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5 Entrepreneurial Pillars of Performance

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Check out this video of Taimur Sullivan and me performing “Black” for two baritone saxophones by Marc Mellits.  If you are like most people, your reaction to this video has to do with the music, composer,  performance, performers or instruments – definitely something performance-related.  What most people don’t realize are five entrepreneurial principles that were critical for bringing this performance to the stage:

1.  Start and Maintain Relationships
I met composer Marc Mellits at a concert in Syracuse, NY five years ago.  He served as the moderator and I was one of the performers, though I did not know his music at that point.  The post-concert hang revealed that we had some friends in common – in fact, his grad school roommate was a former theory professor of mine who sat on my doctoral committee. We also discovered that we liked some of the same composers, and at the close of the evening, Marc generously gave us a CD of his works featuring his own ensemble.  I was the lucky one who got to take it home from that tour, and it only took one listen before I was hooked.  I listened to his album “Paranoid Cheese”  endlessly for months, sharing it with as many people as I knew.   I maintained periodic contact with Marc, usually to discuss his music or share my desire to play it, even making a few attempts to put together a concert featuring his music – none of which materialized.  However, he remained open to collaboration and this kept us in touch.  I knew it was only a matter of time before the right circumstances would align to perform his music.

2.  Create Something New
I was hooked again after Marc sent me a video of his work “Black” for two bass clarinets.  My immediate response was that he had to arrange this for two baritone saxophones- it screamed for it!  I wrote him and he was up for the task.  While it wasn’t the right timing for me to perform it, I had a former student looking for a hip baritone saxophone piece.  I connected the two of them and answered a few pertinent questions Marc had about the baritone saxophone. Boom – the piece was arranged and available for purchase.  I posted on social media that a new arrangement existed for baritone saxophone  – and sales went up.  I always feel good about composers earning money for their work.

3.  Have Passion
Fast-forward to summer 2011.  By now, I had had many more conversations with Marc, as well as the pleasure of hearing him perform his own music in Washington DC in spring 2011 with the Great Noise Ensemble.  There it was again – that feeling that I needed to play his music.   It was also time to think about what to perform at the 2012 North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference.  I was within geographic striking distance to saxophonist Taimur Sullivan, a friend and killer baritone player whom I admire deeply.  I called him to ask if he would perform “Black” with me at the conference.  He agreed! Finally, my chance to perform “Black” was scheduled.  Because Taimur and I live about 5 hours apart,  it took a marathon rehearsal weekend (about 6 hours a day) and a few more rehearsal sessions at the conference to put the piece together.  It was worth every minute – following your passion makes it all feel worth it.

4.  Be Accountable
As musicians, we are tasked with accountability each time we walk on stage.  We’re accountable to deliver the composer’s intent to the best of our ability, to practice as much as we have to to sound our best, to show up to rehearsal prepared and to be as professional as possible.  Both Taimur and I had to borrow saxophones for this performance.  The conference was thousands of miles away from us and it was difficult to justify purchasing extra plane tickets for the horns since it wasn’t a paid gig (like a cello, a baritone saxophone needs its own seat).   Borrowing other horns meant we had more practicing to do, both as individuals and as a duo.  This forced us to practice 4-5 more hours during the conference.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but at a conference setting where there are multiple things going on, lots of people to connect with, other performances and presentations to give and jet lag to overcome, 4-5 hours over the course of three days can seem like a lot.  Accountability keeps priorities straight – we did the work to make it work.

5.  Profit
Let’s stick with the traditional definition for a moment.  As the composer, Marc is profiting financially from our performance.  In his words, “Copies of the BariSax Black have been flying off my shelf since you played it at NASA!!!!”  Success!  I am so delighted to learn that our performance has kicked up sales for Marc’s music.  He composes for a living and deserves to reap the rewards of his compositions.  But let’s broaden the definition of ‘profit’ to include non-financial rewards that Taimur and I might reap from this performance:

This kind of collaboration with Marc and Taimur nourishes musical intellect, artistry and performance technique. Though Taimur and I received no monetary compensation for this project, we experienced an artistic connection with one another and with Marc – a connection that can now be stretched to reach innumerable others, as our performance and its recording compel other saxophonists to take on “Black.”  This experience has also laid the foundation for future collaborations and opportunities.

UPDATE: Marc informed us the same day he viewed the video that he is inspired to make a saxophone quartet arrangement of “Black” as a result!  He was one of the first people Taimur sent it to (always keep the composer in the loop about performances!)  See what I mean?  More opportunities for all involved and this is after just a day of the video was posted.

I had the privilege of seeing the project of “Black” for baritone saxophone through from conception to fruition. It started because Marc and I met and I fell for his music, and while it may not be our natural response as musicians to connect musical inspiration with entrepreneurship, it was a commitment to the entrepreneurial concepts behind the performance that made the realization of that inspiration possible.  And the best part is that it’s not a secret formula or a foreign, irrelevant set of “business-world” rules – these concepts are the natural progression of any artistic endeavor – all you need to do is decide to do the work to make it possible.

Taimur (along with all the members of PRISM saxophone quartet) and I are looking forward to sharing more about the entrepreneurial concepts behind performance at the Road of Creativity’s Music Entrepreneurship Retreat  in June 2012.  Join us and take important steps towards your own artistic and entrepreneurial goals.  Early Bird Discount still applies! (Registration deadline: April 15, 2012.)

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