The University of Michigan EXCEL Lab, in collaboration with the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership and a cohort of seven co-sponsors recently completed week four of the Virtual Visionaries series.
The guests for week four were Amy K. Bormet, Marcus Elliot, and Michael Malis. Founder of the Washington Women in Jazz Festival, Bormet is a pianist, vocalist, and composer based in Washington, DC. A prominent figure in the DC jazz scene, she serves as a co-host for the weekly Jazz Stories show on WPFW 89.3FM. As an educator, recent engagements include workshops at the Thailand International Jazz Conference and Los Angeles City College, and a collaboration with the Kennedy Center. Also active as a composer, her works have been premiered by the Capital City Philharmonic at such venerable venues as the Smithsonian Art Museum.
Marcus Elliot and Michael Malis are members of the Balance Duo. Elliot is a saxophonist, composer, improviser, and educator based in Detroit, Michigan. He leads and co-leads many different Detroit based bands including the Marcus Elliot Trio, Marcus Elliot Quartet, Clockwork, Beyond Rebellious, and Lanula. Additionally, he co-founded the nonprofit Polyfold Musical Arts Collective and is the one of the directors of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Jazz Ensembles. Also based in Detroit, Michael Malis is a composer, pianist, and music educator. As a composer, he has been commissioned by Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings, Chamber Music Society of Detroit, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, amongst others, and as a pianist, he has shared the stage with the likes of Marcus Belgrave, Jaribu Shahid, John Lindberg, William Hooker, A. Spencer Barefield, Tyshawn Sorey, Ken Filiano, J.D. Allen, Andrew Bishop, Dennis Coffey, and Marion Hayden.
The topic for this week was Freelancing. One might expect that a session dedicated to building a successful freelance career would focus on the hard-skills associated with managing, marketing, and financing what is traditionally considered an unpredictable career path. However, our guests this week stressed the fundamental importance of “community” in sustaining a freelance career. Moreover, it is through community building and community support that musicians will navigate the incredible challenges we face—whether the fallout from the Covid-19 crisis or the ongoing racism and inequality that pervade our society. During the video session, Michael highlighted the inherent risk of choosing a freelance career and acknowledged that the more ‘guard rails’ one can build to insulate against risk, the better. He stressed that community is one of the best guard rails we have to sustain a freelancing career. In her blog post, Amy detailed how her community in Washington DC has adapted to and evolved in response to the current COVID-19 crisis:
The pandemic has forced us to recreate our community with sober intentions. Through the exhaustion, depression, and the brokenness we are still gluing bits of community into something. Despite the closed venues, postponed festivals, and canceled shows, our ecosystem is still functioning in DC virtually
For his blog post, Elliot wrote a poignant “Letter to my 20-Year-Old Self,” where he reflected on nine lessons he learned over the last decade.. The concept of community was present throughout, especially in the importance he placed on nurturing relationships. Relationship-building might seem antithetical to the isolation associated with the global pandemic, but Elliot focused on the importance of relationship building in our current world:
I know that you have been sold this idea that you can do this alone, but you cannot. And even if you could, it will lead to a very sad and depressing existence. Think of your relationships as a garden that needs tending.
Community was framed not just as a way to navigate or insulate ourselves against the adversity we face, but rather the force that will improve the society that we both create and live in:
We must re-fund comprehensive arts programs in schools, parks, theaters, and new virtual spaces to rebuild a sustainable, healthy music ecosystem. Now is the time to continue our work, revitalize community, and make plans for our new gloriously unpredictable future together.
The takeaways here: community—the people not that place as Amy reminds us—is key to navigating the adversity we face and emerging from it a better, more just society. Invest in relationships and as Michael put so eloquently, “if you feed the community, the community will feed you.”
Inspired by Marcus’ blog post, the Zoom session closed with the question: what advice would you offer to past self?
Michael: whenever I’ve been at my best, I’ve folled by internal compass
Marcus: slow down and enjoy—take care of yourself before you try to save thw rold
Amy: Be honest in your relationships
UP NEXT: Virtual Visionaries: Managing the Artist Lifestyle
Blog Post: Monday, June 22
Virtual Session: Thursday, June 25 from 3:00-4:00PM EDT
PRJC Summary: Saturday, 27th at 10am
Zoom Link for the Virtual Session: http://myumi.ch/O42Oq
Acclaimed Sybarite5 violinist and musicians coach Sarah Whitney joins forces with Broadway and TV veteran Todd Buonopane to explore the possibilities and pitfalls of managing a busy artistic life. How do you stay balanced when you have multiple projects in the works? How can you stay motivated when your performing arts schedule becomes suddenly upended? Join us for an engaging, practical conversation that breaks down these topics and more.
Please note: series break from June 29-July 3
Virtual Visionaries is a 10-week series in partnership between UM’s EXCEL program, Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership, and seven other national partners. Starting the week of May 25 through early August, this series brings together professionals across the performing arts for weekly virtual discussions on Zoom. We’ve selected a diverse group of leaders at various stages of their careers to engage in open conversations about topics ranging from personal finance issues, to developing identity-driven work, along with a variety of entrepreneurial approaches relevant to young arts professionals. Each week our guest speakers will also author a blog post, providing a sneak peek of the virtual sessions and providing a basis for our virtual discussion.
The series co-sponsors include:
Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership
Manhattan School of Music’s Center for Music Entrepreneurship
Michigan State University’s Running Start Program
New England Conservatory’s Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department
Roosevelt University’s Center for Arts Leadership, Chicago College of Performing Arts
University of Colorado-Boulder’s Entrepreneurship Center for Music
University of North Texas’ Music Business and Entrepreneurship Program
Wayne State University’s Music Business Program