The summer before I came to Yale, I lived in the Twin Cities and worked part time as an art teacher at an awesome non-profit called Articulture. There, I learned one of the most valuable lessons yet – one that I think I already knew but had never really articulated. Here’s a snippet from an old blog post to help explain:
The cool thing about Articulture is their philosophy that the process is more important than the outcome. So many art classes give the kids paint-by-number types of projects so that the result is something aesthetically pleasing. Parents expect their kids to come home with a beautiful work of art. We feel differently. It’s about giving the kids a blank piece of paper and letting them create what they want. And if, instead of drawing a cute puppy, they fold and tear the paper into a million pieces, well then…that’s their process! For adults who are goal-oriented and product-centric, it’s a challenge to let go of expectation for kids who are learning. But kids babble to learn to talk, and crawl to walk… it’s okay to let them experiment with art too. Articulture exists to create creative thinkers, not necessarily artists.
I had no idea at that time how applicable this concept would be to my life as a graduate student studying music at Yale. This is a place where product is highly valued, and as a result, I remind myself time and again that the real learning is in the process.
For the past year, I’ve been in the process of putting together my masters recital – an hour of me conducting singers/instrumentalists, required to obtain my degree. There are many different ways to approach a requirement such as this. It was tempting to pick favorite pieces and hack my way through necessary rehearsals simply to fulfill the task. Yet as I allowed myself to engage the process of choosing music, I really started to fall in love. I started realizing that yes, I could pick favorite pieces, but I could also choose music in a more intentional way that, when put together, could create a meaningful experience for those who listen.
Very early in my process of choosing music for this recital, I decided I did not want everything I chose to be composed by white men. For a variety of reasons, I was interested in some amount of diversity – of the possibility of bringing to life music (or composers) that are perhaps not often heard. I was not, however, prepared for the ways in which this decision would complicate the process. I learned quickly that music composed by women and people of color is not as readily accessible. That is not to say that this music doesn’t exist, but rather is not often included in catalogs of choral music, online recording databases, and other frequently used sources. I became very thankful for one book in particular – “A Catalog of Music Written in Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.”, by Anthony McDonald. This book, unlike any others I was able to find, introduced me to a multitude of composers and works I most likely would never have encountered, including James Newton’s The King’s Way, one of the pieces I ended up choosing for my recital.
After many months of toiling over repertoire, I finally settled into a program – one which by no means is a perfect end to the challenge I gave myself, but I did learn many things along the way. I learned that in addition to paying attention to the diversity of music we choose in putting together programs – is it a good mix of time periods? tempos? tonality? – we have the opportunity to pay attention to the diversity of composers we are representing. All kinds of people are writing music; whose voices often go unheard and why?
But the process doesn’t stop there. Once you choose repertoire, you have the opportunity to teach it to your musicians! And when I say “teach it”, I don’t simply mean teach the notes. You get to display your passion for the music, why it’s important to you, and hope that others fall in love just as you have. The last two months, while stressful, have been a blast in this regard. Few people knew the music for my recital, and each week, people have said more and more how much they have grown to like certain things.
The product – my recital – was to have been this evening at 7pm, but alas, 3 feet of snow stand in the way. It will happen at another time (because it MUST happen for me to graduate!), but today, we celebrate the process. I’m thankful to have family in town who have coached me through the last year, encouraging my musical exploration. They have witnessed so much of the wrestling and the discoveries, and although they will miss the finished product (which has yet to be rescheduled), a party is in order! So, though my recital today is canceled, my reception is not. Come to the Great Hall today at 4pm to celebrate the process of finding joy in music…something this place does not always take the time to do. Thanks to the third snowpocalypse I’ve experienced for continuing to slow my life down and remind me that as much as I want to be, I am not in control of everything!