By all accounts this is a joyful day. An impromptu performance by the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the opening of Music on the Square, and the long awaited realization of a vision for town and university to come together with the shared goal of strengthening the cultural fabric of a community through music.
As the press’ camera pans Yo-Yo, they find him bookended by the open grins of Brian Casey, DePauw University President and Dean of the School of Music, Mark McCoy. Benefactors Joyce and Judson Green seem overjoyed with their investment. And the Mayor of Greencastle, Sue Murray celebrates the moment with hundreds of spectators from within community.
An idyllic day, indeed, unless tomorrow is your first day as the newly-appointed Director of Music on the Square and you happen to be there witnessing first-hand what is certain to be the venue’s Golden Globe moment – the only moment not on your watch.
Falsifying a red carpet smile, reels of footage scroll through my imagination like a bad B-movie. Audience-sparse events, low enrollments, and piano-less jam sessions preview my dismissal. As I quietly sweat through my shirt, inspiration comes to me in Yo-Yo’s quintessentially pithy prelude of his performance of the X Major Cello Suite of JS Bach – the words “Back to first principles.”
Music on the Square was built to be a space for courageous music-making; to spark curiosity, expand creativity and cultivate collaboration. And although the M2 staff has not yet authored a formal vision and mission statement, we do share these guiding “first principles” when crafting our artistic programming, fundraising efforts, and the allocation of resources – both monetary and human capital.
Committed to speaking to truth and embracing the messy, fertile space of the artist-entrepreneur, we offer no checklists for success. Likely you will learn more from our failures than from our rare moments of wisdom. But if you, too, hope to bring about meaningful change, you will find yourself among friends.
More than by the numbers
Measuring outcomes of well-crafted events is not a new concept for seasoned arts administrators. Counting bodies, conducting surveys, and capturing numeric responses are essential when determining impact and informing future planning, as I am certain most of us would:
1 (strongly disagree) - 2 (disagree) - 3 (undecided) - 4 (agree) - 5 (strongly agree).
So, when hosting an Instrument Petting Zoo at the start of September, we were certain to tally each of the 157 children (and a bunch of Moms and Dads) in attendance. And although this does indicate some level of success (as does hitting our target of 100 students registered for lessons), there is one outcome yet calculated.
Have we ignited curiosity?
Somehow body counts and surveys seem to fall short in collecting these data. Thankfully, photos do not.
Coming Up with “The” Right Idea
Welcoming the challenge by Mark McCoy to partner on creating a course designed to expand the adult-learner’s universe and demystify “high” culture, I leapt to the invitation to find “the” right idea.
Patiently, Dean McCoy waited for my thoughts.
(Note: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s five-phase model of the creative process describes incubation as a restful time that allows for your unconscious to take over.)
Although, apparently I was incubating too long when the Dean asserted “Communiversity.” To which I replied, “Communi-what-a-what?”
It seems some ideas can’t be captured by words already in existence.
kuh-myoo-ni- vur-si-tee] noun
Community+University = expanded universe
Definition: Courses that invite adult-learners into conversation with music-makers, creators, and innovators to expand their universe.
There it was. “The” right idea. To boot, he decided Opera and Wine would be the best, first effort. And you know what, he was right. And that is exactly what we did.
And here is the story.
What’s at risk when students to run with an idea?
21CM is about empowering emerging musicians with the skills and tools to create new ways of exploring, creating, and sharing the art. And Music on the Square is about courageous music-making. Seems like they’re a good fit.
But what is at risk when you trust your students to run with an idea?
Storytellers @ M2 is musical mash-up of performance, interviews, humor and candid moments that give audiences a glimpse into the minds of the most compelling music-makers of our time. This VH1-style, reality art music event is the brainchild of what is now widely known as Storyteller's Dynamic Duo, Derrick and Dylan. Destined to become an overnight sensation from the moment they took to the mic, our hosts engaged Boston-based ensemble, A Far Cry in questions about what they hope to uniquely offer the profession, how they grapple with the struggles of inventing their own future, and how the internal romance of bassists, Carl Doty and violinist, Liesl Schoenberger Doty unfolded. And it was so much fun, we did the whole thing over again with NYC-based artist-ensemble Decoda.
20-somethings geeking out on classical music? Check.
Jam Session @ M2
The odds of that many mandolins marching down Indiana Avenue the evening Jayme Stone arrived with The Lomax Project are surely less than those of being hit by lightening while cashing in your billion dollar lotto ticket.
A biology professor on penny whistle and a classics professor on banjo, a retired middle school teacher and former coach on vocals, joined by dozens of folks from around the county is testament to the unrivaled power of folk traditions’ ability to bring together community. All a result of DePauw’s Music House students’ commitment to seeing the world not through the lens of institutional affinity, but through artistic allegiances and the immeasurable talents of The Lomax Project.
And if M2 is about closing gaps, the joyous, healing voice of Margaret Glaspy unleashed on Shenandoah saved the souls of even this sinner.
And then, a bump in the road
In September we were all running 100 miles/hour with M2 hosting an event almost everyday. And although some thrive on that kind of frenetic pace, it is reasonable that it’s not for everyone. On the heels of hosting a luncheon for the spouses of the Board of Trustees, the Manager of M2 quit with little explanation other than the stress level was no longer sustainable. Sadly, although none of us saw it coming, none of us were surprised. I think what shook most of us was the question, “So what else have we missed?”
A new hire. A new approach. Let them run with their creative ideas, and trust in the shared vision. And strive to open-up communication when the stakes are not always so high.
So with loosening the line just a bit, our new manager hits the ground running.
If NYC can boast of both SubCulture and Le Poisson Rouge, then surely Greencastle can brag on Club M2.
Positioned in a Nashville, songwriter-in-the-round style, with the audience encircling the young string quartet, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. And whether listening to Phillip Glass in complete darkness or witnessing up close the visual communication required of a chamber ensemble to navigate Messiaen, this minimalistic set-up allowed the audience to lean in or lean back and contemplate the end of time.
Classical music is undergoing a radical transformation. And how that makes you feel won't change a thing. Worlds end. Worlds begin. But when witnessing up-close the next generation embracing the challenges and opportunities to connect art, artists, and audiences, you get the feeling they are on to something.
We always imagined Music on the Square "breaking down the walls" between art music and community, but I had no idea that a simple storefront location could have such an impact. Every time I am there, I meet people I have never seen before and more of them—never, however, more so than on the night we hosted a "jam session" with Jayme Stone and the Lomax Project.
Banjos, guitars and folk instruments marched down Indiana Avenue toward M2 on this evening. Truly, even as someone who spent much of my life in West Virginia, I have never seen more in one place. We had a biology professor on penny whistle, a classics professor on banjo, a retired middle school teacher and coach on vocals and dozens of folks from around the region on fiddle, guitar or whatever instrument they had. Before the first note, I was already fired up. And the capacity audience was, too.
If you have not heard Margaret Glaspy you have been missing out. She sings in an inimitable style that penetrates straight to the soul. You cannot listen passively to this voice—or to anything else that happened that night for that matter. I lived on the Shenandoah River for many years. Her singing of this great folk standard unleashed years of forgotten memories and took me right back to its banks. The purity of her tone and her delivery was mesmerizing.
And then the party started. Mike called out “Take this Hammer,” John Bean called a “Soldiers Joy” and the entire room roared to life like a tent revival on “Moonshine”. This was the way this music was meant to be—joyous and reckless—straight from the heart and straight to the soul. Passive listening was impossible—everyone was caught in the act.
And then, in what seemed like minutes, it was over. The hour grew late and there was one last hymn, a cappella. As that hymn floated out of our little building on the square, I knew magic had just happened—as joyous as it is rare, a magic that would be remembered. These were the evenings our forbearers knew. Music shared, viscerally and participatory and everyone’s life the richer for it.
21CM is about empowering emerging musicians with the skills and tools to create new ways of exploring, creating, and sharing the art. It is about leveraging the entrepreneurial mindset toward building enthusiastic audiences and the next generation of curious, creative, and collaborative musicians.
Music on the Square is about courageous music-making.
Seems like they’re a good fit.
But what is at risk when you trust your students to run with an idea?
I have always found the intersection of teaching and parenting to be the challenge of NOT solving problems for “our kids,” but rather equipping them to make good decisions, act decisively and except failure as an important learning tool.
Easier said than done, right?
Three young students, Yazid, Derrick, and Dylan came to me with an idea – Storytellers.
What is it?
Storytellers @ M2, a VH1-style, reality art music broadcast that features today’s most innovative musicians in an up-close, intimate look at their unique talents, greatest passions, and life stories.
They even had a pitch and a tagline.
Storytellers @ M2
Join us at Music on the Square for an intimate evening of courageous music-making and a glimpse into the minds of the most compelling music-makers of our time.
Storytellers@M2. An experience like no other.
They had goals.
Damn they’re good.
So why was I so nervous? What was I afraid of?
I promised you, the readership of this blog, to tell the unvarnished truth, and of my willingness to accept “risk and even necessary failure.” But that does mean that I wanted to demonstrate failure within the first weeks of my job. And besides, if I don’t get to control the process and product, who does? Simply, I have learned, our students do, when given the chance to exercise their remarkable capacity for vision and capability to move ideas to action.
The results were a resounding success, if I do say so myself.
To learn more about Storytellers, read DePauw School of Music student, Rachael Amalfitano's well-crafted article.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Measuring outcomes of well-crafted events is not a new concept for seasoned arts organizers and administrators. Counting bodies, conducting surveys, and capturing numeric responses to the questions into which we hope to gain insight are essential in determining effectiveness, awareness, impact, and informing future planning, as I am certain most of my colleagues would:
1 (strongly disagree) - 2 (disagree) - 3 (undecided) - 4 (agree) - 5 (strongly agree).
An early event at M2 hoped to accomplish these goals, while addressing the questions:
Music on the Square is about sparking curiosity, fostering creativity, and celebrating joyful music-making. And somehow body counts and surveys seem to fall short in collecting these data. Thankfully, photos do not.
Approached by Dean Mark McCoy about partnering on a course designed to expand the adult-learner’s universe, demystify culture, and build upon a growing sense of connection between the university and the community, I didn’t balk. Absolutely. I was in.
Now, truth be told, when my creative juices are flowing and I’m feeling really good about imagining the future of art music, more often than not I look up and see the Dean hovering 35,000 feet overhead. So given the challenge of shaping an idea that brings together the university and local communities and aims to create greater access to culture, I wanted to come up with “the” right idea.
So, opening up the table for discussion, Dean McCoy patiently waited for my thoughts.
Note: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s five-phase model of the creative process describes incubation as a restful time that allows for your unconscious to take over. Apparently I was incubating too long and the Dean blurted out “Communiversity.” To which I replied, “Communi-what-a-what?”
It seems some ideas can’t be captured by words already in existence. Or at least they seem to not exist within my native language, English.
[kuh-myoo-ni- vur-si-tee] noun, Communiversity
Community+University = expanded universe] courses invite adult-learners into conversation with music-makers, creators, and innovators. Embrace the opportunity to learn more about the music you love. Expand your universe.
There it was. “The” right idea. And that is exactly what we did.
And here is the story.
*In fairness, sometimes it takes equal genius to recognize a great idea as it does to come up with one all on your own.
Hard to believe. We had been thinking about (planning toward) this for years. Could we build a literal, physical intersection with our community? We had enjoyed great success bringing new community members to our performances, first by bringing our performances to them: DePauwpalooza positioned in the center of DePauw’s campus, Art Music at Almost Home embedded in a local upscale restaurant, Music that Moves Me took residency in the public library, and outreach efforts expanded to senior centers, Starbucks—even the Farmer’s Market. But could we build a “house” that wasn’t just the school’s house, that wasn’t just the community’s house but was truly our house? No more “us-and-them”—just us?
Judson and I are notoriously over-planned so that we can be ready if opportunity knocks. When it did, we knew what we wanted to do. I discussed the concept with faculty; they embraced it. I told students; they loved it. We bit. The old “Goodwill Store” became Music on the Square became Music Squared (hence our logo)—our second location but more than that—the exponential growth of the power of the arts in our community. Now how to kick it off?
The Grand Opening was heading toward a special date already on the calendar. The world’s first Global Musician Workshop with Yo-Yo and Silk Road held in the Green Center at DePauw. Could our stellar facilities management team pull off a complete renovation/restoration in time? Yes. (These guys are and always have been amazing.) Would our Mayor convene the community for this special event? Another yes. (She is and always has been, amazing.) Yo-Yo, serving as chair of the 21CM advisory committee would be in town. Would he cut the ribbon? Yes. (He is and always has been, amazing.) What could possibly make this day better?
One thing. At the event, Yo-Yo leaned into me and said, “Should I play something?” I stifled the urge to ask him if anyone had ever said no to such a question and shook my head yes. He invited the audience in and “blessed” our space with our dear friend JS Bach. An auspicious start for what we hope will be an auspicious space. See it all here.
Greencastle’s town center, named The Square, includes an array of hometown businesses – a local printing company, a quaint gift shop, a now-closed barber, the farmers market and City Hall. One can start the day at Starbucks and end it at Moore’s Bar without walking a city block.
The genesis of the project came about over a glass (or two) of limoncello shared between Yo-Yo Ma , the epitome of the 21st-century musician, and the former president of Disney Theme Parks and Resorts, president and CEO of NAVTEQ and DePauw alumnus Judson Green. Looking for a way to empower communities through the arts, Green believed in Greencastle’s potential and swiftly found a willing creative partner in Dean Mark McCoy , who had been looking for opportunities to move beyond the footprint of campus and engage in meaningful ways with the community he calls home.
A dilapidated former Goodwill store became a symbol of possibility–the first step toward uniting the extended Greencastle community through music. Equipped with an entrepreneurial focus and artistic vision, and confident there was a great project in the making, Green and his wife, Joyce, donated the money, then with the dean purchased and renovated the building, drew up a list of ideas he wanted to chase down and invited me into the conversation to help make it a reality.
The possibilities for how this story might unfold seem limitless, but those who have hoped to bring about meaningful change will understand that with change comes risk and even necessary failure. As an institution of higher learning– and one focused on music entrepreneurship – we decided the process was as important as the result. So, to keep us honest, we chose to publicly record the experience on this blog.
The guiding principles going into the project are as follows:
Music on the Square fosters a space for courageous music-making and we would love to courageously make music with you! Gathering as a community of music lovers, we spark curiosity, expand creativity, and cultivate collaboration through one-on-one lessons, adult-learning classes, coached ensembles, and radical, breathtaking performances.
From children taking private music lessons for the first time to adult-learners experiencing Communiversity [n. community + university = expanded universe] courses that connect us with music-makers, creators, and innovators, we invite you to make Music on the Square your home for music-making!