Monday, July 13, 2009

Further Adventures in Starting a Business

I took last week off to take an intensive course in Basic Mediation Skills - very soon I will be certified as a mediator in the State of Oregon. It's a good skill set to have at your disposal when working with artists, or with anyone who makes a career out of making themselves vulnerable to collaborators and strangers.

Now that I'm back, I am busy with a lot of odd little projects that have been piling up on my desk. This weekend was partly spent buying records for the DJ to play at our launch party and, at his request, tagging each record with playing suggestions. It was kind of wonderful to have the time to explore new (to me) music - from The Soviet Army Chorus & Band's recording of Murderers Stalk the Earth, to the lovely voice of Diahann Caroll, to the clean tight jazz of Amad Jamal, to William Russo's brilliant mash-up Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra. It's a funny thing, but after listening to Brubeck, Coltrane, Coleman, and other jazz greats, that Liszt, Bartok, Spanish Baroque guitar music, Bach, and Purcell all begin to sound a bit jazzy as well. This really is just one big world of music, and the mix can be tweaked any way you want.

I've come to have a similar perspective regarding my process with Heretic Opera. Most people don't think about the work that goes into creating a new opera company - creating a business plan that facilitates the mission statement, learning how to use new social technologies, securing funding and setting a budget is all stuff that happens behind the scenes. But since all of this is just as important to the process of presenting an opera as having singers onstage on opening night, where do you draw the line between the creative process and office drudgery? Too often we tend to box things into very small categories: despite the success of Street Scene and Porgy & Bess real operas don't use the jazz idiom, accounting can't be considered creative unless it involves stealing from your employers, classical music and the structures it has created (symphonies, operas, etc.) are inherently elitist and only a small percentage of the population would be interested in them anyway. I don't consider these prejudices to be true or helpful. In my experience, people seem excited about highly crafted work created with the casual listener in mind, and happy to engage with it in whatever way they can. I know I am often more content spending the majority of my days hunched over the keyboard and planning new projects than I was as a singer, when I sometimes felt almost incidental to the creative process (a teacher of mine once called that feeling "standing onstage and spitting out pitches").

In the end, I think that any work can be a creative contribution as long as the effort is directed towards a meaningful goal. I also believe that opera and other classical art forms are still be accessible and interesting to a wide range of people. I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to build a company that pursues these ideals in a concrete, pragmatic fashion. New projects, professional development classes, research for the DJ, and all.

1 comment:

  1. Madelaine,

    Just discovered your blog. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts about a new way forward for Opera.

    I've been thinking about these ideas from my vantage point as a performer (jazz) composer, educator (PSU) and community member.

    I'll throw out the idea I'm currently pondering. That artists must make intimate relationship w/community. That we need to reframe art-take it from a commodity in the economy to a multi-faceted process.

    Look forward to reading more.

    Darrell Grant