Monday, October 8, 2012

Faculty Post - Dr. Kim Helton


This week's blog post is by Simpson College's Instructor of Flute, Dr. Kim Helton.


Collaboration: The Art of Arts

by Kim Helton

In September, I had the privilege of performing in both the season debut concerts of the Des Moines Symphony and Orchestra Iowa (Cedar Rapids Symphony). Even with all the gloom and doom in many other symphony organizations, both are solvent and thriving. Both are expanding educational opportunities for youth in the community. Both are doing out reach performances in smaller venues. AND, for the first time ever, both included a collaboration of artistic diversity never before seen.

Orchestra Iowa worked together with the Quad-City Ballet Company and Historic Brucemore Museum—a collaboration of the local ballet company, the local historical site, and the local symphony. Thousands of people came to listen, drink local wine, and support their community through the arts. The DMSO worked together with the DSM Art Center and the Pappajohn family to commission a new piece, “Symphony in Sculpture,” celebrating the spectacular sculpture park down town. It was a collaboration including the local art collection, local composer, local Blur Media Productions, and the local symphony with enormous success.

So, what is so important about collaboration? How does it help the arts thrive? What are the lessons learned through collaborating with other artists? Here are some critical skills that will begin to evolve the more you work with others:

Always bring your “A” game.
There is nothing more inspiring that playing with other fine musicians or artists. If you need motivation to practice or hone your craft, work with an outstanding pianist, singer, instrumentalist, conductor or composer and you will find yourself running to the practice room to rise to the level of those around you. Do the hard preparations: study the score, find recordings, practice slowly, know your role within the music at any given time (soloist, accompaniment, thematic material, harmonic filler), know the tendencies of the instruments in your ensemble. Great accompanists always know which students or professionals come prepared and are thoughtful about the process of collaborating. You want those pianists to say yes when you ask. Don’t waste your pianist’s or ensemble members’ time by coming unpracticed or unaware of how the parts fit together. A little preparation goes a long way.

Relationships are as important as artistic endeavors.
Understand that how you interact with and treat others is critical in achieving high levels of artistic collaboration. YoYo Ma is famous for his incredible philanthropy and willingness to work with all types of artists from all walks of life. (See YouTube.com/watch?b=C9jghLeYufQ—YoYo Ma and Lil’Buck) He is a true gentleman in every respect, and a consummate artist. Consider those you work with as members of your team. Give your pianist the music far in advance, respecting his/her time. Arrive on time for rehearsals and plan ahead together as a group. When something goes wrong, admit your own errors and take responsibility for them. Respect the skills of all fellow performers, even if you don’t have any idea what challenges are found in preparing reeds, tuning a harp, improvising jazz, singing an aria, or rolling a snare drum. Always give others the benefit of the doubt and assume the best in people. It will come back to serve you when it is your turn to have a mishap or problem. If you cherish those with whom you work, then you will have the privilege of getting more work!

Get outside your comfort zone.Start small. Try working with instrumentalists or singers new to you. Try a new trio combination, or find an unusual piece and invite new musicians to play. I heard the most amazing flute/tuba duo at the NFA convention. Before their performance, I admit had my reservations. However, it was a stunning combination, resulting in many newly commissioned works because of these great players. Be willing to try things you never thought possible. If you have ever been interested in other artistic areas, start experimenting. Take a pottery class. Try modern dance. Write some lyrics to your instrumental piece. Write your own cadenza. Sing at the top of your lungs—even if it is in the shower. Take lessons on a new instrument for the semester. If you have always loved jazz, but have never tried to improvise, find a great web site and go for it. The more you expand your creative experience, the more you appreciate the skills of others and enhance awareness in your own area of expertise.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When collaborative skills are combined with enthusiasm, the possibilities are limitless. Orchestra Iowa lost its performing hall to terrible flooding four years ago. But with the boundless enthusiasm and skill of Maestro Timothy Hankewich, the hall is slated to be re-opened this October, with a sold out symphony season ahead. He accomplished this feat in large part because of his ability to dig in against the odds and collaborate with all the resources in the community. Maestro Giunta worked for three years to bring about the new commission of “Symphony in Sculpture,” inspired by the Pappajohn family’s labor of love to bring great art to the city of Des Moines and create the sculpture park downtown. Their willingness to work as a team marked the beginning of an amazing 75th symphony season.

If you are dedicated to honing your musical skills, building great relationships with a wide range of colleagues, exploring new ideas, and attacking any problem with enthusiasm, you will beat the odds. You will create a better community and world with your artistic endeavors. You will be limited only by your own imagination. The art of collaboration is truly the art of arts.

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