Music Collective

Posted by: tyonce on: August 21, 2011

Welcome to Music Collective, an online blogging community of musicians. We strive to entertain and inform you, covering the gamut of musical specialties from music business to early music. Welcome, stay awhile, and feel free to join the discussion!

Hanging in the Balance

Posted by: jdunnavant on: April 8, 2014

Hanging in the Balance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about work/life balance and this ever-popular notion that to have a perfect balanced life, we must leave work behind us at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. and have not a single thought about it until the clock chimes 9:00 the next morning. I fail completely at this, as evidenced by the fact that I was thinking about it this morning, in the shower, at 5:30 a.m. Advice that I receive far too frequently for my liking is the standard line–that I need to stop working, stop answering emails, stop thinking about work and just relaaaaaax.

I’m not sure where this pressure comes from. Perhaps from the same place that insists that every single citizen of humanity must have time, within each 24 hour period, to work, eat, sleep, exercise, socialize, shower affection on our loved ones and friends, and perhaps even create something artistic and lovely through the practice of a hobby? It comes from the same place that fertilizes the eternal argument that it is possible not only to have it all but to be perfect at it all. And it’s all lies.

Here’s the thing: I’m a freelancer, a small business owner. I don’t have the luxury of not answering an email or a phone call quickly, because that’s how you lose students and gigs. Even my friends with full-time, big time jobs in our field grade at home after hours (or in their offices ALL NIGHT. You know who you are!) We practice on nights and weekends, we do research, we travel to perform or to present papers and lectures. So…here’s the question to consider: is it even possible to have a life where you never think about work outside the confines of your work environment? And for those of us who work in fields where we are passionate creators, communicators and educators…do we really want that? Do we really desire the ability to turn off that side of ourselves in the name of a lazy afternoon?

If you read my post from a couple of months ago (, you might be thinking, “Hey! She was just talking about having lots of free time!” And I do have quite a bit of free time. I just can’t guarantee that it will always be between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., plus all day on Saturdays and Sundays. Besides, some of my very best ideas come to me in the shower at 5:30 a.m., sitting at my vanity at 11:30 p.m., taking my walk at dawn or dusk, or (least favorite) sitting in traffic trying not to go crazy. If I refused the call of my imagination, I would lose out on so much more.

For a long time I have fought my schedule. I’ve tried putting my foot down and refusing to answer email after 8:00 p.m., leaving the grading for the next day (when I had one of those grading-heavy jobs), choosing to prepare teaching plans or pack my bags just before leaving the house. But I don’t function well that way. I sleep better and enjoy my down time more when I don’t have loads of tasks hanging over my head. I’d much rather clean the slate before I settle in for the night, and sometimes that means I’m doing things like writing blog posts at 10:00 p.m. And I know I’m not alone in this.

I don’t mind it so much. I didn’t become a musician because I had a deep-seated need to hold a job with regular hours, and in fact, when I have had those kinds of jobs, I have always felt stifled and bored. If you live in that world, then, by all means, leave it behind at the end of the work day! Go forth from your cubicle and learn a craft, dig into RPGs, roll on the grass–whatever it takes. But for the rest of us…can we just release this unrealistic pressure? Can we just let it go and agree not to needle each other about when things happen, as long as the important things DO happen? I think that what we should really be concerned about is not work/life balance so much as integrating work into our lives in ways that encourage and nourish joy. When we are joyful in our work, when it feeds something within us spiritually and emotionally, it stops feeling like work, and that is perhaps the most joyful thing of all!

Ron Evans and Musical Legacy

Posted by: tyonce on: March 31, 2014

A good friend passed away last recently, on 22 February. Truth be told, I think anyone who came in contact with him would consider him to be a “good friend.” He had that admirable quality of making everyone who he interacted with feel completely at ease. He was kind, generous of spirit, and a fine musician.

Ron Evans was the founder and conductor of the Northwinds Symphonic Band, which has existed in Gainesville, Georgia since 1984. He also was band director at several high schools in the Gainesville area before retiring in 1997 and served as a board member for music organizations in the north Georgia area.

I met Ron in 2005 after graduating from Indiana University and moving back to the north Georgia area. I was encouraged to join the Northwinds Symphonic Band, which primarily included band directors, music teachers, college music students, and professional musicians. My participation in this group was one of the best ensemble experiences I’ve ever had. He and the other directors were professional, detail-oriented, and insisted on quality performances. However, rehearsals and performances were fun, and I was always aware of how much the community appreciated our concerts.

The annual Memorial Day concert was always the highlight for me. Veterans were invited, of course, and would march around the venue during one particular piece on the program. All branches of the military were acknowledged, and it was quite moving to see service members of all ages making their way around the room. What a privilege to be able to honor them!

Another highlight during my time with Northwinds was when we toured south Georgia in 2011. We played a program that included marches and patriotic pieces. Ron dressed up as John Philip Sousa, and the crowds loved it. It was an experience like no other.

I moved to South Carolina for a short time before taking my current position in South Dakota. I continued to make the drive from South Carolina to north Georgia for Northwinds rehearsals because the experience was just that important and rewarding to me.

I have been reflecting over the past month on the extent of Ron’s legacy. During his career, he must have taught thousands of students. I’m sure he taught the children (maybe grandchildren?) of his first batch of students. He established an organization where professional musicians could come together and have a fun, fulfilling experience. He was well-respected by others in his field but also by those in the greater community. How many lives did he impact? How many high school students’ souls did he shelter by providing a demanding yet supportive experience? How many adult lives (like mine) did he enrich through his hard work with Northwinds?

What a legacy! What will mine be?

Time to get back to work.

Graduate School Auditions Gone Wrong

Posted by: rhacker on: March 23, 2014

It’s 9:50 PM on a Saturday night. In the past 24 hours, I had driven 360 miles, played a killer first graduate school audition, and then wrecked my car while driving back to my undergraduate campus.

According to my GPS, I was supposed to have gotten back to my apartment at 9:23 PM. I would drink a cheap bottle of moscato, which is currently sitting untouched on my kitchen counter. I had planned on wearing yoga pants and binge-watching New Girl on Netflix. My car would be virtually spotless- except for where it scraped against a concrete post by the Taco Bell drive thru.  None of the above things happened after 9:23 PM. Instead, I was 250 miles away from my apartment, alone, and exhausted.  I lay sprawled in a hotel room bed that wasn’t friendly to my checking account, and wandering what on earth was going to happen tomorrow.

Around 4:30 today, the winter weather turned nasty. Snow and slush dominated the stretch of interstate ahead of me. As the number of cars began to dwindle, I pondered getting off the interstate until the weather improved.  Before I could take a driving break from this rural stretch of highway, my car skidded to the right. Thanks to the laws of physics, my attempt at overcorrecting caused my car to glide across the left lane of traffic. My car rotated 180 degrees, and the front side crashed into the left side guardrail. I remember watching my car turn around one more time, and move back across the lanes. Finally, I hit the right guardrail before coming to a halt in the road’s shoulder.  The whole event was so surreal, that I have no idea how long this process was.  Of all songs to still be playing on my car radio, Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball was on.  However, the music fell on deaf ears in an otherwise silent environment.  My dashboard lit up with multiple icons simultaneously, and the motor was not sounding.  My neck felt stiff, but, above all, I felt unscathed.

Once the shock factor wore off, my head began to fill with questions.  . Nothing had prepared me for this moment.   In 3rd grade, my class learned about the Titanic. In 8th grade, we learned how to create a line graph on your graphing calculator. More recently, I conducted a passage from Carmina Burana for an Introduction to Conducting course. For the first time in my life, I called 911.  Even though it was warranted, I felt timid about it. As I waited for a cop to attend to me, I called my parents, and told them what happened.  After contacting AAA, I was told that no services could pick me up until midnight, due to the snow. Though it was only 6:00, night had fallen. My heating system was not functioning, and I had had not chosen to wear any heavy, winter clothing for the drive. The whooshing sound of cars and semi trucks to my left was too close for comfort. It was too cold, snowy, and dangerous to get out and check for damage on the front of my car.

With a faint southern drawl, a cop explained that I was going to have a local towing service take me to a “safer location.” I was 40 miles from my hometown, so I could have the car towed to a local garage. Thinking that I would sit with the driver in the truck, he said his wife and child were in the car, thus there was no room for my cold, terrified, self. This meant that I was going to stay in my car- as I got towed off the interstate.  There I was, 20 feet in the air, on the back of a tow truck.  I did the most mature thing possible in the situation- laugh and Instagram the moment.

The tow truck driver took me to a truck stop. By now, this rural truck stop in southern Ohio was the closest thing to Paradise.  After rushing past an Olde Fashioned Candy display, I found an ATM.  Naturally, it was broken, and I had to leave the tow truck driver my credit card number.  I was now truly alone, and without a plan.  Suddenly reminded of the pit in my stomach, I was in a great position to eat my feelings.  Boy, do those Ohio truck stops know how to appeal to my artery-clogged heart.   Drowning my troubles in cream gravy was a necessity at this point.

The truck stop restaurant was organized for communal eating.   Truck drivers inhaled menu items that included the word “smothered” in the title.  Many of them made small talk with each other. After making a few more frantic phone calls, I discovered that some of the truckers overheard my story. As I put my phone down, a husky, male voice yelled over “Ya shouldn’t have put on the breaks!” in a teasing manner.  My story had peaked the interest in some of the drivers. I told them I’m from Cleveland. We talked about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the conversation helped my mind drift to a more optimistic state.

It was decided that AAA would cover for me to stay at a hotel in easy walking distance from the truck stop. Fortunately, this was an awesome hotel, and I finally saw “the light at the end of the tunnel.” So here I am, after a long, hot, bath, I reading “9:50,” in digital numbers.  Despite my crazy evening, it was easier to smile than to frown, because I am still alive.  Eyeing my music backpack in the corner of the room, I remember that I could have been seriously injured, and that I will still make music for many years to come.  Reminders such as this one will allow me to close my eyes, and drift to sleep in the next few minutes.

Leopards and Spots

Posted by: jdunnavant on: March 1, 2014

Can a Leopard Change her Spots?

It was a good lesson, with a good student. She was playing a great piece that we both loved, and she was playing it well. Over the weeks she spent learning that solo, her musicality and technique developed, her vibrato deepened, her tone color matured. Still, there was that place. That one place. You know the one–the one where she learned a wrong note during the first week, and despite reminders, despite marking up her part, despite every attempt an engaged teacher can make to trip her memory in time to play the right note…she’s still missing it.

That story is probably familiar to many of my teacher friends. I’m not even writing about just one of my students, because they all do this. I find, sometimes, when I revisit a piece of music that I first learned as a student, I still have the same places that I must dive into with a fine-tipped scalpel, so well did I learn my mistakes! We all have our spots. What can we do (pardon me, leopards everywhere) to change those spots?

That Place I Miss Every Time

When I’m faced with a teenage problem, I tend to think back to my teenage self. I had some wonderful teachers, and I am forever grateful to them. That said, I grew up in a fairly small town, and that meant that we had to drive far enough for flute lessons that I didn’t get them every week. A lot of my development happened because of my determination to become a good listener, to sound like my favorite flutists, to master my own obvious inadequacies.

I can remember feeling frustrated the first time I realized that although I thought I was ready for an upcoming honor band audition, I couldn’t play through the excerpt without stopping. I knew that I should be able to do it smoothly, like the instrumentalists I heard on recordings. But how to make that happen?

“I know!” I thought. “I’ll drill it. If I play it enough times, surely I’ll get it right?” In my fifteen-year-old wisdom, this was the perfect answer. The result, of course, is that I learned my mistakes with an almost indelible accuracy. They weren’t a phone number written in ink on my palm–they were a tramp stamp covering half my back! What I could not teach myself was this: until the mistake is isolated and corrected, then worked back into the passage, it will continue to be a mistake. Until enough of the performer’s mind is free to anticipate the coming of that spot and then make a different choice, the mistake will stand.

It’s that last idea that I think is most important. You must be able to choose, to make the music happen rather than simply allowing it to happen to you. In the end, all the practice techniques I had learned (chunking, rhythms, five times without an error, tongue it all, slur it all, slow it down, do it backwards…the list goes on) were effective, but without that last step, without the ability to choose a different outcome in real time, they did not solve my problem. That skill is hard to master and harder to teach!

Encouraging Choice

I find it helpful to write a short note–two or three words–a measure or two before the problem spot. I’ll write something like “here it comes!” or “remember the spot!” and that will usually flip the switch for me. I find that a note written at the precise place where my mistake usually happens is worse than useless. It will distract me more than the spot itself as I try to figure out what I wrote and why.

Of course, part of practice is practicing not only the notes but also the feeling of performance. Part of practicing is learning to replicate, every time, the proper flow of music and ideas, organized and timed to allow a technically competent and musically moving performance. Learning to change those trouble spots is part of this process.

With my students, I will start with an explanation of what I think is going wrong. After we have worked out the technical issue, when we start trying to work the passage back in, I will quietly speak to them at the point when I want them to remember that the spot is coming. I find that they will remember by themselves after a few reminders from me, and that once they remember that the place is coming, it’s only a few more steps to having a problem that is completely fixed.  Perhaps most important, I bring home to them the message that it’s not enough to drill a passage, even with good techniques, if you can’t take that last step, that step that involves choosing the right note, the right rhythm, the right breath. Otherwise, every time, you’re just choosing the mistake!

The Stress of an Entrepreneur

Posted by: Paula Brusky on: March 1, 2014

Being busy and being stressed IS the status quo these days.  But Entrepreneurs have a whole other level of stress, the stress of innovation.  By definition an entrepreneur has to be thinking ahead of the crowd in order to create something new and awesome.  As a result, entrepreneurs often feel isolated and have a constant anxiety surrounding them.  Entrepreneurs have to jump off cliffs routinely; the good ones do diligent research first so they are pretty sure where they are going to land, but they still have to have faith in themselves and jump.  Often times, right before their feet leave the cliff side they think “what the XXXX am I doing”.  But they have committed, they’ve done their research, and it’s time to believe in themselves and get it done.

The problem with this leap of faith is that it often negatively impacts their personal relationships.  The stress before jumping is consuming, terrifying and exciting….and terrifying.  An entrepreneur will be more secure taking this leap if the ground they are jumping from is stable.  If their family and friends are supportive and vocal in their support, the ground the entrepreneur is pushing from seems to make it easier to jump.  If instead the people close to the entrepreneur erode their confidence the ground on the cliff face feels like an earthquake and it is hard to get footing to leap, which adds to the stress and anxiety.  It is imperative to the success of an entrepreneur to have the people closest to them support and stabilize their foundation because everything else in their world is in flux.

A lot of entrepreneurs don’t understand the direct correlation of their home life on their business.  They don’t see that the stress of their endeavors puts stress on their home life and as a result their family and friends rotate through as the stress of the entrepreneurial world consumes them.  A lot of relationships seem to end for entrepreneurs right before a big breakthrough; the relationships deteriorate under the stress.  There are two ways to limit this and create a strong base of support.  First, pick strong, stable people who believe in you and are ready to support your leaping off cliff faces.  People who are excited to be part of your crazy entrepreneurial life and know that the risks suck but the rewards are amazing.  Don’t carry baggage in people that hinders your trajectory, some people are too risk adverse to understand your need to innovate.  The people you choose around you are critical to your success.  Second, talk to the people around you.  Let them know when your anxiety and blood pressure are skyrocketing so they are prepared for your possible (likely) irrational moments.  Try to breath and lower your stress by doing activities away, outdoors, that help stabilize you.  Find moments of peace and relish the chance to calm yourself.  The people who belong in your life will sense your anxiety growing and minimize it where possible, they’ll see the bags under your eyes and ask how they can help.  This help may be doing a simple chore for you or just listening to you freak out over a future you can’t control but are trying, really hard, to.  When you do screw-up (which you will) and lash out at someone you love, apologize, explain, and ask for forgiveness.  Trying to change the world doesn’t give you permission to be a jerk, but it may happen sometimes under the stress of innovation.  The people who belong in your life will accept that, understand, and help you find your footing when you loose it.   They will also know what you can do to make it up to them!  And do it, because your support system is the most important thing in your entrepreneurial journey.

Friends Don’t Let Friends…Apply to Grad School

Posted by: rhacker on: February 5, 2014

It was 2:19 PM on Thursday, November 21st, 2013.  My eyes scanned the computer screen like a 12 year old girl who found her mother’s copy of Cosmopolitan magazine.  My mind was racing. “Is that email address spelled correctly?”  “Should I check the BWV number on the Bach Sonatas in my repertoire list?” “What if I used the wrong draft of my writing sample?”  At the bottom of the lengthy webpage, the words ‘Submit’ teased my conscience.  My finger clicked downwards on the silky metal mousepad of my MacBook. “What had I just done?”  For the tenth time that hour, I wiped my perspiring palms onto my sweatpants.  As the unofficial Conservatory Fashionista, I vowed to never wear sweatpants in public, or any clothing with the name “sweat” in the title.  However, completing these applications got the best of my fashion preferences.

I was seated in the “quiet zone” of the library, along with one other senior class member, also completing his applications.  “I did it!” were the words that resounded in the piercing silence, and brought his eyes to looking at my workstation.   Stating this fact aloud was entirely unnecessary, yet, so gratifying to the hours of work that had just culminated in this submission. “You did what?” he asked, rather amused at my noisy proclamation. “I turned in my first app!”  I began to feel like a preschooler who just learned to tie her shoes. “Oh cool,” he replied, “I’m trying to submit all of mine this weekend.”  The room was silent again, and the brief feeling of triumph quickly wore off.  I realized that submitting all four graduate applications was an atrocity to feel guilty about.  My laptop felt sleek and metallic like a murder weapon.  I slid it quickly into my backpack, as if trying to destroy evidence.  Scurrying out of the library, in both triumph and fear, I let a hearty flute practice session cloud my anxiety for a few hours.

I’m thoroughly convinced that graduate school applications are more complex than the actual coursework I’ll be doing in a few months.  It’s easy to recount all of the weekends in November that I forewent my social life, so that I could work on something related to the apps.  Karaoke night at the local bar with all of my crew was put on hold for a few weeks. There was the aforementioned problem of wearing sweat-things so that I could sleep longer in the morning, after a long night of writing or editing documents.  I would even wake up in the middle of the night, and think about the formatting of a section on my resume.

The deadline of December 1st approached and left. I have reflected upon the application process, and realize that this was one of the best activities for building my professional skills. At the end of the day, I can feel very proud of the having completed such complex applications.  I have a sparkling resume, an attention-grabbing writing sample, and a keener sense of organizational skills than ever before. I learned how to use iMovie for my prescreening audition DVD’s.   The application process is rather Darwinistic in nature. It is as if Admissions committees sit around and conspire on how to make the most complex application possible.  Considering I can’t even find matching socks on a regular basis, I guess I’m doing pretty well for myself right now.

Now that my apps are in, and auditions are scheduled, I wait.  Completing applications was a steadfast reminder that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.  Although I sound like a tacky motivational poster found in a middle school health classroom, it is true.  Many times, the only way I have improved myself is through physical or mental discomfort. Now, if only I could remember that previous sentence during every difficult activity in my life.

Climbing Down from the Ivory Tower

Posted by: jdunnavant on: February 3, 2014

I haven’t posted here at Music Collective for quite a while, because I’ve been trying to decide how best to write this post. I’ve wanted to write about some recent changes to my professional life, partly because, for once, they are choices rather than reactions to unfortunate circumstances. And I’m hoping, if you’re still reading after attempting to understand that last bit, that you’ll find this post uplifting.

Ten years ago this May, I graduated from the University of Maryland with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Initially, I was someone with many interests. I was singing in choirs at age 4, playing the piano at 6, and finally the flute at age 12. I composed and arranged music, I loved to improvise, and I became a passionate performer of both recorder and Baroque flute. By the time I got that DMA in 2004, I had whittled all those interests down to one (flute) and was determined either to win a full-time orchestra job or a university position.

Letting go of half of that dream was easy. I discovered, after holding down two part-time orchestra jobs and subbing with a great symphony, that I find that work to be boring. B.O.R.I.N.G. Seriously. As in “Thank you, maestro, for inviting us to this violin sectional!” I enjoyed the performing but hated the endless rehearsals, hated not having artistic control over the product, etc. Realizing that, I quit taking auditions and focused solely on an academic job search.

In my first position, I discovered, as do many of us, that only rarely does a university job involve teaching only your instrument, and this is how my interest in other areas of music began to come back into my life. In between university gigs, I did what I always do: I went home to Nashville, took gigs, and taught children flute and piano lessons. Five years ago, I came home and added an adjunct classroom teaching position to the lessons and gigs, and I settled in.

This summer, I found myself dealing with financial stress, job stress, all kinds of stress. I really enjoyed all of my work, but something had to give. I was pulled in so many different directions that I felt was not doing anything well. I found myself longing to let the university job go. Now, understand this before you read even one word further—I was an adjunct teaching gen ed courses at a university where adjuncts are treated well, in a department where adjuncts are treated very, very well—and I have taught at a wide enough variety of institutions to know the difference. However, there is something inherently abusive in the use of adjunct faculty, and no matter how much I loved my colleagues, I couldn’t ignore that forever.

On the other hand, I have a real affinity for working with children, and my flute students were and are successful in the ways that we measure those things for pre-college kids. What held me back from making this change for a long time was an assumption that I couldn’t make ends meet as an independent music teacher. When I actually sat down to do the math, I realized that ten additional private students would cover the income I was making as an adjunct professor. I could replace the income of (counting outside hours of grading and prep) what amounted to a thirty-hour –per-week job with five hours of private teaching, for which there is only rarely more outside work than remembering to pack a certain new book or email a parent.

Long story short, I resigned. I, who still believes ardently in my doctorate and the power it holds, who has traveled across the country more than once to gain experience as a sabbatical replacement or one-year professor, sure that it would all come right in the end—I quit.

It was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

Quitting was not easy, not one bit. We graduates of good music schools with multiple degrees are not supposed to walk away from the hunt, and I have found my friends and acquaintances to have a mixture of responses to my news, ranging from happiness to envy to pity from those who think I’m just giving up. That last crew really does not get it!

I didn’t feel like a flutist anymore, spending my time in the classroom, grading things from the classroom, preparing to go back into the classroom. Now I rarely leave the house without a flute. I’m also teaching piano again, and recorder and Baroque flute. I’m performing on all four instruments, and when I come home at night and set down my stuffed flute bag, I am done. I knit. I see friends, watch TV, create recipes. I write fiction, which is another passion I’ve had for years but only rarely indulged. I no longer feel like my entire life is on hold, waiting for a tenure track flute job that may or may not ever appear. I’m making more money—a modest amount more right now, but there’s room for growth—and I find that my stress level is manageable. I also feel empowered with a higher level of self-respect, because even in places where adjuncts are well-treated, there is always that knowledge that we are second-class citizens. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

These days, I call myself a small business owner. It’s what I am. I manage my schedule, my finances, my clients and my mission on a daily basis. I am the sort of person who thrives on that work, along with the joy I get from teaching music and from helping the children and teenagers who populate my studio (along with a few heartily fun adult students). I must admit that I am living a much more balanced, happy and fulfilled life, although at only seven months in, it might be a bit too early to tell.

Here’s the point of this long story: if you are getting your degrees but not sure what exactly you’ll do with them, I encourage you to think outside the ivory tower, to think off the symphony stage. If you’ve finished school but are struggling to find your way into meaningful work, take heart. There are more paths available to us than only those two major roads through the musical landscape. Don’t be so bound by tradition that you cannot hear your own heart. Things are changing in our professional world, and we all must be more resourceful and more creative than ever before, if we are to make careers in music.

Deserted Copyright

Posted by: Paula Brusky on: January 30, 2014

Recently I took a trip to Eleuthera, Bahamas.  If you’re looking to be utterly alone on a pink sand beach with turquoise water, this is the place!  Isolation and beauty are two things Eleuthera has a LOT of.  But it also has a lot of broken “abandoned” properties.  On every drive around the island I’d see multiple 1/2 constructed buildings sitting, unused.  I asked a local why this was: Did the hurricanes really do that much damage to the area that people didn’t rebuild?  Did the island have an economic down turn and people run out of money so stopped building?  Why was so much of the island in a 1/2 completed or ruined state?  The answer: Bahamas doesn’t have any property tax therefore there is no incentive to sell land or do anything with it.  If you start to build and run out of money, you just stop and wait until you have money to continue.  If your property is damaged in a hurricane, you just leave it.  There is no incentive to sell or improve property since holding on to it doesn’t cost anything.  I thought this was a crazy idea and surely it couldn’t be that simple.  But then I asked my friend Al who owns property there. He said he tried to buy two property in ruins by his home.  He had plans to tear them down so there wouldn’t be a safety risk for his grandkids visiting.  His realtor tried to track down the owners and came back with: “One of the people who did own one of them thinks he sold it to a South African but can’t remember who or when.  The other property has now owner on record.”  Wow.  So much land, sitting, rotting, not being used, for no real reason.  What a sad waste of a precious commodity!

Seeing all these ruins made me think of how our current copyright system creates the same framework.  Right now we have a copyright registry that lists works that are supposedly copyrighted.  Many of the authors have died since copyright in the USA last 70 years AFTER the death of the author.  Many of the people who own these copyrights now are not actively involved in making use of them or don’t have the means/skills/knowledge to do so.  Many of the works under copyright protection do not have an advocate who is actively trying to get the works played/performed/used to profit off of them.  Instead, the copyright work is just sitting as an abandoned building, rotting, a sad waste of a creative commodity.  No one can use many of the copyrighted works because the owners may not know they own it or don’t care.  The result is a lot of possible awesome song real-estate sitting in ruins.  HOW SAD!

What if we changed how copyright functioned so that no work was left to rot and no author was cheated from their profit?  What if a national decree went out to create a fully functional copyright registry.  Let’s give all copyright holders 6 months to re-register their works, but this time they are required to submit current email contact information so if someone wants to use their work, they actually know who to contact.  Owners of copyright would be required to update this material every X number of years (let’s say 20…though in this data rich time period I think it should be much shorter…) to keep their copyrights current.  Owners could have an agent look after their works or manage the listing personally.  This new registry would provide a clearer revenue opportunity for copyright holders because people could actually know where solicit a license for every work under copyright protection.  What is most important is that the little guy who just wants to do something creative could now actually legally obtain a license from the owner with some degree of simplicity.

If I was going to go crazy I’d also like to see a clause in a new copyright law that says anyone looking to obtain a license can assume their terms have been granted if the copyright owner doesn’t respond within one month…but I can hear the outrage at such an idea.  But seriously, doesn’t the public (who is equally important under copyright clause) have a right to actually know if there quest for a license went through and if it was rejected, why so they can learn and improve for future creative endeavors?  Isn’t silence from a copyright owner another sign that “they don’t care” about the work they are protecting?  Instead if someone doesn’t respond, you can use the work and send the check with the details you originally asked so a non-reply is a “ok, that’s fine” rather then a “did you get it? Or are you just rude?”  And again, the copyright owner gets MONEY for the use of their song and the song gets to be used in a new creative way.  We could always set guide-lines and forms to make this process easier, since everyone loves filling out easy to use government forms.  HA!

Then to get rid of the ruins that include so many works which are not actively being used to create income, but are still not in the public domain, all works that are not re-registered after 6 months or if the owner fails to update the register at the appropriate times during the life of the copyright, go into the public domain.  No one has claimed these works so the public should have access to them.  This would create an amazing influx of creative energy in this country, where our public domain is frozen for a few more years, stifling creativity and completely laughing at the original intent of copyright law!  In this copyright scenario, only works with active owners would remain under copyright.  Works that have no owners would then get the benefit of public domain love and exploration.  US copyright is creating a landscape of ruins by not addressing works that do not have currently active owners.  We need a useful registry and terms to copyright that keep only current works with active owners under protection.

Music for the Soul

Posted by: Robin Fay Massie-Pighee on: January 26, 2014

At Musicians of Mercy (MOM), we focus on making music for the heart.  This pun was certainly intended last week as we performed to raise funds and awareness for American Heart Association (AHA).  In October 2013, we lost one of our friends and most loyal supporters to heart disease.  Carlos Coleman, beloved by so many, was an aspiring chef.  In the middle of one night, he suffered a massive fatal heart attack at the age of thirty-four years-young.  His death was so sudden.  It was just as much a wake-up call as it was a call to action.  Among those most deeply affected is Rachel Winder, his surviving girlfriend.  As a frequent MOM artist, it seemed most natural that our next concert would honor her by celebrating his memory.

On January 10, 2014 — with the threat of freezing rain and plummeting temperatures — over fifty volunteer musicians and I gathered in the sanctuary of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD.  With performances by violinist Odin Rathnam and the MOM Orchestra in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, original music by Baltimore-based composer/pianist Dr. Judah Adashi, and new music by gospel vocalist Macheest’e Malloy & Friends, it was truly a celebration of life.

Ironically, one of the most poignant moments took place just after intermission.  As one of our guest speakers shared her personal heart disease survival story, I glided to the back of the sanctuary to greet guests.  There, I found Rachel Winder, huddled in a corner, on the verge of tears.

“Robin, the music was really powerful today… it was really beautiful,” she said.  At that moment, I had no words.  I could only take her in my arms and hold her.


In this fast-paced world of smart phones and insta-everything, I am ever-amazed by the power of human connection.  Making music isn’t about the art of sonic perfection.  It’s simply about cutting through the flesh, breaking down the barriers which separate us, and uplifting the human spirit.  As the saying goes, music prevails where words fail.  This is why I will continue to fight for my art.  Music is love.

Standing Still

Posted by: Robin Fay Massie-Pighee on: December 31, 2013

The holidays are the most glorious time of year for the professional musician!  They are also the most exhausting time of the year for many of us.  With all the driving, planning, learning overdone arrangements of holiday music (with excessive numbers of sharps and flats in the key signature), cramming in the shopping, concertizing, and just being an average human being, THIS sista is tired! 

Last week, I played my last Messiah until next year.  I witnessed The Nutcracker through the eyes of my seven-year-old daughter, not from the orchestra pit, but from the seat beside her!  The wonder in her eyes had my eyes filled mine with tears!  I had the pleasure of church hopping with my viola, performing with their respective music ministries.  Christmas Eve mass marked my final gig of the year.

Finally, the rush to wrap and unwrap gifts has ended.  My extended Jamaican family gathered around the meal table for another joyous holiday dinner.  Days later, I am still writing Christmas cards!  (Lord, have mercy!)

Now on the brink of 2014, I find that I am completely content.  I am still.  There is no pomp; no circumstance; no fanfare; not even any music.  There is neither going out nor coming in.  I only hear my Lil Bear’s voice as she sings and converses with her dollies.  I declined several invitations for New Year’s Eve gigs.  While I could have used the extra income, I am not completely broke; thus, success!  Sometimes, you just have to turn everything off and focus on family. 

I finally have a moment to catch up… with myself.  So, before you get to writing those New Year resolutions, before you plan your gigs for the coming year, before you begin to write “2014″ on paper, make sure you take a moment to be thankful for where you are today.


Paula Brusky - Bassoonist, injury prevention expert, professor, founding director of BCMCC.
Alexis Del Palazzo - Flutist, contemporary music enthusiast, musician wellness expert.
Jessica Dunnavant - Flutist, professor, early music enthusiast.
Rachel Hacker - Flutist, undergraduate music major
Diane Haslam - Singer, professor, writer.
Robin Massie-Pighee - Violist, teacher, executive director of Musicians of Mercy
Bart Walters - Jazz and classical saxophonist, popular music expert, former Army musician.
Tammy Evans Yonce - Flutist, professor, chamber and orchestral musician, contemporary music fan.