Congratulations on your decision and commitment to devote your career—and in doing so much of your life—to the performing arts. You are engaging in more than a career; it is a calling. I use that word deliberately because I believe that if you have to ask yourself whether this is for you, it probably isn’t. A career devoted to the arts is not just a career—you are on a mission. In order to do this, you have to need to do it. You have to not be able to envision doing anything else but be an artist. In many ways there is nothing more challenging and, at the same time, nothing more rewarding if you feel that calling. I assume that if you’re reading this and have gotten this far, you do!
The question then becomes:
“How do I make the most of this life, serve the art, do something good in the world by making a real contribution, and yes, make a living and be able to support myself?”
As is the case with so many fields and the world in general, the pace of change is dizzying. It’s also true that in the arts, there are fundamentals that don’t change, even though everything around them may be evolving. To become a great pianist, violinist, composer, dancer, or any number of other disciplines, you must be outstanding at your craft. There are no shortcuts to making art. Devoting many hours to excellence in performance is an unchanging and endless requirement, and that is as it should be. That is part of the rigor and joy of being an artist: the never-ending pursuit of making something beautiful happen.
But today, that pursuit of excellence is not enough. Artists today have to surround these core skills—the skills that have been essential to making music and dance for centuries—with a broader set of skills. Skills that include an ability to communicate beyond what you express through your performance, to develop your own audience and following, to relate to different communities, to develop a creative idea and convince someone to support it, listen to it, and engage. One of the exciting things about the world today is that there are so many direct avenues to finding an audience and to the world. For example, it is no longer necessary to have a recording contract (which hardly exist today) to be a recording artist. It is no longer necessary to have a book publisher to be published. The need for a middleman has never been less thanks largely to technology. So in that sense, there has never been a greater opportunity for artists to propagate their art. You just have to be creative and willing to do the work and not wait for others to do it for you.
I believe this is incredibly exciting and liberating. You can in fact chart your own course. And that is what this book is about. It is why the Peabody Conservatory has introduced the Breakthrough Curriculum and LAUNCHPad. We are committed to ensuring that when our students go out into the world, they are equipped not just to speak through their art, but also to find a meaningful avenue for that art.
I invite you to read this book and develop these broader skills with the same joy and determination with which you practice your instrument, write your music, or pursue your dance. Remaining open to these ideas will pay dividends and take you places you might never have imagined. Think of it the way you think about your practice—it’s about the process and journey, as much as the result. Enjoy it and keep working to bring your art to the world!
Dean, The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University