Bear with me here – I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this for a long time.
When I started playing the harp at 22 I thought I could redeem my renegade self by turning myself into a classical player. But I discovered I don’t fit into being a “classical musician”, even though I love the structures of classical music and how they support creative expression.
So in my early 30’s I committed to learning to play jazz, because I thought jazz would give me the freedom I longed for. But I discovered that I don’t fit into being a traditional jazz player either — although I love the structures jazz creates for freedom and for playing with other people.
So I finally had to accept who I am and what I do and that I don’t really fit into anything I could already find: I tell stories with music – and I deconstruct things see how they WORK. That’s me.
I also discovered I while I don’t ‘fit’ any musical style, I use musical styles – Blues, Latin, Flamenco, Opera, Classical, Cartoon-Music, Musical Theater, Folk, Atonal – I use styles give character to the stories I tell – but I don’t become ‘expert’ in that style. For a long time I felt that invalidated me – but the fact is: that’s who I am. I don’t really care about being authentic to a style and I do really care about authentic character.
And – finally – I play the harp – not because I like traditional harp music (um … I don’t really like it much) — but because the harp, as a creative tool, is the perfect partner for story-telling, singing, physical freedom and to give my hands a voice. The harp is the perfect creative platform for me.
Deconstruction & Reinvention
To play the harp the way I want to, though, I had to deconstruct it and reinvent it as an instrument I can wear – and to do that, I needed partnership, because I’m not a harp builder – I created a prototype and took it to the most visionary harp builder I knew: Joel Garnier, head of CAMAC harps in France. I showed him what I wanted – he saw my vision, and the power of it – and he built me my own harp, the “DHC”. You can hear the whole story of that collaboration in my TEDx talk.
In my 40’s, I discovered that I love to work with orchestras: to write music that’s both immense and deeply intimate. I love to make theater out of music, and music out of stories.
I don’t know what that makes me. But I do know that I was able to BE all that in “Invention & Alchemy” the project I created with the Grand Rapids Symphony in 2005. That project is a beautiful story of patronage, which I’ll tell in a minute. But first …
If you’ve never seen this concert-length video, go see it right now because you won’t be able to see it after Aug. 23 unless you still have a DVD player and are able to find the DVD somewhere.
But right now – thanks to the American Federation of Musicians – we can share it under limited conditions, which mean there’s a deadline after which it won’t be available – and you get access via this RSVP wheere you’ll see that you can also watch it WITH me, in a ’round the world’ series of ‘meet the composer’ events on Sat. Aug. 22nd
When do we get to share who we really are??
When “Invention & Alchemy” came out in 2005 as a DVD and CD, for the first time in my life I was able to share “me” in a way that literally let me hand my vision to someone else. It was the first physical thing I could hand to someone else that truly transmitted ‘me’ to other people without me having to be physically in the room with them.
It was like my work could live on its own. And that was incredible. It was deeply meaningful to me – and to Peter Wege – that it got a Grammy-Nomination, International Songwriter Awards and appeared on PBS as a music special – but the most wonderful thing was that I could hand it to people and they could experience ME without me standing there and playing.
Imagine that: you finally have a way of sharing who you are that’s consistent and reliable and easily shared.
And then it all slowly disappeared.
A Short Primer in Creative Protections & Restrictions
Let me step back for just a sec to help explain why that happened.
- All creative content has regulations to protect the creators. Without this, anyone could record a Harry Potter story and start selling it and take the money for themselves.
- Every kind of protection creates restriction. That’s been true forever — just think back to what it might have been like to wear a suit of armor – definitely protective but intense restriction.
- Technology is constantly changing – some kinds become obsolete. When was the last time you received an important message on a papyrus scroll?
Sometimes, when those 3 things all come together, creative content can basically cease to exist. If your work is wedded to a way of sharing it and that way disappears, part of you disappears. It’s nobody’s fault. It just happens. But if you’re the one who created that content, a huge part of YOU basically becomes invisible.
Slowly, a Beloved Part of You Disappears
That’s what happened to me. And it’s not a unique story – although some parts are incredibly unique – but because on some level, this happens to all of us.
In 2001 I had just performed as a soloist with the Grand Rapids Symphony when a man walked up to me and said. “What I saw out there on that stage, I want the whole world to see.”. He was philanthropist Peter Wege and he invited me to make a proposal for my dream project: a concert-length film-quality video of the work I’d spent the previous 15 years developing. He then offered a private grant similar in size to a MacArthur Grant to bring that dream to life.
This is unheard of. A creative’s Cinderella story: Someone “saw” me, believed in what he saw – and had the means to support my vision into reality.
I basically got to bring to life a vision I’d been developing for nearly 20 years. And it was everything I’d hoped for: a huge orchestra, willing and creative musicians, a mix of beauty, power, virtuosity, humor – a complete human experience that brings an audience closer than the front row into the way that I experience music and story. And people were moved and inspired by it.
The Secret Self
I got to truly share who I am. Imagine that. Who I AM was see-able. My work made an impact. It inspired others. That’s what artists live for.
And then it all went away. Not because the work became irrelevant but because the contract was written based on sharing the work via CD and DVD. Originally that made perfect sense: those restrictions protected the quality of the work, and the performance of everyone in it. The contract wasn’t made to be restrictive but to be protective.
But when streaming services started replacing DVDs around 2010 — and when DVDs basically disappeared around 2013, so did my ability to share this huge part of me freely.
This part of me basically disappeared.
It still exists, of course – but in near-complete secret.
We All have beautiful parts of ourselves that seem to disappear
This is a universal human experience: what we were is no more … but it IS! It’s still THERE!
I’m convinced we ALL experience this: there is a grand, whimsical, magical part of us that just gets hidden. It may never be seen. It’s not always hidden for technical or contractual reasons. It can be hidden because ‘life gets in the way’ or there’s a trauma, or someone makes fun of it, or we lose confidence, or we don’t have the funding, or through age or injury we lose some physical ability. A thousand reasons – but the same result: an essential part of the gift of who we are is no longer shared with the world.
This has a domino effect. People tell me they’re inspired by “Invention & Alchemy” because it calls out that hidden part of them. Because when you see someone else truly expressing who they are – it calls to that part of you that is truly you. That part wakes up as if it heard its name called, thinking: ‘maybe there IS a place for me in the world.”
And when we’re not sharing who we are – or we can’t (or think we can’t!) for some reason – we aren’t calling that part of others out.
When we emerge, we call others forth
When the pandemic began, orchestras had to shut down. I started reading in email newsletters from the GRS (Grand Rapids Symphony) that the symphony musicians were creating home videos for fans of the orchestra.
I thought: “Videos … with the Grand Rapids Symphony. I have one of those! What if we could share “Invention & Alchemy”?
I reached out to the GRS and asked if they knew a way we could release “Invention & Alchemy” as a fundraiser for the orchestra. They made a request to the American Federation of Musicians and – to my undying gratefulness – the AFM offered a way for us to share it – for a limited time and in limited ways – but within those limitations we could share it with everyone.
The limitations are: Each person has to RSVP. The absolute end to the sharing is midnight Aug. 23rd. Which is why I’m telling you – if you haven’t seen it, RSVP now.
We Tested the Waters
We didn’t know if people actually would come, so we made our own guidelines as well: We’d do an initial PREMIERE, if that worked, we could extend it for a week. If people kept coming, we could keep it open for another week.
Because over 2,000 people RSVP’d and watched during the first week, we were able to extend showings, and eventually create special events like a series of “Meet the Composer” screenings. But there was always that absolute deadline of Aug. 23. Which is looming now.
So please watch this before the restrictions reinstate at midnight on Aug. 23rd. If you’ve already seen it please send your friends. Watch it again. Tell me what part of YOU this video calls forth and then please find a way to share that part of you with the world.
Join Me for LIVE “Meet the Composer” Soiree around the World
In fact, please just come tell me yourself on Sat. Aug. 22nd. I’ve schedule 4 LIVE “Meet the Composer” screenings of the video starting at 5AM EST (7pm in Sydney, Australia) – so I’m hoping to spend a Saturday evening with people all around the world. RSVP Here.
And whatever you do – revisit that part of you that’s been hidden. Call it forth. It’s not gone. It’s still there and it will inspire others.