It’s so easy to get lost in standard repertoire and “what sells”. Unfortunately, it’s what classical musicians are too often trained to do: we think like performers limited to an existing oeuvre (or waiting for someone to write for us) rather than creative artists in our own right. But when a season produces three or more productions of Carmen a year in the same metro area, simply because local companies are desperate to sell seats (and not paying attention to one another), there has to be a better way.
We recently looked at a guy who’s making good money by creating piles of music about what people are already searching for: by starting with search engine tools, he knows that someone is already interested, and it’s just a matter of making the songs available. While this populist technique has its artistic flaws, it could also be a catalyst for creative freedom. Take a break from the chestnuts and experiment with using the public’s whims and trends as a starting point for your next project:
- Pick a keyword tool and do some free association. Choose five popular keywords and draft a recital, cabaret or choral program that includes one or more of those themes. See where it takes you.
- Something new: Classical vocalists tend to get so caught up interpreting music composed by others, too often forgetting that they can create music and stories on their own. Even if you’ve never written a song before, give it a shot: start with a familiar tune if you like, ala Weird Al, but play with the words. Make it about anything. Then do it again, with four other topics. Do this every day for a week. If nothing else, it will build your improv muscles.
- Find a buddy. You don’t have to go it alone. Whether it’s in person or via Skype, chat or phone, spend a half-hour brainstorming about shows, songs and plots that are somehow related to a recent news story. The more you do this, the more you’ll find new ways to approach what you’re working on, as well as uncover exciting potential projects.
An approach like one of these might help you break through your own boundaries and find something meaningful in the long run. In the short run, you (and others) can have some fun, and perhaps even make a little dough.
To be honest, it would be so great to see an alternative to Handel’s Messiah and the other usual suspects next December. There’s plenty of time to come up with something new, and we’ll be watching, with fingers crossed!