assume the worst about teaching. I just knew I wanted to teach.

I will return to the University of Memphis a completely different person. If nothing else, the internship allowed me to listen to my interests and get a sense of what it’s like to exist in a 9-5:30 world. It’s different from school--completely different. You get up in the morning and know about what you’re going to do from day to day. If I can help students navigate through these times of transition and attempt to shed a light on what they will face in the world’s workforce, then I will gladly take on the challenge. I’ve just got some specifics to work out.

Have a conviction and run towards it with open arms.

I challenge you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Just say "I don't know" if you don't. (Part 3 of 4)

This is part three of a four part series that chronicles three major tenets of my personal (non-academic) experience. The primary three new mantras are, “Do it, for you, because you want to,” say “I don’t know” when you really don’t and finally "don't assume anything," because I’ve learned that assuming anything about anyone or any topic is probably the number one error that many students, myself included, can make.

This entry clarifies the second tenet....saying “I don’t know” when you don’t.

Why is it so hard to just say, “I don’t know” when people ask you what you want to do in the future? It’s the question of questions that make us really want to crawl and hide when we’re not sure. I actually had a conducting professor back at the university that required us to delete this phrase from our vocabulary. We couldn’t say, “I don’t know,” we had to say that “we weren’t sure.” Whatever. The point is, “I don’t know.”

However, we do know what we like. We know our dislikes. We still have dreams, but it seems they sometimes get lost between guidance counselors’ warnings, declaring a major and reading about salary outlooks and demand rates for various professional fields. Should I consider my standard of living when I’m contemplating further education? Do I think about my marketability first when I select a field, etc.? Well, my advice is this. Understand that you and your interests matter. You have to get up in the morning and go to work. You may rock out some Gabana’s, but if you honestly “hate” your job, are you taking advantage of the time you have? There’s not much of it, so hopefully you’ll find a way to for your dreams and your livelihood fit to coexist in your career scheme.

You’re doing it. You’ve got interests. Your true interests matter despite the odds. Go for it whatever it may be. And if you still don't know what "it" is, keep reflecting, soul-searching and adjusting your direction as you go along.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Do it for you, because you want to." (Part 2 of 4)

This is part two of a four part series that chronicles three major tenets of my personal (non-academic) experience. First, “Do it, for you, because you want to.” The second--I’ve learned it’s best to say, “I don’t know,” when referring to my future if I really don't. Finally, I’ve learned that assuming anything is probably the number one error that students can make. So the last is, “Don’t assume anything.”

This entry clarifies the first tenet. “Do it, for you, because you want to.”

It was my initiative that got me to DC in the first place. I wanted to come here, and although I kept going back and forth about my purpose in doing so, I kept making headway to get here and now that I've been here, I have honestly enjoyed the experience. No, this program doesn't fit directly within my undergraduate degree program. I’m a clarinet performance major, but I know that in the future I have an interest in arts organization management. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is definitely the nation’s most generous arts granter and the educational resources at the agency are unlimited. I met directors of the various disciplines and sat in on meetings and panels pertaining to specific grant awards (even before the general public knew about them).

The internship with the NEA indirectly put me in touch with several other opportunities, from potential employment to what I’m considering for this summer. I made a contact with an NEA employee for this summer’s internship program with the Arts and Business Council of New York where I’ll be working with the National Public Radio affiliate WNYC in cultural development and event planning. This internship with the Council’s Emerging Arts Leaders program will have direct correlations with what I want to do. While at NEA I was able to see grant proposals and develop a perspective on what is considered progressive arts programming, etc. Not to mention that I had prime access to the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts Advocacy at the Kennedy Center, and I’ll actually be involved as a planning volunteer for the Philadelphia conference hosted by the Americans for the Arts this June.

You can never underestimate your own personal interests for what others tell you what you should or need to do. I found myself attending lectures hosted by, Center for American Progress Action Fund, and opened myself up to new things as well that I may not have been encouraged to attend. To others, I “should” be doing thing x or seeing event z, but because I’ve followed my own preferences and listened to what I, Kofi Martin, wanted to do, I began embarking on independence. Independence is not granted with just the degree (especially when even that is mostly exploratory), nor is it even the first career-oriented job. Independence has to be a state of mind.

Honestly, the tendency you’ll want to combat is to lie to yourself. Just stop it, it’s that easy.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Overall experience (Part 1 of 4)

The experience in DC could have been mimicked anywhere else. TWC creates interesting courses, the program is organized and the opportunities to see the nation’s capital city were great additives. However, this was only part of the appeal. The only factor that resulted in making this experience special for me was my own initiative. I remember the first day, during the intern orientation. We were told that we should definitely only use our apartments for, well, sleeping.

I couldn’t agree more.

For me, this experience provided me a sense of mental silence from the very, very, emotionally loud environment that I, and most other twentysomethings, “hear.” We’re thrown in so many directions. “You should look into this,” and, “Oh, I know the perfect next step for you,” and oddly enough, “So, what are you going to do with that?!” if our majors don’t sound trade or career trajectory oriented. Students need the opportunity to hear themselves. If only this could be silenced so that the unsure, such as myself, can learn to listen to themselves.

I’ve never been completely alone in making any major decisions. This seems to be a recurring theme in my previous blogs, this lack of “adult” experience, but it’s because it’s true. I have always lived on or at least close to campus.

I’ve been protected.

Several of my friends hold outside jobs while in school. Thanks to scholarships, etc., this wasn’t a necessity exactly for me. I wanted this faux independent experience.

In DC, it has been a little different. I’ve had the late nights, late papers, neglected cell phone, Facebook, work and mental fatigue and moments when I just didn’t get time to finish things. I had to decide to either sleep or be sleepy when I needed to work. Working from 9-5:30 with evening classes twice a week, it gets a little tough. I’ve never really experienced challenges when time use was a factor in the challenge if you exclude standardized testing. It has always been the issue of me procrastinating because I’ve had so much time between assignments that I’d rather do something the morning of so that it stays fresh on the mind. During this program, you have to do it now or else it’ll be a week late. It’s these sort of experiences, not to forget to mention the overnighters, that have allowed me a completely new perspective.

I've developed three new primary mantras. First, “Do it, for you, because you want to.” The second--I’ve learned it’s best to say, “I don’t know,” when referring to my future if I really don't. Finally, I’ve learned that assuming anything is probably the number one error that students can make. So the last is, “Don’t assume anything.”

These may sound trivial, but just stick with me. Check out the next entry where I discuss the importance of truly doing what you want to do. Shakespeare had it right, “To thine own self be true.”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

End of semester 1

The semester is spiraling to its finish. With only three weeks left, I am certain that going back home will take some getting used to. It's not that I haven't kept in touch with people or feel that home isn't cool, but when you go to any new environment it takes a little bit of time to get back in the groove. Arkansas humidity? Okay, NOT groovy. I shouldn't even lie to myself.

Anyway, I'll want to connect with friends, tell them about the experiences—making sure I don't sound too braggy—and go to my favorite places where the employees know me by name. Some of you will be making your way to DC for the first time. It's a challenge; embrace it. More than likely you'll spend a lot of time hanging out by yourself unless you work with several interns in your specific placement or manage to connect with more people. I'm definitely not that lucky, but honestly this has done me well. I've had to go to dinners alone occasionally and I find that I'm pretty darn good in entertaining myself. Nonetheless, I'd like to recommend a few places that I've actually been to and find them great places to go alone OR with friends.

All the Smithsonian Museums and Starbucks: Get some eduMakation. They're free, why not!? I specifically liked the National Museum of Art (Warhols, Rothko, etc.,) and the National Portrait Gallery (Hip-Hop art exhibit). As for Starbucks, well if you haven't been to one by now, there's no hope for you. If you're new to drinking coffee, start with a Mocha; you can't go wrong. Okay, don't hate me because I didn't find the home grown coffee shops, but since it's easy to spot the green awnings and big beautiful white letters glistening in the distance, one must relinquish his/her "staunch" concerns for regionalism. DuPont Area: I like dancing, what can I say? I recommend Town, 9:30 club, Black Cat, Apex, Cobalt, DuPont Grill. It's a very interesting (highly liberal) area of DC and steps away from the Washington Center. There are a few eateries (Krammerbooks, DuPont Kitchen, etc.) and some along 17th street that feature WIRELESS INTERNET for free.

George Washington Library: I'm taking the collaborative course through Johns Hopkins and they provide students with a great ID card that allows you access to the resources at George Washington. I've been there many a late nights to complete assignments, etc. See also University of Maryland, American University, University of the District of Columbia, Johns Hopkins, District of Columbia Public Libraries, and Howard. There's so much information, you'll learn by osmosis...well, maybe not.

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: I enjoyed going to a few of the free concerts. They're every single day (YES, 365) and feature very eclectic local and international talent. I saw the George Washington Afro-Cuban ensemble, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the National Symphony and also the Americans for the Arts Nancy Hanks Lecture.

This list could go on forever. So, if you're in need of more specific information about what to do in DC and where, feel free to drop me an email!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why Classical Music Needs Rock & Roll


I have been thinking about the future of classical music for a long, long, long time and this constant undercurrent of second-guessing the validity of my OWN medium got me looking for different career options to better a situation that young practicing musicians don't seem to recognize. Ultimately, this landed me here at the National Endowment for the Arts. In a sense, I needed to have a confirmation that just maybe the future of the arts is progressive (e.g., progressive, fresh, diverse, and most importantly relevant). I found the situation more revealing in how perhaps a rude awakening may be needed.

I got a confirmation that perhaps I'm not the only person thinking about this type of issue. Greg Sandow, a former critic for Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, and The Wall Street Journal, wrote an article ten years ago about the future of classical music. I found myself physically throughout reading this article and wanted to jump and scream about this perception of the classical music industry. THANK YOU! I include it here as my blog entry because this is exactly the issue that has been perplexing me this entire time.

Why Classical Music Needs Rock & Roll, essay by Greg Sandow

There's a lot of talk these days about reinventing classical music. Or maybe just reinventing its marketing, but in any case doing something to make it come alive -- and assure its survival -- in an age of O.J. Simpson and Madonna.

There's been some action, too, I know. Record companies offer classical CDs with perky cartoon covers. The three tenors have been marketed almost as a pop act. And, in an unusual but not completely atypical move, the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony -- having discovered that Harley-Davidson riders are as upscale as its usual audience -- built a marketing campaign around the joint excitement of symphonic climaxes and motorcycles.

Some of these approaches might even work, but at best they're experiments. What classical music really needs to do is step back, to attack the problem as a whole. And if anyone really wants to do that, I know the perfect place to start -- Shea Stadium, whenever the New York Mets bring in their closer, John Franco.

Picture the scene: It's the ninth inning, and Franco swaggers in from the bullpen to finish a game. The sound system blares what's virtually his theme song, Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." The crowd sings along with the famous refrain "go, Johnny, go"…and what's remarkable about all this, from a classical music point of view, is that there's nothing remarkable about it at all. We all know the song, and why wouldn't we? It's nearly 40 years old, a beloved rock & roll classic. This is the world classical music now lives in -- a world in which rock (or, more accurately, the whole range of modern rock-influenced pop, which ranges all the way from country music to hiphop) is part of the air we all breathe. How can classical music ever reach new people, if it doesn't understand the music those people already love?

So maybe classical music should learn a few things about rock & roll. And the first subject rock can teach is marketing. Pop music, everybody knows, is commercial. The classical music world deplores that of course, and might even dream that classical music could be a purer, more artistic alternative. There's only one problem (and this might be the single best proof that classical music has gotten really distant from American life): Pop music long ago developed artistic alternatives of its own.

To people who never leave the classical music ghetto, that may come as a shock, but it's absolutely true. Pop music generates commercial acts, like the intensely sleek R&B balladeer Whitney Houston. But it also produces artistic acts, like the wry, compassionate rock band R.E.M. R.E.M. qualifies as artistic because it started its career with no thought of commercial success, because its music jumps with unexpected shocks, and because its lyrics (shades of 20th century high art!) are often difficult and indirect. Against this background, how does classical music look? How would brainy pop music fans rate the three tenors? Against a pop music background, Carerras, Domingo, and Pavarotti (especially Pavarotti) look just like Whitney Houston -- safe, predictable, and bland.

That's the first marketing lesson rock & roll can teach: The pop audience already has its own ideas about art, and most certainly won't assume that classical music is artistic just because it's classical. The second lesson, which follows from the first, is that the pop music audience isn't just a single blank lump. To understand how varied it is, imagine what life would be at the Metropolitan Opera if Carmen attracted a baby-boomer crowd, La Boheme drew people in their '20s -- and, when the house did Boris Godunov, the entire audience was black. That's the diversity you see if you go to pop concerts every night, though the divisions go much further, as fans fragment not just by age and race, but by social class and even lifestyle. So if the classical music world wants to reach a pop audience, it has to know which pop audience it means. R.E.M., by now, sells millions of albums. (Which, by the way, ought to remind us that America today isn't just O.J. and Madonna. It's also a land of environmental activism, psychotherapy, Republicans in Congress, and a thousand other serious things classical music doesn't seem to know about.) Why isn't classical music talking to R.E.M.'s audience? Why isn't it talking to rock fans with brains?

And now for the third lesson. Pop marketing isn't infallible. Some people in classical music seem to think it is, as if pop marketers were sinister puppeteers, and as a result can sell anything to anybody. But that's not even remotely so. Look at Michael Jackson, look at Prince, look at Bruce Springsteen, all superstars who don't sell nearly as many albums as they used to. All the marketing in the world can't bring their careers back.

What pop marketing does shine at, though, is something classical music marketers rarely seem to think about, something the commercial world might call "product differentiation." Pop marketers assume that every artist is (or ought to be) different. Maybe that's hype, half the time, but on the other hand it's based on something real -- the undeniable fact that most pop music artists write their own songs. They have ideas and thoughts of their own (or at least they think they do), and pop music marketing is designed to make us believe in their individuality.

It does that in every possible way, starting with the art -- striking, contemporary, sometimes haunting and evocative -- on CD covers, and ranging down to tiny details like the look of the CD itself, and the language and design of every press release. What, in contrast, does classical marketing convey? Does it tell us what makes one conductor (or pianist, or soprano, or string quartet) different from the others? With very few exceptions, it doesn't even begin to do that, and if savvy pop fans conclude that classical music has nothing to offer…well, can you blame them? In a pop context, the main message classical marketing delivers is that classical music has nothing to say.

How can we fix this? In the short run, it's more or less easy (in principle, at least). Classical music has to be marketed like pop, which paradoxically means presenting it more artistically. (It could even mimic pop's implicit two-tier system, by selling Pavarotti as a pop-music bimbo, and a refined cellist like Yo Yo Ma as an artist.)

But in the long run, classical musicians themselves have to change. If they communicate as eagerly and pointedly as the best of their pop counterparts, it won't be hard to make the world notice. What that would be like is hard to predict, of course, but rock & roll can at least offer a couple of hints. Take concerts, for instance. Outside the classical music world, everybody knows what happens at a concert. People -- distinct individuals -- come out on stage. They're wearing clothes that makes them happy. They talk to the audience, joke with it, and very often share some serious thoughts about war or tolerance. And if they sing a sad song, they'll turn the lights down, not necessarily because they're trying to manipulate our feelings, but because (and especially in a big hall) it just doesn't make sense to sing a ballad in the same bright glare that suits a hard-rocking cheerful song.

Here, it seems to me, classical music has absolutely no choice. To the world at large, the stiff formality of a classical concert doesn't suggest dignity or art. It conveys just one thing: Utter blankness. Who are these performers? What are they thinking about? Do they even like doing this? You can forget about selling classical music, until you make classical concerts something your prospective audience would recognize as a musical event.

And from here on out, things get adventurous. Everyone in the classical music world knows that classical masterpieces grew -- distantly, but distinctly -- from folk-music roots. Or at least they'd agree that the great classical composers could incorporate folk songs in their works, with results that sounded completely natural and didn't make anyone think they'd betrayed their art.

Today, the musical roots of our culture aren't in folk songs. They're in rock, country, rhythm and blues -- the entire range of musical styles that typify pop music in the rock & roll era (even rap). Classical music won't seem natural in America until both composition and performance reflect that obvious fact. How composers can do this is simple enough, and some of them are doing it. They can embed the sound of rock in their work, along with traits of any other musical style they love.

For performers, of course, the job is much trickier, though are one or two very specific things that current pop can teach. One of these is vocal ornamentation -- singers of past centuries embellished the music they sang, and while the tradition of doing that in classical music died long ago, it lives on in R&B, as anyone knows who's ever heard an R&B star add fanciful twists and turns to the national anthem at a sports event.

But most of the classical repertoire is hard to connect to current pop. Would we add a drum track to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony? But the spirit of rock, at least, can suggest an idea or two. Beethoven's music once was contemporary. How can we understand what that felt like, unless we know the contemporary music of our own time, which -- if we're talking about music that connects to the spirit of its age the way Beethoven's did -- would have to be rock?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reality Check: New Arts Advocacy

What's the point in Arts Education? Since reading Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future," I have a completely different perspective. I would normally say the arts enoble our spirits and also enhance our receptibility to the math and sciences as artist education requires commitment, excellence, and careful attention to detail. Well, this is great, but there might be another perspective that would better dispel any doubt.

Understand that the left brain, which is known to be more analytical and sequential, works simultaneously with the right brain which deals with larger picture and uses more "currents" for creativity and innovation. It's essential to know that both parts of the brain work equally, but certain aptitude tests (e.g., ACT, SAT) actually measure only one sort of skill set. Usually students who are more adept in those skills are considered "better" students when in actuality they simply have stronger impulses and are mentally leftists. The ability to create and think artistically should not be considered less than important. This is the foundation of Pink's book.

Pink uses three key shifts in our society as a means to develop his thesis about the power of the right brained: Abundance, Asia, and Automation. We are a society of abundance with so many different options on life supplies that it will take multidisciplinary arts related skills to develop the "best" products. Asia is where the majority of American's routine work is going; outsourcing to India is the most prevalent. Pink even made a reference to routine work actually becoming completely obsolete in the States. There is no need for a divorce lawyer, go online. There is no need for a tax specialist, go online or buy software to do it for you. Many calculations that accountants were needed for are now simply algorithms fully available via personally accessible technology--automation. So where will these jobs go that many left brained academicians are headed? Will the assessment change for students whose acumen is geared more towards right oriented skills?

Essentially, Pink says that right brained skills are great for future leaders as innovation in all of these areas will be required to keep up with competing economies. I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Pink this past weekend at the Americans for the Arts annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center. It was fascinating to see so many local tributary organizations in support of such an international cause: the support for arts education. I also met John Legend and Kerri Washington, oh AND Robert Redford at the Appropriations Subcommitte Hearing for the Interior. They all testified in support of this very issue.

Hmm, maybe the MFA is the new MBA!