The Artistic Path: When to let the vines grow, and when to prune.
Hello, good (morning), and welcome to the (Saturday) Morning News Post! You're busy. I'm busy. We're all busy... nothing new there, but the last few weeks have been INTENSE in the Danderfer household with numerous performances (all requiring loads of preparation... my wife's show was with the VSO and one of my shows was directing the VJO!), plus the usual teaching load at Capilano University, VCC, and VSO School, plus two little kids who really couldn't care less about all that other stuff and just need/want Mum & Dad time. This is my excuse for not posting anything the last few weeks...give me a break already!
Anyways, my point is: Everyone's busy. All the time. People say they are "trying to find time" for this, or "make time" for that. And at every age, we look back and think "I had so much time back then. What was I complaining about?!" This segues rather nicely into my thought of the day, which is certainly related to making the most of our precious time: When do we, as artists, let the proverbial vines grow and when is it time to prune? In other words, when is it beneficial to spread our artistic resources around, and when is time focus our efforts?
I feel that there were a number of years, when I was a young student, when the general advice of the day was "Be able to do a little of everything." Be able to play songs in all 12 keys, be able to double on clarinet/sax/flute, be able to play in a traditional jazz style, and a contemporary style, and a funk/rock style, and know a thousand jazz standards, and all the Gershwin songs, and the Monk songs, and the Wayne Shorter songs, and... and ... and... you get the idea.
Why? Perhaps partly to be a well-rounded musician, but also to be able to WORK in a world where it seems there are never enough gigs to go around.
Later on. I heard a very different point of view, and one that really resonated with me. "Don't generalise. SPECIALISE!" The idea being that there is an ocean of musicians in the world, and many of them can do many things well. So carve out your own path by specialising, and you will be, well... special! (And then you'll be able to WORK in a world where it seems there are never enough gigs to go around, etc. etc.)
It may be no surprise to you that I think the answer is somewhere in the middle and will vary dramatically from one person to the next. I know some musicians who love the variety (and sometimes financial reward) of casting a wide net, while others are not suited to that and would be depressed if they didn't focus on their individual artistic voices.
Myself, I lean towards the latter but have fluctuated throughout my career. Case in point, there were about 5-6 years where I stopped playing saxophone entirely so that I could focus on getting more experience, especially work experience, on the clarinet. I sacrificed a lot of work at the time to do this, but it felt like something I needed to do, and I'm so glad I did. When I moved back to Vancouver in 2011 however, I started getting calls to play/teach saxophone again. I'll admit, although I love the instrument, I was hesitant to pick it back up and was worried that I would lose the ground I gained by focusing solely on clarinet. Buuuuut bills gotta get paid and my bank statements were indicating a need to let go of my purist attitude.
As a "contemporary jazz clarinetist" you're sort of on the fringes of the scene simply because there isn't that much call for it; it's not "trad jazz," it's not part of the standard big band ensemble, and it's sonically just not loud enough to show up at jam sessions or loud gigs with. It's nice in a way, because it makes you stand out from "the crowd" but, you know... sometimes it's nice to mingle with that "crowd" a little too!
And so I dusted off my saxophones and leapt towards the proverbial crowd-surfing of mainstream bop and contemporary jazz on the saxophone (in reality, there is no crowd surfing in contemporary jazz but I suppose one could leap onto the first row of empty tables before them) and all-in-all, it's been fun! I'm still playing music I love, and enjoying opportunities I never would have had otherwise, like playing lead alto for a night of Thad Jones music with the VJO recently. Such an amazing experience! It's also reminded me of this different voice, a different side to my playing, and this has indeed informed my clarinet/bass clarinet playing in a positive way.
All that said, it was nice to just focus on one instrument and it's very busy right now trying to balance everything. But I'm not compelled to prune. Not just yet, anyways. I can see pruning on the horizon, but not right now. I'm learning form letting the vines grow... for the moment.
Ok, I'll continue this later, but right now I need to go to bed! Thanks for reading and have a great week! JD