Leadership in Music: A Call to Action

Nothing about the Center for Talent in the Arts is that ground-breaking, uniquely innovative, or new to the conversation of what it means to train a musician. Yet, the conversation we hope to start is around a shift in mindset towards a more holistic approach to talent-building that will create a skills-set necessary to flourish in the future. This is a wake-up call to the modern musician to be honest about what it takes to thrive in our climate of constant re-innovation in the music industry and an ever-changing artistic landscape.  

Much of what we will present in the Building Talent Routines (coming soon!) is nothing different than what musical greats like J.S. Bach, Beethoven, George Gershwin, Mary Lou Williams, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane practiced. But, the reality is that the past century has seen a massive departure from the concepts of complete and holistic musicianship and has become an era of specialization.  

In fact, you might say that the holistic approach to musicianship has seen a slow departure over the past few centuries when music was practiced universally within the community. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, most American households had a piano and a large portion of the public could read music, understand basic chord symbols, and create music for friends and family. With the advent of the radio, recordings, and other technology shifts, we saw a shift from music-making in the home to professionals. We have moved from the communal to the expert.  

As we made this shift to music-is-best-left-to-the-experts, I believe that musicians and the music industry has become overly specialized and has lost much of the craft of what musicians of yesteryear practiced to attain. Today, we tend to have an industrial-era approach to music education that often trains musicians to play one instrument exceptionally well and to perform in either an orchestra, a jazz band, or a new indie band- almost as interchangeable components.  

But this is not how Mozart or Dizzy Gillespie learned music.  With his father looming large, young Mozart played several instruments in addition to sessions in listening, analysis, composition, and notation. J.S. Bach was an exceptional instrumentalist, improviser, teacher, band-leader, administrator (well not sure about that) and, oh yeah, a pretty good composer. Dizzy Gillespie was mostly self-taught and performed, practiced, composed, and improvised with others as many as sixteen hours a day for decades. These folks became leaders.   

It is the premise of the Center for Talent that revisiting this varied approach to learning and practice will enable us to become leaders in the 21st Century. 

These specialized roles have become commonly accepted: “I am a conductor.” “I am a producer.” “I am a composer.” “I am a performer.” “I am a record executive.” “I am a booking agent.” “I am a singer.” The boom in technology in the past few decades has created a world where we can produce recordings in our basements that used to cost tens of thousands of dollars in specialized equipment. Where these recordings used to require a massive mechanism of people to advertise and disseminate our music, now we can “go viral” all by ourselves.  

It is entirely possible that these technological advances have made more music happen in the past few years than all the years before it combined.  And this is wonderful.  But becoming an elite musician with a strong artistic voice can be exceptionally difficult.  The hard reality is that the skills required to thrive in this environment are different than the training models developed at our conservatories and universities of the past.  

We now require a more broad and holistic approach that can give us the depth of talent necessary to fully engage in the diverse and vibrant musical communities of the future.  

It is time to step up and own our talent and our futures.  It is time to become leaders.

By Brian Chin