Wednesday, 24 June 2015


Since my last post on the Dresden Music Festival, I’ve taken two of the best professional trips of my life, done stretches of solo parenting, and somehow pulled off the biggest project I’ve ever done, though this was a personal thing, not professional.

And so I didn’t blog. No time! No mental space for it.

But here I am back. The two trips — both fulfilling, exhilarating, so satisfying both professionally and personally —

were to the Savvy Musician in Action entrepreneurship workshop, and to the DePauw School of Music.

At DePauw, I served on an advisory committee for the school’s new 21CM curriculum, designed to produce the classical musicians of the future. Though really it’s more than a curriculum. It’s a focus for everything the school does.

And at Savvy I was a “thought leader,” as they called me, for the most intense eduational experience I’ve ever been part of. And also the most fun, and the most useful for almost everyone concerned. And in many ways the most educational for me, even though I was a teacher there, not a student.

Savvy first

The idea at Savvy is to teach entrepreneurship, by immersion. Around 60 participants each pitch a project they’d like to do. The group votes on the projects, and the nine with the most votes become the Savvy curriculum. The group divides into teams, one for each project, and the team has to move toward making the project real. Design a website, define a market, identify competitors, do research, make a presentation to real business leaders.

savvy blogAll this happened in Columbia, SC, as an outgrowth of the entrepreneurship focus at the School of Music at the University of South Carolina.

And to show you how real it got: One group’s project was to bring music to people in prison. To do research — to conduct a kind of focus group — they visited a local prison, and talked with prisoners. Each of the nine groups worked night and day to make their projects as real as possible. With varied results, of course, but one of the key points here was that the process mattered more than the product. Yes, the finished presentation had to be as plausible and as detailed as possible. But the emphasis was on what we all learned.

And the way it all felt…so deeply human, so richly generous. I couldn’t count how many terrific people I met, or how many deep meetings of hearts and minds I had, in which I and others learned so many things.

One example. In the crazy, careening, but also strongly focused few days that all this lasted, there was also a chamber music competition, for groups that do more than simply play. Maybe they move around the concert space, speak, sing, show video, you name it. Four groups made the finals, performed twice, and took part in the workshop.

I wasn’t a judge for this, but I was asked to give feedback to the four groups. Which I did, along with the judges. And (this being the real world) not all of our feedback was positive.

So one morning at breakfast, I found myself sitting next to a violist who played in one of the groups. We hit it off very quickly, and — with eyes that went deep — she asked me what it had been like to give feedback.

Which led to a conversation about the whole experience — how I’d felt, how she and her colleagues had felt. I came away from that better than I’d been when I went into it. And, most miraculous and all, I felt that this woman and I now were equals. I might be older, I might have evaluated her work, I might be a teacher in the workshop while she was a student. But beneath all those ephemera, we were equals. A feeling I’ve rarely gotten anywhere else.

Intereactions like that happened constantly at Savvy, to many people. Praise to David Cutler, who teaches entrepreneurship at the school, and whose project this is. And, with no fuss, radiates happiness and possibility, helping to create a place where all can be equal. Praise also to Tayloe Harding, dean of the school, whose calm and lively authority helps create a zone of safety, and whose support of this multi-day wildness is crucial to having it exist at all, let alone succeed.

Next: wonderful things at DePauw.

Original Content: Reemerging

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