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Dance: doing it, making it, watching it, loving it!

In beauty, cities, culture, entertainment, life, music, travel, urban life on June 30, 2014 at 5:15 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Obsessed!

One of the best things about living in or near New York City is access to great dance, whether excellent instruction, places to do it for fun and world-renowned companies coming to perform — the Bolshoi will soon be here, and later this year, The National Ballet of Canada, from my home and native land.

Last week I finally attended Midsummer Night Swing, a fantastic annual NYC event that lasts only three short weeks, with a different band each night, and a different kind of music, from soukous to swing. I went with my husband for the disco night, took a jazz dance class the following morning then went to the swing dance night Friday with a band led by my friend Elizabeth Bougerol, The Hot Sardines.

They are an amazing young band, formed only a few years ago, but soon to release their first album. They play music of the 1920s and 30s, classics like the St. James Infirmary. Elizabeth, who is half French and half Canadian, sings and plays the washboard.

MNS is held in Damrosch Park — with a huge, temporary dance floor constructed just for the occasion — and tickets are $17. Typically Manhattan, the park is ringed on the south side by Fordham Law School and fancy apartment towers, while on the west side are public housing projects. You can check your bag or backpack for $3, eat some barbecue and dance your heart out!

It’s a wild and touching scene: dapper African-American men in three-piece suits and porkpie hats; hipsters in linen suits; slim young women with twirly skirts, (one in a black neoprene knee brace). Parents dance with their little children and people in their 60s, 70s and beyond dance with one another, smoothly practiced after decades in rhythm.

From "Bella Figura" by Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian -- the first bare-breasted ballet I've seen

From “Bella Figura” by Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian — the first bare-breasted ballet I’ve seen

Then, Saturday evening, I went back to Lincoln Center for the third night in a row, this time to see the Boston Ballet for the first time. I scored excellent seats — third row in the second ring — for $70 each. No, not cheap, but fully worth every penny: excellent sight-lines. full orchestra, terrific dancing, a wide range of choreography — and the timeless beauty of the theater itself, one of my favorites, (and on whose stage I performed as an extra with the National Ballet of Canada in Sleeping Beauty); here’s my blog post about it.)

The first program included the extraordinary brief ballet, Afternoon of a Faun, created in 1912 to music by Debussy and then considered extremely shocking. The dancer who performed it was Altan Dugaraa, from — of all places — Mongolia.

The Boston Ballet is extremely diverse, with dancers from Cuba, Canada, Kazakhstan, France, Italy, Albania, Armenia, Japan, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary. It’s a young company! Only one dancer has been with them since 1993 and a few from 1999 to 2003. Their names! Dusty Button (a woman) and Bo Busby (male.)

The 2,586-seat theater, designed by Philip Johnson, was built in 1964 and is still lovely: airy, elegant, both simple and graceful. Here are some photos I took when I went back yet again on Sunday to see the second program, led off by a fantastic piece, The Second Detail, by William Forsythe, my favorite of the three dances that day.

Here’s a 4:04 video of it, with the odd, percussive score by Thom Willems.

There are five "rings" or balconies. The view from the second ring is terrific! Note the diamond-shaped lights.

There are five “rings” or balconies. The view from the second ring is terrific! Note the diamond-shaped lights.

 

 

The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

I recently finished a six-month weekly class in choreography and wrote about it for Rewireme.com. I found it has radically changed how I think, how I perceive my body and my relationship to it, and it helped me begin to realize a dream I’ve had for years, to choreograph — a daunting fantasy for someone with a still-limited dance vocabulary, even after many years of studying ballet and jazz.

And here’s a very cool new app for choreographers. Now I’m eager to try it.

As someone who writes for a living, every word I publish, anywhere, is carefully considered and revised many times before I expose it to others’ views and opinions. But choreography class demands a wholly different way of thinking, creating, and responding to others—it’s intimate, instant, spontaneous, and public. Even with an audience of only two, I felt awkward at first, scared of being judged and deemed clumsy and foolish.

As a writer, my audience typically remains safely distant and invisible. Here I had to look someone in the eye, and see myself in the mirror, expressing my ideas without words, using only corporeal language. Would my teacher and classmate be able to hear me, to—literally—see my point?

In the studio there’s no time or space for foot-dragging, procrastination, or perfectionism, all of which writers are prone to. We could easily lose 20 to 30 minutes of valuable class time if we allow ourselves to be passive or ambivalent about our ideas. It’s better to just put something out there and mess with it.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/explorations/choreography-class-opened-eyes/#sthash.jz1HCba4.dpuf

As someone who writes for a living, every word I publish, anywhere, is carefully considered and revised many times before I expose it to others’ views and opinions. But choreography class demands a wholly different way of thinking, creating, and responding to others—it’s intimate, instant, spontaneous, and public. Even with an audience of only two, I felt awkward at first, scared of being judged and deemed clumsy and foolish.

As a writer, my audience typically remains safely distant and invisible. Here I had to look someone in the eye, and see myself in the mirror, expressing my ideas without words, using only corporeal language. Would my teacher and classmate be able to hear me, to—literally—see my point?

In the studio there’s no time or space for foot-dragging, procrastination, or perfectionism, all of which writers are prone to. We could easily lose 20 to 30 minutes of valuable class time if we allow ourselves to be passive or ambivalent about our ideas. It’s better to just put something out there and mess with it.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/explorations/choreography-class-opened-eyes/#sthash.jz1HCba4.dpuf

As someone who writes for a living, every word I publish, anywhere, is carefully considered and revised many times before I expose it to others’ views and opinions. But choreography class demands a wholly different way of thinking, creating, and responding to others—it’s intimate, instant, spontaneous, and public. Even with an audience of only two, I felt awkward at first, scared of being judged and deemed clumsy and foolish.

As a writer, my audience typically remains safely distant and invisible. Here I had to look someone in the eye, and see myself in the mirror, expressing my ideas without words, using only corporeal language. Would my teacher and classmate be able to hear me, to—literally—see my point?

In the studio there’s no time or space for foot-dragging, procrastination, or perfectionism, all of which writers are prone to. We could easily lose 20 to 30 minutes of valuable class time if we allow ourselves to be passive or ambivalent about our ideas. It’s better to just put something out there and mess with it.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/explorations/choreography-class-opened-eyes/#sthash.jz1HCba4.dpuf

It may be creative, but, hell yes, it’s still work!

In art, beauty, behavior, books, business, culture, design, film, journalism, Money, music, photography, US, work on May 13, 2014 at 12:58 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Time to let go, at last

Did any of you catch this recent interesting piece in The New York Times?

The way we habitually think and talk about these matters betrays a deep and venerable ambivalence. On one hand, art is imagined to exist in a realm of value that lies beyond and beneath mere economic considerations. The old phrase “starving artist” gestures toward an image that is both romantic and pathetic, of a person too pure, and also just too impractical, to make it in the world. When that person ceases to starve, he or she can always be labeled a sellout. You’re not supposed to be in it for the money.

On the other hand, money is now an important measure — maybe the supreme measure — of artistic accomplishment. Box office grosses have long since become part of the everyday language of cinephilia, as moviegoers absorb the conventional wisdom, once confined mainly to accountants and trade papers, about which movies are breaking out, breaking even or falling short. Multimillion-dollar sales of paintings by hot new or revered old artists are front-page news. To be a mainstream rapper is to have sold a lot of recordings on which you boast about how much money you have made selling your recordings…

This is something I think about a lot.

My father, still alive at 85, was a respected maker of films and network television, as was my stepmother. My mother worked as a journalist.

It never occurred to me that “artist” and “starving” belonged in the same sentence. Nor should they!

This notion that being creative means penury or 1%-land is absurd. We don’t expect or require this of others — the middling executive, the stalled lawyer, the so-so administrator. The world is filled with people doing their best and never hitting the heights, nor surviving on ramen in a group squat.

More, from the Times’ piece:

Inexpensive goods carry hidden costs, and those costs are frequently borne by exploited, underpaid workers. This is true of our clothes and our food, and it is no less true of those products we turn to for meaning, pleasure and diversion. We will no doubt continue to indulge all kinds of romantic conceits about artists: myths about the singularity of genius or the equal distribution of talent; clichés about flaky, privileged weirdos; inspiring tales of dreamers who persevered. But we also need to remember, with all the political consequences that this understanding entails, that they are just doing their jobs.

I’ve been writing for a living — sometimes for a nice wage, sometimes for a much-less-amusing one — since I left university. But I’ve never cracked that sexy glass ceiling of the six-figure income.

malled cover LOW

Talent and hard work, prizes and fellowships — got ‘em. There are few direct correlations between the standard metrics and creative success, let alone buckets ‘o cash. Your ability to schmooze, to accept and perform work you find creatively grotesque, to suck up abusive client behaviors — these, too, factor considerably into who will (quickest) ascend the greasy pole of fame and fortune.

The creative life is one that many mythologize or fantasize about: waking up at noon to daub a canvas or noodle about with your screenplay. How lovely, how freeing to flee the grim confines of cube-world and the predations of The Man.

Snort!

Every time I put on a pair of shoes, or eat a meal, I touch the direct reflection of talent and hard work — it produced the income that keeps me housed, fed, clothed and will fund my retirement.

Making art — of any kind — in no way excuses the artist from the costly necessities of life, no matter how cool or offbeat our lives and work may appear to others choosing a different vocational path.

One of my favorite books is The Creative Habit, by American choreographer Twyla Tharp, who has made her career by — as she eloquently puts it — walking into an empty studio and making a dance.

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that’s habit-forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Creative work absolutely is work, even if/when it doesn’t earn enough to buy you a house or a shiny new car — or any car, ever — or the plaudits of The Right People.

And holding fast to principle — creating something you imagine to be of lasting cultural worth, not merely sating contemporary appetites or shoveling cash at your expenses — remains a difficult challenge for many artists faced with the same costs of heat, fuel, clothing, food and housing as the rest of the workforce.

Jose and I recently saw this terrific 1987 play, The Substance of Fire, about a New York City family-run publishing house and its internal battle over this issue.

IMG_20140512_122236059

Here’s a post I wrote about this in 2011, which was chosen for Freshly Pressed.

I ask whether we should focus on being productive (look what I made!) or creative (which might be publicly inaudible and invisible for months or years, producing no income):

I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.

We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

Do you work full-time in a creative field?

How’s it going?

How do you measure your success?

LAST CHANCE FOR WEBINARS!

SATURDAY MAY 17:

Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview (what’s the one question you must ask?)

Crafting the Personal Essay

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

Please sign up here.

It’s Record Store Day!

In business, culture, entertainment, music on April 19, 2014 at 2:22 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I love this idea – an international celebration of indie record stores.

Record? What, you ask, is a record?

CR6003A_side

Some of us are old enough to remember 78s and 33s, not just cassettes or 8-tracks (really) or CDs or…downloads.

I have stacks and stacks of dearly beloved vinyl in a closet and our garage, desperately awaiting the day I have the spare cash to replace my long-lost stereo system with a kickin’ turntable and speakers.

I really miss my music!

The last CD I bought was purchased last month after a concert in Poughkeepsie by one of my favorite artists, South African singer Johnny Clegg.

If you can sit still and not start dancing to his music – you’ve just been declared dead!

The last batch of CDs I bought was last May, (far too long ago!) from a used CD store in Flagstaff, Arizona, on my way to the Grand Canyon. I found — and kept playing Elton John’s spectacular 1970 album Tumbleweed Connection — which provided the perfect soundtrack to where I was at the time, the American southwest, alone in a car.

I love the serendipity of browsing the bins, flipping through piles of vinyl and jewel cases, seeking something new, or something old, then listening to it obsessively.

One of my favorite memories dates back to my first newspaper job in Toronto, when a hip colleague and I ended up in the recently-closed Sam the Record Man. David pointed authoritatively to an album. “Buy it” he commanded; Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. I’d never heard of it and loved it.

There’s one Sam’s store left — oddly, in a mall in Belleville, Ontario. We actually drive through there when we visit family and friends back in Ontario, so I might stop in next time.

Do you know the fab 200 film High Fidelity? One of my favorites, it’s set in a record shop in Chicago (originally set in London), and features another bit of musical nostalgia — creating a mix tape for someone you’re crazy about and hope to make a good impression on.

Do you have vinyl? Or CDs?

What’s your current favorite tune or album?

Actually, no, I don’t work “for exposure” (or lunch)

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, journalism, life, Media, Money, music, photography, Technology, US, work on October 27, 2013 at 5:57 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

If there is a current cri de coeur of the creative crowd, this is it.

Much as we might fervently wish for it, there’s no separate gas pump with a 35% discount just for painters or a 25% off aisle at the grocery store reserved for musicians or a 50% off sticker affixed to our phone, electricity or insurance bills.

English: Grocery store in Callicoon, NY, USA

English: Grocery store in Callicoon, NY, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Free food for artists! NOT.

Our costs are the same as everyone else’s.

So this piece in The New York Times, although hardly a new thought, hit a nerve:

NOT long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it’s not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint.

People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing.

They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it. “Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to offer compensation to our contributors…” is how the pertinent line usually starts. But just as often, they simply omit any mention of payment.

I like to see how many comments Times pieces elicit; as I write this, so far, 493 people have weighed in. That might be a record.

This hit a chord with me, again, when yesterday a local attorney — who drives a lovely Mercedes — asked me to have lunch with her daughter so her daughter could ask my career advice.

Shell Petrol Pump

Shell Petrol Pump (Photo credit: dvanzuijlekom) Free gas for writers! Just kidding!

I met the attorney because I interviewed her, (a paid gig, of course). We have no social or other relationship, but it’s a very normal expectation I want to share my 30 years’ expertise and insight without payment because….?

I don’t want lunch.

I want to be paid.

I grew up in a family of freelancers. No one had a paycheck, pension or paid vacations. Our earnings relied on our talent, skills and ability to negotiate a payment that made sense to us. It did, providing us with nice clothes, decent used cars, international travel, a home with a mortgage, i.e. a middle-class to upper-middle-class life.

This fantasy that creative people are eager to slurp ramen into our 60s or beyond is just weird.

Like that Times op-ed writer, Tim Kreider, I’ve also turned down many “offers” to go and speak unpaid — from the Retail Council of Canada (!), with no offer to pay my travel costs from New York to Toronto — to a local alumni group of a prestigious university who recently “invited” me to spend four hours of my time on that event, so I could sell copies of my latest book – at a discount.

None of which earns me a dime.

People wouldn’t ask their physician, dentist, accountant or attorney to come hang out, without compensation, for the afternoon.

Don’t ask me either!

How often are you asked to work without pay?

“I know a lot of people doubt me. I don’t listen to those people”

In art, behavior, children, culture, entertainment, life, men, music, news, parenting, urban life, US, work on July 30, 2013 at 1:54 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I love these guys!

Have you heard (of) them?

Check ‘em out — sixth-grade boys from Brooklyn, Malcolm Brickhouse, Jarad Dawkins and Alec Atkins who play heavy metal. Their band is Unlocking the Truth and they’ve already played two of Manhattan’s toughest crowds — Times Square and the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

English: The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New Yor...

English: The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’ve been teased and bullied for their funky hair and black nail polish, but there’s no denying their talent, chutzpah and quiet confidence.

They met in kindergarten and have been playing music together since. When they played Times Square — for 10 hours at a time! — they’d pull in $1,600.

That’s $160/hour or more than $50/hour per musician. Not bad for mid-career or fresh college grads.

Pretty damn awesome for sixth-graders, I’d say.

But what I most admire is their belief in themselves and their willingness to put it out there, literally, before strangers with no vested interest in cooing at them or praising them for…breathing.

I see too many kids spoiled rotten, like the *&#@*)_$ eight-year-old girl who decided to change her socks and shoes three times (?!) last week beside me, in an expensive Midtown restaurant. Her extended foot practically hit my plate.

Her mother did nothing, said nothing.

Kids that like make me want to throw furniture.

Kids like this make me want to cheer.

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...

English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From PRI’s Studio 360:

Brickhouse and Dawkins have been playing music together since kindergarten. Although hip-hop is the dominant music at school and in the neighborhood, they come to metal honestly. “My dad used to take us to watch wrestling shows and we used to watch animated music videos,”

Brickhouse tells Kurt. “The background music was heavy metal. I was surrounded by heavy metal.” Their originals have lyrics (about “drugs, and relationships, and stuff — and being free”), but no one in the band will sing them.

The trio’s debut EP will be released later this summer and young as they are, the members see a long future in rock. Brickhouse says he’ll be banging out vicious licks “until I die”, while Dawkins is more pragmatic; “I’ll retire at about 70 years old.”

Here’s a video of them and story from The Huffington Post.

Do you love Joni Mitchell as much as I do?

In art, beauty, culture, entertainment, music, women on June 22, 2013 at 12:29 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you took away every other piece of contemporary music and allowed me only one artist to listen to, it might well be that of fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell.

Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004

Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s now 70, living in L.A. dividing her time between there and her property north of Vancouver in Sechelt, B.C.

Friends of mine in Toronto last week had the rare and fantastic opportunity, at the annual Luminato Festival, to hear her sing — when she had only agreed to read a poem. So jealous!

You may never have heard of her — while those of us who grew up singing along to her work keep playing and re-playing her work — after all, there are 28 albums listed on her official website.

She officially retired in 2002, although you’ve likely heard one of the 587 (!) versions of her song “Both Sides Now”, written when she was only 21. Singers including Taylor Swift and Madonna have cited her as a major influence on their work.

A winner of eight Grammy awards, her classic album “Blue” was named one of the 100 best albums ever made by Time magazine.

She started out as a visual artist but got pregnant, gave her daughter up for adoption, and only by accident fell into her long career as a singer/songwriter.

Here’s one of her paintings, from 1987, linked to her song “Night Ride Home”, one of my many favorites.

She started out living in a small Western Canadian town, where her mother “raised me on words.”

She’s even inspired 47 songs by others, as recently as 2011 — including the classic “Our House” By Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young, yet another Canadian.

Many other artists have recorded her work, some of them making her songs into hits. A favorite, “Michael from Mountains”, off the 1967 classic by Judy Collins, “Wildflowers” is a song written by Mitchell.

Cover of "Hejira"

Cover of Hejira

I have so many favorites among her work, but Hejira is an album I could play all day every day and never tire of. The word has several meanings, one of which is “a journey to escape something dangerous or undesireable.” It came out when I was a second-year university student, living alone in a crummy small apartment in Toronto, struggling to combine freelance photography with full-time studies at a large and demanding bureaucratic institution.

(If you’re lucky enough to be in Pacific Beach, CA on November 9, 2013, a band called Robin Adler and the Mutts will perform the entire album. Wish I could be there!)

Hejira expressed the aching, overwhelming multitude of feelings I felt so powerfully then — joy and excitement at leaving my family home for good; fear I would not do so successfully; dating a succession of men, many of them unlikely; trying to define who I was as a young woman in the larger world.

I love this lyric — talk about the wrong man!

No regrets, coyote

We just come from such different sets of circumstance

I’m up all night in the studio

And you’re up early on your ranch

This is a verse from “Amelia”, nominally about Amelia Earhart, but which resonates for me, still, as someone happiest in motion, in flight, traveling somewhere new:

The drone of flying engines

Is a song so wild and blue


It scrambles time and seasons if it gets thru to you


Then your life becomes a travelogue


Of picture post card charms


Amelia it was just a false alarm

Here’s a fantastic, recent hour-long exclusive interview with her by fellow Canadian Jian Ghomeshi on his CBC/PRI show, “Q”.

I love that it ends with an audible hug.

Are you a fan as well?

Have you ever heard her in concert?

How badly do you want it?

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, music, work on May 17, 2013 at 2:56 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Here is a powerful essay by British pianist James Rhodes, from The Guardian, about the many sacrifices he’s made for his music:

Admittedly I went a little extreme – no income for five years, six
hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a
brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something
that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental
hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of
gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I’d
envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.

My life involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising,
lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews,
isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches
of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house
slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure
(playing 120,000 notes from memory in the right order with the right
fingers, the right sound, the right pedalling while chatting about the
composers and pieces and knowing there are critics, recording devices,
my mum, the ghosts of the past, all there watching), and perhaps most
crushingly, the realisation that I will never, ever give the perfect
recital. It can only ever, with luck, hard work and a hefty dose of
self-forgiveness, be “good enough”.

I find this an interesting, and extremely rare, admission of what it’s like to achieve and sustain public excellence.

English: A post-concert photo of the main hall...

English: A post-concert photo of the main hall’s stage inside of Carnegie Hall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We see and hear, and applaud, (or boo or yawn at), the final product of many talented hard-working people, but often have absolutely no idea what it took to get them there — onto the concert stage, into the corps de ballet, onto the bookstore shelf or into the kitchen of a fine restaurant.

I’m fascinated by process, always hungry to hear how others are doing it and what, if anything, they have had to give up along the way. By the time we see someone becoming famous and, possibly, well-paid for their talents, we’re really looking at an iceberg — seeing barely 10 percent of their story, the other 90 percent often being years, even decades, of study and practice and rejection and failure that led up to this moment.

The Passage of Time

The Passage of Time (Photo credit: ToniVC)

I think it’s worth reading these stories as a way of thinking about our own choices:

How much longer will I devote to this project?

What I never achieve my goal?

Are there smaller, more private, less lucrative successes that would also satisfy me?

If not, why not?

What am I willing to give up?

How much will I regret those losses?

I weary of the widespread fantasy that “everyone’s a writer.” They’re not!

It is damn hard to become very good at something.

Here’s a great recent post by a professional conductor talking about this, chosen for Freshly Pressed:

Recent research and a popular book have theorized that it takes 10,000 hours for a human to become proficient and considered an expert at something.  It seems so easy:  Put in the Time, Collect the Dime.  I think most adults can see some truth in this theory based on their own experiences.  Driving a car is a great example.  While we are learning, we are cognizant of every movement, every decision, every possibility.  After time, we become very natural at it.  It almost becomes a reflexive action.  (For example, when’s the last time you thought about—really concentrated on—operating the turn signal?)

What makes it interesting is that it could apply to anything, from knitting to playing the violin.  The implications for an art form are obvious and the research pointers are fairly sound.  However my question is: Is it enough to make good art?

It is even harder, depending on a wide variety of external circumstances — do you have kids? A big mortgage? Student debt? Poor health? — to make a lot of money doing something purely creative, versus working for The Man and taking home a steady paycheck.

I love this multi-media piece about jockeys in Nairobi – the only track for 3,300 miles. They want it badly!

At Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya, the only track in a 3,300-mile swath of Africa between Egypt and Zimbabwe, the jockeys struggle to earn $20 a ride, even in the big races. For the country’s biggest race, the Kenya Derby, the winning horse’s owner may take home little more than $7,200. Grooms, who wake up at 4:30 six mornings a week to muck out stables and brush down horses, make less than $100 a month. Yet, the dwindling numbers of trainers, jockeys, owners and breeders in Kenya are deeply committed to keeping the sport alive.

I started working for Canada’s best newspaper, The Globe and Mail, at 26, after applying for a staff job every year for eight years. I eventually wanted to come to New York and so, after a day’s work, also worked as a stringer (contacts I sought out) for Time, The Boston Globe and the Miami Herald. I needed to find American editors who liked my work and to up my game.

Knowing I planned to leave Toronto within a few years also meant not settling down and getting married and having kids, (not a dream of mine anyway.) I moved to New Hampshire in 1988, leaving family, friends, career and country, then moved to New York just in time for a horrible recession, with no job. I got one after six months, earning $5,000 less in March 1990 than I’d made in Montreal in September 1986 — in a much costlier place to live.

Every move we make is a choice that carries consequences and every one carries a cost — physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, professional. Sometimes all of those at once!

That’s why they’re called sacrifices, and why it’s so much nicer to just avoid them. And the worst fear, perhaps, is that you make a ton of them and still don’t get what it was you really wanted.

So it helps to figure out what you really want — the fancy job title and shiny new car or a life with enough room in it to travel three months every year? A bunch of kids or the creative freedom to fail at new ideas and still pay your monthly bills? A loving spouse or the sort of work that moves you from one conflict spot to the next, in an NGO or aid work or journalism? (They are not all either/or, but they will enact sacrifices.)

No matter who you are or where you live or what you hope to achieve in life — non-materially — the fewer your financial obligations, the easier it is to focus on that.

Do you have a specific dream you’re trying to achieve?

What are you willing to do — to give up — to get there?

The creative class is struggling, too. Do you care?

In art, beauty, behavior, books, business, culture, design, film, journalism, life, Media, movies, music, news, photography, television, US, work on April 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm
De artist

De artist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not just lawyers who are hurting  — 7,500 of them surplus in 2009 in New York alone.

Or older men.

Or those who used to work in manufacturing.

The “creative class” is as well.

Those working in photography, architecture and graphic design have seen a 20 to 30 percent drop in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since August 2002, those working in the music field have seen their work opportunities plummet by a staggering 45.3%.

“The story has really not been told,” Scott Timberg, an arts and culture writer in Los Angeles said to host Kurt Andersen on the weekly public radio show Studio 360, which examines all forms of culture. “They don’t always have a tattoo or beret.  They’re like Canadians, among us secretly, silently and invisibly.”

“A life in the arts…means giving up riches, making a trade-off to do something they’re passionate about,” Timberg said. “It’s become forbidding for a much wider group of people…I see some of the best getting knocked out.”

Timberg also wrote about this recently on Salon:

Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen write anthems about the travails of the working man; we line up for the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson hold festivals and fundraisers when farmers suffer. Taxpayers bail out the auto industry and Wall Street and the banks. There’s a sense that manufacturing, or the agrarian economy, is what this country is really about. But culture was, for a while, what America did best: We produce and export creativity around the world. So why aren’t we lamenting the plight of its practitioners? Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession. But  when someone employed in the world of culture loses a job, he or she feels easier to sneer at than a steel worker or auto worker.

As both a Canadianan, living in New York since 1989, and a member of the creative class, I’ve absolutely felt the sting of this terrible recession. My last staff job, as a reporter for the New York Daily News, the nation’s sixth-largest paper, ended in 2006.

My income the next year fell by 75 percent. Fun! It’s now barely back to 50 percent of that figure. In 2008, 24,000 journalists lost their jobs.

It’s an interesting dilemma because being a creative professional — like those who choose law, medicine, dentistry — demands years of attention to one discipline. You start out with talent. You may invest tens of thousands of dollars in higher education, workshops, coaches and ongoing training. It’s crazily competitive and the criteria of success often utterly quixotic and subjective. A lawyer wins or loses a case. A dentist fills a cavity.

But a creative person, in any field, can languish in poverty/obscurity for years, if not decades, if their work or style isn’t fashionable or they just doesn’t know enough of the right people. To really make it financially, you often need to layer the daily hustle of a used car salesman onto the independence of spirit of the artist.

Many of us just can’t squeeze both personalities into one brain.

Yet we all hope to enjoy the basics of middle-class life: a home, a family, a vehicle, a vacation once in a while.

It’s a dirty secret but those of us who work creatively, whether we paint, sculpt, take photos, design buildings or play in a quartet also want the things that cube-dwellers do. Our groceries cost the same, our gas just as overpriced.

But, unlike many corporate cube-dwellers, we may have to purchase our health insurance in the open (i.e. costly) market; in 2003 (when I went onto my husband’s plan through his staff job) I was paying $700 a month. It’s now normal to pay $1,000+…adding an overhead of $12,000 pre-tax dollars just to avoid a medical bankruptcy.

Especially in the United States where corporate billionaires are lionized, creative folk — typically self-employed and working out of public and the media’s view — are seen as slackers, stoners, half-assed. (Author John Grisham earned $18 million last year — hardly typical.)

Very few creative professionals in any genre or medium will ever earn that in their lifetime — no matter their objective excellence, awards or peer respect.

Yet other nations actually pay their artists to help them quality work; the Canada Council hands out $20,000 grants every year to fortunate writers who have produced two books deemed worthy.

Are you a member of the creative class?

How’s it going for you these days?

My Soundtrack — And Yours?

In music on January 15, 2012 at 12:05 am
Nick Drake, c. 1969.

Nick Drake, 1969. Image via Wikipedia

I rarely go through a day without listening to music.

As I write this, I’m listening to one of my favorite radio shows, Soundcheck with John Schaefer, now in its 30th (!) year on-air from WNYC, 93. 9, in New York. John always has something fun to offer — today’s show included a version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, sung in (of course!) Klingon.

Follow that link and you’ll find some of his shows, whether featuring Gaetano Veloso or Courtney Love.

My taste in music is pretty eclectic, from Baroque faves like Couperin to Japanese shakuhachi, a haunting bamboo flute you might have heard in tunes by Tangerine Dream, Dave Brubeck, Peter Gabriel and Sade.

My classical favorites include Erik Satie, Aaron Copland, Bach, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Rodrigo; I never tire of Concierto de Aranjuez or the Brandenburg Concertos.

I don’t listen to rap, hip-hop, country or Top 40 stuff.

Here are some of my favorites, some of which you’ll know and maybe some of which will be a discovery:

Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian whose music I’ve loved since the 1970s. Try to find some of his earliest albums: great guitar, haunting lyrics.

Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Jane Siberry are all Canadians whose music I enjoy.

Acoustic guitar music is a favorite: Leo Kottke, John Renbourn, Richard Thompson, Kaki King, David Bromberg.

Singer/songwriters: Canadian female singer Feist, the late super-talented Englishman Nick Drake, American Duncan Sheik, Katell Keinig, Joan Osborne, Ricky Lee Jones, and Irishman Luka Bloom, among many others.

Nina Simone!

Instrumental music, like this amazing CD I keep playing over and over, La Valse Des Monstres. I have some odd affection for accordion music.

Genesis — 1970s British prog-rock. Check out The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a double album, and set aside a few hours to disappear into it.

A local New York band, whose vocalist and washboard player is a friend of mine, The Hot Sardines — who play music from the 1920s and 30s. Great fun!

The Waterboys. I was bouncing on my seat at The Beacon in NYC when I heard this terrific Irish band.

What songs, bands, musicians or composers do you love best?

Do you have a great radio station we can listen to on-line?

I’m desperate for some new-to-me tunes!

Summer Sounds

In beauty, culture, domestic life, family, life, music, urban life on July 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm
Glass of iced tea

Ice tea....aaaaaah! Image via Wikipedia

I listen to NPR every day — and they’re running a lovely series called Summer Sounds. The one I heard yesterday was “screen door slamming.” So true!

Others have included golf, a steel drum and firecrackers.

Some of mine include:

The clang-clang-clang of a metal halyard against a sailboat mast

The gluoup sound of a canoe paddle digging deeply into cool, dark lake water

The lap of water against stone at lakeside

The haunting call of a loon

The clink of ice cubes in a glass of ice tea or lemonade — or (oooh, yes please!) a Tanqueray and tonic

The crunch of bus wheels on gravel, the sound of arriving at summer camp one more time, eight weeks of joy ahead

The gentle murmur of voices on the patio in the dark

The low steady hum of the air conditioner

The whine of mosquitoes (and the slap of getting one!)

The sing-song tune of the Good Humor truck

The sizzle of food cooking on a grill

The flapping of flip-flops

The farting noise when you try to squirt out the tube’s last little bit of sunscreen

The roaring buzz of cicadas

The splash of someone diving into a pool

The roar of a motorboat engine

How about you?

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