Thoughts, wishes and peculiarities

Fresh Inc

We’ve always heard: “everything in moderation,” but in deference to a piece of wisdom so salient that it borders on becoming a truism, I was never one to maintain passing interests and hobbies. I never took comfort in knowing that I gave something a decent, moderate effort. I see the world in a very binary fashion; there is only passion and disinterest, only concerted effort and indifference. It’s an intense, often singular and sometimes bizarre way to go through life, but it’s the way I know and more importantly, it’s the way I trust. I will never ask myself “what if I had done just a little more?” So, for me, it’s important to be surrounded by environments of saturation, to always ask how I can better use the time I have, which only a few years ago seemed limitless and thus, gave way to a sauntering pace through life. It’s both a cruelty and a blessing to feel the pressure of time, time which seems eternally wont to evaporate before one realizes the opportunities that too have absconded with it. It fosters a certain peculiar anxiety and sadness from its unrelenting imminency, but it also teaches one to focus intensely, to stop asking: “how can I get more time?” and to start asking: “how can I better use the time I have?”

In a certain sense, I’m lucky to see my commitment to any and all facets of my life in such black and white terms, but the pitfall is that unfettered devotion to one’s passions can be easily confused with unitary focus. In a world where success demands an adroit balance between artistic idealism and practical constraints, unencumbered passion can quickly lead to a dangerous idealism, the belief that a singular devotion to one’s work will lead to success - the idea that the starving artist will one day be recognized. I would love to live in such a world, where one’s success is determined solely by their talent and devotion to their craft, but I’d rather not delve tangentially into a jaded philosophical rant on what’s fundamentally awry in our system; I believe truly elemental change arises from an embodiment of what the change should be, for then the fundamental truths are something axiomatic, rather than engineered. After all, Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Anyway, before I get too mired in my own philosophical musings, let me make my point: artistic talent, focus and integrity are not enough. I’ve angered people with that statement, which is certainly never my intent; rather, the point is that in a world so oversaturated with immediately available media to satiate one’s mind, one has to somehow rise above the irrepressible roar and of course, somehow distinguish oneself without sacrificing that which distinguished them in the first place. It’s not pretty, it’s not simple and it’s rarely profound. No, the art itself - that’s profound, but making it successful is gritty, complicated and entirely unglamorous. And in that is a beauty: we can engineer every bit of our success ourselves. That’s not to say the occasional lucky break has fallen by the wayside, but I’ve found that most lucky breaks aren’t lucky at all; they’re the result of relentlessly placing oneself in a position to be noticed until probability dictates that it will happen. And so, armed with the belief that success arises from a keen awareness of the ever-evolving artistic society and a continual malleability in the face of its evolution, I turned my attention from defining an artistic philosophy to enacting it. Enter Fresh Inc.

Long before I ever arrived in Kenosha, WI (which looked suspiciously like my hometown of Chardon, OH), I received an email. Being the head of the composition department, my teacher receives numerous emails about competitions and festivals, all of which he kindly forwards to us for our perusal. It’s not unusual to receive thirty such emails a week during the busy season. So, when I received an email about Fresh Inc, I quickly scanned its contents and put it on the list of places I should read more seriously about. Later that day, though, I couldn’t get that catchy name out of my head. Knowing someone in my studio had attended the festival in 2012, I caught him in the hall. I managed to get three words out: “So, Fresh Inc…”

“DUDE, you HAVE to go.”

My friend is one of the most brilliant composers I know. He’s also not easily impressed. So, I found myself applying. And soon, I found myself loading my car and driving. And after a veritable whirlwind of two weeks had passed, I found myself driving again, still trying to assimilate everything I had just taken in, but sorely missing everything and everyone I had just left. What was it that had so profoundly impacted me? Why did I leave Fresh Inc 2013 asking when 2014’s application would be posted?

The answer is that Fresh Inc is a set of affirmations through knowledge and experience. It’s the affirmation that what we do is important when you see 800 busy Chicagoans fill a church during rush hour to enjoy an evening’s length of classical music. It’s the affirmation of why we do it when you connect on a deeply artistic level with your peers in morning rehearsal and laugh until you cry with them when you go out that same evening. Lastly, it’s the affirmation that how we do what we do makes or breaks us.

I don’t believe less people enjoy classical music these days; I believe that in a world where entertainment is immediately accessible, it has become imperative that we learn how to bring our music to our audience, which is, of course, the polar opposite of the model only a century past. I believe this because I see the reactions people have to our music - intrigue, enjoyment and perhaps the most pleasing: that look of surprise when someone realizes they DO enjoy classical music. I’m not naive; not everyone enjoys it, but then again, not everyone enjoys George Strait or The Mars Volta. The lesson here is to know your audience and to know how to get to them, how to make your sounds rise above the tumultuous din. These are the techniques Fresh Inc teaches.

At the first level, distinguishing one’s self starts with bettering one’s art; of course, you want to push the best product possible. This is the most traditional aspect of training and certainly, one of the utmost importance. People respond to talent and genuineness. Never stop cultivating it. To modify a quote from another passion of mine, aviation, “the moment you think you’ve learned everything about art is the moment you should get out of art.” Being surrounded by peers who possess almost unfathomable amounts of talent, focus and drive is a constant motivator to better one’s self.

When one moves past honing one’s craft, Fresh Inc’s unique approach begins to take shape. In addition to adept artistic instruction, Fifth House Ensemble and guest composers Dan Visconti and Stacy Garrop led by example and through a wealth of workshops, performances and chance moments, they presented some valuable lessons:

1. Find your niche: It’s not enough to be a musician these days. Be the musician who _________. What goes in your blank? Being specific is what distinguishes you; it’s your point of difference. Many would argue that doing so narrows your audience, but I disagree. The people who will like what you do are not going to change; being specific about what you do increases the chances that they’ll find you. Audiences are far too saturated these days to respond to the shotgun technique.

2. Like it or not, social media is today’s primary tool for dissemination of your work. Embrace it, live with it, just don’t ignore it. One of its redeeming features is the fact that one can always choose their level of involvement, but at the very least, keep a minimal presence; give people the option to find you and initiate contact. Furthermore, social media allows you to keep your thumb on the pulse of an ever-evolving industry.

3. Be multifaceted. Art is so much about hybridization these days… and I say, “art” (instead of “music”) because so much work is done as collaborations across mediums. The wonderful thing about artistic collaboration is that the end result is very often greater than the sum of its parts.

4. Networking is incredibly important, but don’t allow this to obviate the need for self-sufficiency. Be able to do as much as possible, because it saves you time and money and it increases your viability. This doesn’t mean refusing the help of others, but if one can put together a basic website, efficiently provide updates to their followers and work with the various tools of their trade, they gain a vast amount of control for a relative modicum of exertion. Furthermore, people respond to capability.

5. Above and beyond anything else: be likable. It sounds simplistic to the point of silly to say, but Fresh Inc reinforced it in a powerful way: on the first day, I joined 50 peers; on the last day, I left 50 friends. We’re incredibly lucky to work in a field where we connect with our colleagues on a deep level daily. Such connections are unavoidably influenced by personal relationships, so we should always work to cultivate and enhance our personal connections - it betters our work and it increases our opportunities. Most of all, though, I just like having friends. Be humble, but be confident; be apt, but be ready to learn from the talent around you.

Fresh Inc served as the ultimate reminder that what we do isn’t just about music; it’s about the people - both the people we play for and the people we play with. They support what we do, they help us bring it to fruition, they make it worth doing in the first place. The curiously beautiful thing about a career in music is that we can’t separate our job from our essence as people because our job requires us to invest that very essence. I feel so fortunate to have been verily inundated by the intensity and talent of a group of welcoming, skilled and just… cool people. As long as I have that, I’ll never be in want.


An impromptu jam session after a concert. (photo credit: Carole Deeter)


With my good friend, Jacen Paige, during a workshop. (photo credit: Eric Snoza)


With Dan Visconti, Rene Orth, Stacy Garrop and Danielle Rabinowitz after a concert. (photo credit: Clark Carruth)

blog comments powered by Disqus