The ice clinked in their glasses while the evening settled in around the screened-in porch. Music was gently wafting from the kitchen into the group’s intimate setting. Smiles greeted the night air as the talk turned to memories. Thoughts floated back twenty, almost even thirty, years. There were stories about conservatory mishaps and audition foibles. Favorite adages from mentors and cringe-worthy dissertation topics spilled forth. Night-on-the-town stories about drinking across the street from the venue that turned into the place where they got their ‘first real break’ flowed into conversations about how everyone pitched in to collectively raise their children while on the road or at a residency. They called it their “kinder-village.” There was even a loose tooth saga that turned into the basis for a commission from Seattle Opera many years later.
Older eyes looked around the circle at what used to be a rollicking group of feisty young musicians and composers. She thought about all of the projects, commissions, courses, keynotes, masterclasses, awards, honors, and recordings that had accumulated between them throughout the years. “What a legacy…” she whispered to herself later while rinsing some glasses in the kitchen.
What is a Legacy Project?
I first came into contact with the concept of legacy projects from Chris Guillebeau on his blog The Art of Non-Conformity.
“I thought of a legacy project as something I’d create that would outlast me; something I could point to years from now and have more than just memories to show for it. In other words, I wanted something tangible and documented for anyone who wanted to see it at any time in the future.”
I asked myself, “what can I create in a music career that would outlast me?” Perhaps you have asked the same thing. Music offers us quite a few opportunities to create legacy projects under Guillebeau’s description. We have compositions, recordings, companies, organizations, commissioning funds, venues, and more. However, I quickly realized, there is no way to create a legacy project alone. Legacies do not exist in a vacuum. You can do a bulk of the work. You can create the foundation for a fund or write the composition. But, for it to take on the life that leads to legacy you will need other people. That lead me to question, “with whom do I want to create a legacy?” and “how do I find those people?”
Who Are My Legacy Relationships?
You may not be completely aware of your lifetime professional goals at this point but it is never too early (or too late) to think about what you want to accomplish. When you think about those goals, who are the types of people that can help make that happen? Will you need the artistic director of a Budget Level: 1 opera company to pick the perfect vehicle for your artistry? Will you need someone to write a piece that knocks the critics’ socks off? Will you need to organize donors to keep your company fiscally sustained through the tough years? Think about the kind of roles that are adjacent to what you want to be doing in your ideal professional life. You will want to start cultivating real, genuine relationships with people in those roles so that you can grow together. Every production you’re in, every festival you attend, every grant panel you sit on, every masterclass you sweat through is an opportunity to meet fellow artists and musicians who are likely to stick with you throughout your career. Notice that you need to cultivate “real, genuine relationships.” This doesn’t mean that you have to start every conversation with “what’s your deepest fear?” It does mean that you will have to strategically move past small talk and surface level connections.
Also, look around you to your current personal and professional circle. Who, out of those people, would you like to continue creating with for the coming decades? With whom do you envision steering multiple projects? Who around you has goals and ambitions that light you up? Who around you has an aesthetic or taste level that just speaks to the deepest parts of your artistic soul? Stay close to those people. Networking, traditionally, is about getting to know more and more new-to-you people. Networking for legacy projects is about getting to know new people as well as tending to and cultivating deeper relationships with the people who really understand your musical life.
How Do I Find Those People?
Legacy relationships are long-term, collaborative partnerships in which you work towards your mutual, enduring goals. The only way these relationships can survive is through mutual respect, dedication, and understanding.
Share Core Values
When you think through your personal and professional life, can you bring to mind your greatest moments of achievement? What helped you get there? Can you describe how you are most efficient in your progress? Do you have any deeply personal failures that impact your life to this day? What advice would you give someone walking down that same path? If you are able to articulate some answers to these kinds of questions, you are on your way to identifying your own core values. Once you have answered, for example, “My diligence in the practice room helped me reach my goal.” Or, “I couldn’t have reached this goal without seeking out exemplary mentors,” then you are ready to edit those down into a few words like “Diligence” or “Continuous Mentorship” that may illuminate some of your core values. When you are connecting with new or established friends, listen for cues to their own core values. In addition, just ask some of those same questions. “Oh, wow! What a project! What made you want to work so hard toward that performance?” Your potential legacy collaborators are often sharing their core values with you in their answers.
The Attack Plan
I have a number of friends in my life with whom I cannot get together without sharing our current battle plans for the future. Maybe you also have some friends like that? When you are together do you feel like you’re strategizing world domination? Or, just music field domination? Pssst… those are legacy collaborators in the making. Professional goals and ambitions can lead to very tight lips. But if you feel at ease sharing your minutiae about building your consulting company or your plans for how you’re going to win a Grammy in ten years, then you are demonstrating that you are very comfortable with that person. If you sense that your battle plans are beginning to align, chances are that you might have a legacy project in your collective future.
Trust, Commitment, and Patience
Legacy project and legacy relationships cannot be forced and they cannot be rushed. That is their complete opposite. This is the slow burn form of professional relationships. These are people that you turn around at “retirement” and think, “wow, you have been there every step of the way. I could not have gotten here without you.” Those kinds of relationships are born out of trust, commitment, and patience. Even if there are years in which you do not create anything together, you are still in communication and building your relationship. You are cheering on their success as they cheer on yours. You are comforting their woes as they comfort yours. It requires mutual interest from all participating parties. This is the kind of bond that everyone may not fully enter knowingly but each one recognizes over the passage of time as indispensable to one another’s success.