My local community choir performed at the local church, last Friday and Saturday night, to raise money for a local charity. The church was full, the 65-voice choir was on form, and they sang their hearts out.
But this morning the post-concert glow was knocked out of me by a nasty email from an audience member who saw the concert on Friday night. As a choir leader, you do, of course, receive emails post-concerts. Usually these emails are from well-wishers complimenting us for our achievements, or people who saw us and want to join the choir. Sometimes people email offering constructive criticism, and always, you take this with a pinch of salt.
But this email has really gotten my goat. I’m not sure if the way I have dealt with it is right, but here it is. I have changed the senders name.
On 13 Jul 2013, at 17:05, Nigel wrote:
I’d like to comment on last night’s ‘En Choir’s performance.
I was impressed that you all tackled the songs without copies, and the vitality and enthusiasm shone through.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a word of it - not from the speakers, nor the soloists…and certainly not from the choir. It seemed to be a series of very ‘samey’ material. A lot of pop songs have some brilliant lyrics but I missed out last night. You need to slow down a bit.
All the best
On 14 July 2013 12:06:57 GMT+01:00 Em wrote:
I’m glad I didn’t read this before Saturday nights performance because frankly, I found it to be rude and upsetting.
I’m sorry that you didn’t understand what we did. Many listeners commented on how wonderful the choir were. Many asked to join the choir and will be coming to our rehearsal next week. The atmosphere during the tea break was one of laughter, smiling faces and happiness, not one of an audience who didn’t understand a word, or who found the song choices ‘samey’.
If you sat too far back, you might not have received the best acoustic, as the church is quite echoey, and I would advise that in the future you sit closer to the front; there were some unused seats to the sides. But if this isn’t your kind of thing, I would suggest not coming!
As a professional choir leader, I am aware of improvements that may or may not need to be made. It is part of my job to adequately reflect on a performance and note areas for improvement in the future. I certainly do not need a bitter audience member to do this for me.
There really is no need to send such an unkind, thoughtless and inane email after a choir of 65 local people did their absolute best to raise money for charity. I suggest that you are a jealous, negative and unhappy person to feel an email to this regard was warranted.
I am happy to accept constructive criticism: yours isn’t. You have insulted me and I hope for, but don’t expect, an apology. The choir sang a beautifully varied programme with clarity and diction and raised a good deal of money for charity in the process.
I won’t wish you best wishes,
On 14 Jul 2013, at 23:15, Nigel wrote:
All I gave you was my honest personal reaction to what I heard.
I have sung in choirs most of my adult life and I’ve entered festivals as a soloist and been torn to shreds. I know all about criticism, and having to go back to square one, and what that can do to one’s ego.
As you say your job is indeed to ‘reflect on a performance and note areas for improvement’, but what conductor doesn’t listen to the paying customer.
I know at least one audience member felt the same as me, and she was at the front.
I’m not sure you gave adequate thought to the overall accoustics - how am I supposed to know where is the right place to sit.
I really did not expect such an explosive reaction to a critical letter that did possess positive observations, ie. ‘vitality and enthusiasm shone through’. I didn’t say it was all bad.
If you’re that sensitive to revues (which I doubt in all honesty) you shouldn’t be in the business.
On 14 July 2013 23:52:03 GMT+01:00 Em wrote:
This is not about sensitivity and critique. What kind of person decides to email an amateur choir, in overly negative manner, after their charity concert? Do you really not understand why you might have caused offence? And then to mention that you are a paying customer as if you have a right to be so rude? Your money went to charity, not to line our pockets. But if you would like a refund, I will kindly give it.
You ought to learn to be more constructive. I might have accepted “I feel the acoustic might have been a little too bright as I couldn’t hear very well” but your overly exaggerated email, where not only did you criticise all participants by saying you could hear ‘one word’ (not ‘one word’? Really? Come on!), you also suggested that the material: a dynamic blend of upbeat, ballad, soul, pop, latin, original material and a theme song was ‘samey’ and that the whole thing was too quick.
I have and do adjudicate music festivals and grade exams and diplomas and have never ‘ripped a solo singer or choir to shreds’. That would be highly unprofessional and I am surprised that you have experienced this of other examiners. Balance is key, along with constructive suggestions for improvement. Applaud people’s efforts where they are due and offer constructive criticism when it is invited (such as in an ‘examined’ capacity).
To be honest, I wouldn’t normally reply to an email like this, but your manner got my goat because a) we have received a large amount of positive feedback by email and verbally which placed your email as a bit of an odd-ball and b) your email seemed wholly unnecessary and c) if your friend in the front row had struggled to understand, perhaps he / she should have turned their hearing aid on for a choir of 65, with amplification, could definitely be heard on the very front row.
MD’s tend to take customers views with a pinch of salt, as they are largely uninformed (as I now feel is the case with yourself). We did not ask you for a review of our concert and you are certainly not qualified to provide one so please take your negativity elsewhere.
This month I wrote a feature piece for the British Flute Society’s ‘FLUTE’ magazine where I discussed using the internet and social media to promote your music online. It featured quotes from interviews with flute players Alexis Del Palazzo, Anthony Kershaw, Kyle D Owen, Meerenai Shim, Niall O’ Riordan and Tammy Evans Yonce. Here is a reader friendly version, as my previously posted image of the article is small.
UPBEAT ABOUT THE INTERNET, by Em Peasgood
In the 80s and 90s, my musical career started as many others did: with ability, private tuition, music college, postgraduate study and hours of daily practice. I met other musicians, joined a diary service, formed alliances, played in bands, joined an opera company, left an opera company, signed up with an agent: the list goes on but my point is this: my experiences enabled me to network face to face and integrate with a peer group of like-minded musicians who I would work with throughout my musical life; musicians who might recommend me to others, or book me for work. A verbal, face-to-face network involving jam sessions, hand-shakes and the building of relationships, one on one.
Before the Internet, music was shared by word of mouth. Now, for the first time ever, humanity has a central nervous system through which information is shared globally. The majority of the population have broadband internet access and virtually everyone has a mobile phone. Most of us use Facebook or some form of social media to communicate and keep up to date with our friends and family. And if we like something, we don’t wait to tell our friends in person, instead, we choose to tell the world about it by clicking “like” on Facebook, writing a review on Amazon, or rating a product with five stars on one of many review websites. Word of mouth has essentially gone online.
In a short space of time, the music industry has changed drastically, especially since the introduction of online digital music distribution. Since 2000, sales of recorded music have dropped significantly, and the world’s biggest recorded music retailer is now Apple iTunes, a digital download store. It has made us, as musicians, reassess how we reach our audience and what being a musician is all about. And we need to embrace this change, especially for those of us with a background in traditional and classical music. Flute player and composer Kyle D. Owen says: “My journey within the music world has been rather traditional, but I realised many years ago that having an online presence is essential”.
As a musician in the noughties, I still attend jam sessions and meet musicians face to face, and I still work within my peer group of like-minded musicians. But I now also use the Internet in ways I could not have comprehended in the 90s. At least half of the musicians I now work with were introduced to me on Facebook. Nearly all of my performance bookings come from my website alone, from people willing to book my services as a musician, without having seen me perform. My YouTube videos allow clients to get a feel for who I really am and how well I perform live, without their needing to travel to a performance. Potential music students find me from a Google search, or on one of the free teaching websites on which I advertise. My blog posts lead musicians to my websites too, a pied piper, drawing my audience to me. And my audience share my blog articles and music with their friends and family, expanding my network further.
Flute player and author Anthony Kershaw says, “If you have a quality product and have no online presence you are almost invisible”, and I agree. I rely heavily on the online world, and marketing and promoting myself online has become normal for myself and many other musicians. Without it, I feel I would perish as a musician.
The Internet contains a wealth of information, resources, and opportunities for musicians, and in order to reach our potential audience our duties far exceed practice and performance alone. We need to learn to navigate this unlimited and free resource. Through the Internet, every voice can now be heard, but in the sea of voices, how can a musician stand our amongst many?
Picture this: you post a photograph of your kitten on a social network site. Within ten minutes, five people have commented on it. One of them is a family member, and the rest? You do not know who they are, but they are vaguely familiar. These people are listed as your ‘friends’, but are they?
This is the scenario that causes people to avoid social networking sites like Facebook, especially for professional purposes. Isn’t it a bit impersonal and strange? Well yes, I suppose it it. But sites like Facebook do offer an easy way to meet people, which is why I love them. Do you really want to get deep down and personal when networking with potential collaborators or clients? No. Personally, I keep one Facebook account for people I really know, and one for networking and acquaintances. When it comes to social networking, I’m a bit of an old hand and know my way around. For a newcomer, it can be daunting but is worth persevering with. Social networking sites come and go and there are many options available, some more successful than others, some more suitable for musicians than others, and all with varying degrees of commitment.
Launched in 2004, Facebook is the most popular social networking site and the easiest to join and use. General users can create a large personal profile, write updates, upload photos and videos and ‘like’ various activities, books, and music. Musicians can create fan pages, join peer groups for networking, and, for a fee, advertise their fan pages to targeted Facebook users.
The possibilities of Facebook are endless: you can tailor your profile to your specific needs, choosing what to share about yourself and your personality. The danger with this level of freedom is that many people are tempted to (and do) over-share intimate details of their life. You really can tell a lot about a person from what they write on Facebook and I would advise any newcomer to choose what level of professionalism they would like to maintain prior to joining, and, to avoid uploading those drunken photos from nights on the town. For musicians who use fan pages, engaging with fans is the key, as is providing quality content. “The trick is always to promote quality content. Consistent self-promotion is a sure way to lose a social media audience”, says Anthony Kershaw.
"I was initially reluctant to join twitter because I didn’t see what the benefits would be, but I have really enjoyed it and the relationships I have built with other musicians. There is a lot of positive energy that comes from those interactions that has led to various projects. I love that I have been able to meet so many musicians from different places. It’s a great way to keep up with what the current issues and trends are in music and to have a group of people to bounce ideas off". Tammy Evans Yonce, flute player.
Developed in 2006, Twitter is similar to Facebook but scaled down. With the capacity for only a basic profile, Twitter allows users to post small updates, or microblogs. And because the onus is on what you say, rather than what your profile says, Twitter can be hard work to get going with. But once you are settled, it provides a great forum for discussion and debate, and many musicians find Twitter to be a most successful marketing tool.
"I prefer Twitter to Facebook and I have ‘met’ many people via Twitter from all over the world. The percussionist who is recording a piece with me on my next record was introduced to me by a Twitter friend. My next record will have two pieces written by composers I met on Twitter: Daniel Felstead and Jay Batzner. Twitter takes a couple of months of effort before it becomes fun and useful. But once you get started, it’s more helpful than any other site". Meerenai Shim, flute player.
Developed in 2003, LinkedIn is a no-nonsense network for professionals only. With less emphasis on personality, it focuses on what you have achieved professionally and allows targeted networking within a circle of like-minded peers. I find joining peer groups especially useful for keeping up to date with trends and issues within my music community.
YouTube is a site where users can upload, share and view videos, and it has become popular in the music community. Many wannabe pop idols use the site and some, such as Justin Bieber, have even settled major record deals through this forum. But YouTube isn’t for the wannabe pop star. Composer Eric Whitacre uses this forum for his virtual choir, a choir consisting of submitted home-videos from 2000 voices in 58 countries worldwide. More recently, Greg Patillo, a beat-boxing flute player from Seattle, has been showcasing his skills in YouTube, receiving more than 74 millions views. Nina Perlove, the self-styled ‘Internet Flautist’, has her own channel on YouTube to which she uploads teaching and performance videos. Currently she has over 11,000 subscribers and almost five million views of her work.
WEBSITES AND BLOGGING
At the start of my career, the concept of having a personal website was a novelty. Now, my website has become hugely important to me and I advise any musician never to underestimate the value of having one. Websites provide an instant online presence. Not only does my website tell the world who I am and what I do, it informs people of where I’m performance and what my current projects are. Through it, I receive email requests for tuition, commissions, and bookings. My website also allows me to seek a new audience; many find me from an Internet search for something else, and as a result my client and fan-base increases.
Although it is tempting to ask for all the bells and whistles when designing your website, it is best to keep things simple: you can always expand later. With a basic website, you can at least attract private students, a mainstay of musicianship.
Things to include of primary important when planning or redesigning your website are:
- good quality sound recordings
- basic contact information
- brief biography (readers want to read a little about who you are, not your entire life story)
- calendar of performance dates.
And keep your website up to date with just ten minutes of weekly maintenance.
One way to draw traffic and potential clients to your website is to think of it as a resource for people. Keeping a blog or posting performance tips will keep people coming and, over time, will build an audience for your music.
"Through the Internet, you really do have a worldwide audience at your doorstep. Therefore, everybody should have a website. There is no excuse not to and there are loads of ‘create your own website’ companies that are very affordable. Think of your website as a shop window". Niall O’Riordan, flute player and BFS Council member.
Regularly updating your blog with strong content is another key to achieving success. I regularly post blogs on my wedding band website, advising brides and grooms on how to book a wedding band. It requires one hour a week of maintenance and potential clients find my wedding band through my blog posts. Niall O’Riordan regularly posts performance tips and daily exercises on his website, and flute player Alexis Del Palazzo writes The Sensible Flutist blog, where she discusses classical music and common issues that musicians face. She says, “Writing my blog The Sensible Flutist led me to begin using Twitter as a platform to establish myself and get readership. This is turn led me to other musician bloggers who are pondering the same issues within classical music and this helped me discover my voice and solidify my identity”.
In summary, the Internet is presenting us with a world that is becoming ever smaller. It is the central nervous system through which information is shared and it allows us to communicate freely with whoever we like, so that we are no longer limited by location and peer group. As the Internet grows, so do its users, interacting in a mutual exchange. This is why, for a musician, having an online presence is more important than ever.
Through social networking, blogs, and websites, we can develop a rapport with people we would not have otherwise met. And we can do so in a laid-back manner, without the time constraint of a face-to-face meeting, allowing relationships to develop over time. Social media will never replace good old-fashioned one-on-one communications - I, for one, will not pass on work to a musician I have not worked with before - but, social media does go hand in hand with, and is a vital part of, being a musician. Things are changing. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are here to stay. And they will eventually evolve into something new.
As Niall O’Riordan says, “I think in this day and age it is very important to keep up with the times. We are living in a time were anybody can have instant access to your music. This has never happened before and I believe we are only at the beginning of a significant change in the music industry. In many ways the power is given back to the people because through social media everybody has a voice which can be heard”.
Musicians need to be Internet-savvy to stand out. If you don’t have an online presence you can start simply by creating a Facebook page and a basic website. As you find your feet, you might like to add Twitter to the equation and take advantage of other tools available to you. Incorporating and even scheduling social networking into your daily life pays dividends: ten minutes a day for social networking and one hour a week for blogging. Social media has never been more convenient; most sites have applications you can install for free on your mobile phone. In my opinion, all musicians should embrace social media and the internet as a tool for furthering their musicianship.
"We have to push the boundaries of social expectation, and that often means communication in new venues and building unexpected partnerships. We can only help each other if we are open to new ideas and partnerships. Social media, as well as new forms of communication, allow us to share those ideas, and express ourselves. We, as artists, are often leading the way because we are diving into these worlds first so that we can use them as tools to share our work. You have to be where the people are, and you can only do that if you are there yourself". Kyle D. Owen.
Thanks to the flautists who contributed to this article:
Alexis Del Palazzo: www.sensibleflutist.blogspot.co.uk
Anthony Kershaw, Canadian flautist and publisher of Audiophilia: www.audiophilia.com
Kyle D. Owen: www.kyleowen.com
Meerenai Shim: www.meerenai.com
Niall O’Riordan: www.niallflute.com
Tammy Evans Yonce: www.tammyevansyonce.com
Read more from Em Peasgood at: www.publicemilie.com
I was fourteen when I first felt the urge. A mere twitch which escalated into longing. Horniness. A world of possibility opening itself up to me. These boys. These men. Why pick one when I can have them all?
I played with it. Tried it. Enjoyed it. Loved it. Physical love which so quickly becomes attachment. Easy love. Melding into another. Building a shared identity, friends, home. Merging opinions, beliefs, possessions. Becoming one.
And I hated it. Hurt it. Controlled it. Trapped it. A week, a month, a year. Always testing the boundaries of my love; my self worth shoe horned into another. Control, ownership and greed. Just how far could I push a person?
Build a person with love and laughter. Forgive and accept their past. Celebrate their you-ness. Then break them.
I want to believe love is true. I want to believe there is someone out there for everyone; that we grow into one another, complete each other and fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
But I don’t.
I do believe, that like many things, partnership is a choice. Yes, when we separate we are vulnerable and afraid: unsure of who we are and how we fit in, who our friends are and how we should spend our free time. But this is through believing we do not know who we are, if not half of another; through complying with the philosophy of partnership: believing that this is how we should live our lives.
There are plenty of fish in the sea, but the sea might as well be filled with another specie when, like me, you aren’t a settler.
Single, I feel free. A world of possibility open to me. The thrill of the chase. The excitement of being alive, of being found again by another, and of self acceptance. Single, I am happy, creative, prolific.
A family member once said to me: "what are you doing with your life? Why are you not married? Why haven’t you had a baby? Just what are you doing?"
The year she took prozac her grandparents died.
First: Grandad, who worked the filling factory stuffing bombs, shells and cartridges.
Second: Grandma, the circus contortionist who wielded the unicycle, walked the tight rope and engaged the crowd. She juggled from the wooden stick the ringmaster stuffed into her mouth, like a horses bit. Later, she stuffed gun-powder into bombs, at the factory where she met Grandad.
“Grandad died”, said her mother, when she phoned that morning.
“When?” replied the girl.
“An hour ago. They just rang. He died peacefully”.
“Oh”, replied the girl.
“I’m coming to get you”.
“So you can come with me to see the body”.
“But I don’t want to see the body”.
“Oh”, said her mother. “I’ll go alone then”.
The girl walked to the canteen and sat with her friends.
“Grandad died”, she said. “Mum called to take me to see the body. But I don’t want to go. Anyone want anything from the canteen?”
“Are you joking?” asked Pete.
“Of course not”, she replied.
“Well, you seem like you don’t care”, said Pete.
“That’s just it”, she replied. “I feel nothing”.
Later that day, she took a walk. She rounded the People’s Park and walked to the lake. Sitting on a bench, she watched the water and the ducks for a while. Walking away from the park she entered Park Avenue, coming to a stop outside Mike’s house.
“Grandad died today”, she said as he opened the door.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah”. She sighed. “Can I have a cup of tea?”
“Sure”, he replied. ”Come in”.
They sat together and drank with the comfortable silence of old friends.
“Shall we?” she asked.
“Shall we… what?” he replied.
“Shall we fuck, Mike?”
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“I mean, shall we fuck, Mike?”
“But you don’t like me like that”, he stammered. “You never liked me like that. Don’t you remember? We kissed and it wasn’t right… you said it didn’t feel right”.
“Well…I’ve changed my mind”.
“But you said we would only ever be friends. You said it would never happen.”
"I’ve changed my mind, Mike”.
And she removed her top and kissed him on the mouth.
They fucked and it was okay.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked as she dressed.
“That’s just it”, she replied. “I feel nothing”.
At 2am she went for a walk. Long and far and tight chested; willing tears to come when she knew they couldn’t.
She had drank thirstily at the bar that night, ordering one after another. Trying to not break composure. If I break composure, I will choke.
For a moment today I was fully aware.
I’m right here, I thought. In this moment. And in another, it will be gone.
I paced the living room, checked my phone for messages, stroked the cat. Sitting on the sofa, I sighed, lay down and watched the familiar ceiling cobwebs sway.
In this moment time stands still. I am 34 years old and I am unfulfilled. The ache in my middle comes and goes. A sadness I can’t explain, other than that I am surrounding by people and still feel alone.
I breathe in slowly through my nose and exhale through my mouth.
Later, when I have finished my work, I will sit down, pour a glass of wine and remember this moment.
I drift for a while but the itchy feet make me rise. I go to the window to look out. Then to the kitchen for water. At the computer I sip my water, sign into facebook and wait for something to happen.
The screen judges and gives me an advert for match.com: “It all starts with a date”. The computer knows I am lonely.
I click the x and the advert is replaced by another.
The itchy feet want to go somewhere, anywhere, but the dog is ill and needs care. The mortgage is due. And this body that carries me? I hate it. I am able but I am unwilling. No. I don’t want to step in. I want to step out. I WANT TO STEP OUT.
A day in my head? Completing, panic, everything on the list that must be crossed off.
Twitter. Youtube. Myspace. Email. Google. Spotify. I stare at them, waiting for something to happen.
A googled-y shrew and a googled-y guy
Drink special brew on the corner of Wye
The rags in the bag and the hag with a sag pets a dog with a wag and a jiggled-y jag
They’re happy sat there on the corner of Wye
Drinking special brew lager, the sun in the sky
Warming their faces as cars whizz on by
Until a suit passes by with disdain in his eye
And looks to the sky with a sigh of: “oh, why
don’t the dog and the guy and the hag just die?”
But the rag’s in the bag and the hag with a sag pets the dog with a wag and a jiggled-y jag
And they’re happy sat there while the cars whizz on by
Drinking special brew lager on the corner of Wye
Having the right font is paramount. The wrong font tweaks my inner control freak: my brain starts to wreak havoc and I panic: it is ugly.
The pressure inside your nose spreads to your cheeks and you sniff but nothing comes. Your eyelids feel heavy: they don’t open all the way anymore. You do a strange facial contortion, trying to make the skin move back where it should be; to untuck it somehow. You hold it up with your hand, blinking satisfactorily; finally! MY EYES. I can see. I can see clearly now my lid is up. You go to make a cup of tea. You let go of your lid. You can’t hold it up forever. Bugger. I can’t see.
You make that cup of tea. You take two sugars instead of none and the milk has curdled but you take that too.
Sellotape. Masking tape. Elastoplast. You tear it off, attach it to your lid, pull the saggy son of a bitch up, tack it to your head. How can I get it perfectly taut, enabling both lift and blink? Adjustments are required. Two thinner strips might do. You reattach, try a different angle, it is pointless. You look like a monster. Remove the tape. Take out your mirror.
Hairs where there shouldn’t be. A face saggier than it ought to be. A spare tyre that has always been.
The tea has curdled and tastes like shit.
Staring into space and focusing on a jar of potpourri; autumnal, old, crisp. I should add a drop of oil to freshen it up. It doesn’t smell anymore.
Are you overly precious about what you write? I am. I edit and re-edit articles, stories and blog posts for up to five hours, until they’re abso-bloody-lutely perfect. And even after publishing them, I re-read them time and time again, checking for and amending typos and grammatical errors.
My worry is that I might be completely shit if I don’t succumb to over-editing when really, the best writing I do is off-the-cuff, unplanned and comes like THAT with no warning. BAM.
Writers are often advised to keep the door closed until that first draft is written: just get it down, shelve it for a while, detach yourself from it, come back to it, second-draft it and then show it to a select few for feedback. But I can’t do this. I need to know I’m on the right track before I even begin; my ego won’t allow a false start, even if that false start is subjective.
The pressure I place on myself to achieve perfection puts me off the task of writing itself: I’m too frightened, to just get on with it and write. Or type. I stew on it: what if it’s crap? I procrastinate: I’ll do it later, after Neighbours.
I want to write the coolest thing anyone could ever write about. I want to grab my reader’s attention. I know, why not start a story with the word “and”? Who does that? No one. But I could be the first. How cool would that be? Right? No. Because I can’t find “it”. Nothing is cool enough. Once again, I have put myself off.
So, I’d like to try something different to release my creative control freak and to stop being so precious about what I produce; to just get it out there. And to stop plotting and planning what I’m going to write about before I write; to let the concept or story and the ideas or characters in it develop at their own pace, show themselves to me and to listen to what they have to say.
I’m going to write bad. Yep. BAD. It’s going to be shit. And I’m probably going to do this three times a week.
I don’t know what I’m going to write about. I don’t know if it’s going to be good. It might not even make sense and it will definitely have spelling mistakes in it because I’m not going to edit it; it’s coming out in one fell swoop. You are welcome to join me if you’re in the same boat.
LET’S BE SHIT TOGETHER.