Today I went to a talk at the Royal College of Music in London given by the composer and conductor Eric Whitacre. It was in the Recital hall and the sun was beaming through the windows inconveiniently landing on my face. This caused me to squint so Eric suggested I move to another seat (which I did) and I happened to choose the only other seat in the room where the sun again landed on my face. At which point he remarked with his American accent and a charming smile: "You've gotta be a performer the spotlight just finds you!". - I laughed to myself, how did he know?!
Mr Whitacre is a real life Prince Charming - he has long highlighted blonde hair as if he has just stepped out of a Disney Movie. But his biggest appeal is his work as a choral conductor and composer. It is this choral work that has helped him to build a solid community of followers, fans and devotees. My favourite composition of his is a charming song for SSA called 'The Seal Lullaby' which you may have heard me sing with my chamber music ensemble 'The Sirens' while I was studying at the Royal Northern College of Music. You can listen to him conducting it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuLDD7O29T4
The talk began right from his humble beginnings on a farm in Nevada.
He really discovered music by accident. Eric had a strong calling to it emotionally, and a relentless curiosity to find out more - so he taught himself in a very unconventional manor. The composer learned through trial and error, but continued to learn and to make music just for the sheer love of the art. It was clear in the intonation of his voice when he was speaking that he still carries that same burning enthusiasm for music.
Since his humble starts, he studied at the Julliard School in New York and has spent the past couple decades working at his craft. In 2007 his album "Cloudburst and Other Choral Works" was nominated for a Grammy, and later his album "Light and Gold" won a Grammy for Best Choral Performance in 2012.
He shared many pearls of wisedom as to how to be an entrpreneur through music. But one of the key things that he kept coming back to, was to build up a community around you: "Think of yourself as an indie band. Meet as many people as possible. Try to respond on fb and Twitter. One person at a time. "
Eric came to a wider audience when he created his virtual choirs. These ambitious projects definitely achieve this objective - they involve his audience in his work no matter where in the world they are. They created a community. And they redefined what is possible with art, music and technology. Although he said that for each of these projects he made a loss financially, he was adament that it was absolutely worth it, more than just for marketing, but for the creation of a new piece of art and for the online community that emerged as a by product. He described this community as being "unbelieveable". I suggest you check out this video if you haven't already seen it. It shows the finished piece of art that they created.
Overall, in my opinion, Eric Whitacre's sheer relentless determinism got him to where he is. He described many different things that he had whole heartedly tried in order to further his career. One example of this was spending 6 months in Hollywood sitting in agents offices trying to get an agent before realising that that wasn't how it worked. He said of the journey to the top, that: "It's like fishing, keep throwing out all these lines and then something will eventually bite. ... It really makes you want it."
But more than anything during the talk he came back to the community he had created, and how he nutured it. Just like me, Eric wants to make his music accessible to all people. Especially those who are not already involved or interested in classical music.
"Bring in all these people who are smart and just don't have any exposure to it."
And with those final few words my mind was completely blown. I felt so inspired that I decided to make a blog out of my notes from the session. I hope that it inspires you to cherish those people in the community around you - whether you are a musician or not. It doesn't matter. What matters is to put people first and to value their input. Look after your community and your community will look after you.
Jennifer Coleman is a soprano who works as a classical singer and vocal coach. Available for performances across the UK and internationally.