January is a time when we make resolutions and then famously neglect to keep them. Last year I decided to engage in this annual practice. After glancing through my list of goals and seeing too many that were superficial or self-serving, I felt I should add one more that might genuinely help me become a better human being. It was: if in doubt, be generous.
I did not merely mean with money, or time, although those are important. We are innately isolated from each other and continually make assumptions about those around us. I decided that when I distrusted another person’s motives or intentions, I would make a conscious choice to assume the best.
It was a good resolution that helped move me away from petty assumptions and behavior more than once. I appreciated the spirit of generosity it brought to my thoughts, and, being a flutist, I considered how it should apply professionally. How can I be generous as a flutist and musician, to improve my community? This is the goal I would encourage our community of flutists to ponder for 2014.
While I was at Oberlin studying with Michel Debost, he would sometimes say to me, “Are you a generous person?” I answered shyly that I try to be generous. He replied, “Be generous! Give me your tone! Give me your musical ideas!”
In music, we can only express ourselves with integrity if we have the requisite technique. Countless hours spent on technical exercises lead to the ability to play expressively and generously and enable us to say something truly unimpeded that resonates with sincerity.
As in music, so in life. We cannot be generous in our lives and communities if we have no internal resources upon which to draw. I am lucky to have been involved in music from the time I was a small child. Numerous mentors gave me guidance, for which I will always be grateful. One day as a teenager I was talking with an older friend named Ruth. I told her I had recently enjoyed being involved with a community service project. I wished there were more time for service projects, but between school and musical activities it did not seem possible to fit them in. Ruth commented that my time to give would come. She stressed that while I was young and in excellent circumstances, I should strive to learn and grow. Down the road, I would only be able to give as much as I had learned and experienced. What I became is what I would have to pass on to others.
What a wise woman. She was the mother of my piano teacher, Douglas Humpherys. Young in his career at that time, he is now chair of the piano department at Eastman. He has given back to numerous others through all that he became.
Lately it seems that we are bombarded with information about arts organizations in crisis. Far too many orchestras, opera companies, and similar institutions are becoming financially insolvent. The truth is that the arts are always financially vulnerable. While musicians usually do not have the means to donate thousands of dollars to arts organizations, there are others ways to contribute. We should use our resources generously to help the arts in our communities thrive. These organizations contribute more than simply a chance to hear a performance. The musicians supported through these institutions are teachers and arts ambassadors in their communities.
We improve communities by giving the resources we have, whether they are financial or the abilities and talents we have developed. If you are a student, work hard. Bravely hold up a standard of excellence and commitment to your work. Realize that all you become will one day help you enrich the lives of many others.
For those of us beyond our student years, while we continue to increase and shore up our abilities we must think more deeply about how to benefit our communities through music. I would challenge you to ponder how to be generous in this way. The power of an individual can be enormous.
I have had some eye-opening experiences in this realm recently. Due to the generosity of a donor, I created a non-profit called the Da Capo Alliance. Last summer I was able to bring world-renowned artists Amy Porter and Bonita Boyd to my hometown through this fledgling non-profit. When they arrived, I saw how valuable it was to our community of flutists to share the experiences they brought in their wake. Simply by creating the circumstances for students to learn, perform, and form friendships, those very things were happening. One person or small group of people willing to take initiative must create these opportunities. It can be through a flute club, a flute choir, a recital series, or simply organizing a concert for those who may be unable to visit a traditional concert hall. Outreach programs that bring performers to such venues as prisons, centers for disabled, schools, or homes for the elderly can affect many lives.
Do not think of being creative as ultimately a useless quality, lacking rigor and leading to daydreams. This is not the case. Creators invent tools, companies, and endeavors that change the world. Creativity is not something we should experience only via this tube we all enjoy blowing through (as my creative brother sometimes describes my profession). I challenge all of us to find the means to creatively and generously share the music we love in our communities. In so doing, we will also reap the rewards.