Are you a soloist, or a collaborator?
I used to think of myself primarily as the former. After all, I spend most of my working hours alone, usually either writing, immersed in email, creating ketubah proofs, or tackling some technical task on the computer.
I’ve been a solopreneur since 1996, and a former boyfriend once told me “You could never work with other people. You’re too much of a control freak.”
Hmmm… Was he right, I wondered?
Except for the precious, rare occasions when I’m at at a workshop or retreat, I make my artwork all alone, too — just me and my pens, paper, paint, and ink.
Music is one area that I’ve tended to work more with others — as a jazz singer, singing a capella is fine once in awhile, but I really need instrumentalists to do what I do.
Even in my music life, though, I’ve made a concerted effort to be able to fly solo. After all, it’s easier to get gigs when you don’t always have to find other people to play with (and pay!) The ability to back myself on my ukulele and perform solo has made me a lot more flexible, not to mention more confident.
(See me below, confidently pumping my uke against the Robot of Mediocrity at the World Domination Summit on July 5.)
So yeah, I think I identify more as a soloist than a collaborator.
But I’ve always wanted to be a collaborator.
I liked the idea of collaborating with others, even if I feared that maybe that ex-boyfriend was right…
And at the World Domination Summit, while watching the premiere public screening of Indie Kindred, a new film by writer/filmmaker, Jen Lee, I yearned and longed and oh-so-badly wanted to be a collaborator, instead of a soloist….
The talented artists and inspiring collaborations portrayed in the film triggered my usual “4-on-the-Enneagram” sense of envy:
“You should have cool collaborators like those women!” said my Everyone Else Is Better Than You gremlin.
“You never collaborate,” it went on, followed (not surprisingly) by, “Everyone else is better than you are…”
But rather than take that gremlin’s words at face value, I put into practice some of the gremlin-whispering tricks I taught just the other week in Module 2 of Your Big, Bold, Creative Life Academy, in a session I call Gremlin Training Lab.
Arguing with gremlins doesn’t work, you see, but getting curious with them often does.
“Wait a minute,” I said to that gremlin. “Yes, the women in the film have some awesome and amazing collaborations. But is it really true that I never collaborate? Hmmm… In fact, when I think about it, I’ve had some pretty awesome and amazing collaborations myself.”
So I started to list some of them:
- Playing Around Istanbul — the week-long creativity workshop/creative immersion adventure vacation I co-taught last October with my partner Poobah of Play, Kelly Hevel.
- ArtEmpowers.Me — the online course and community to help artists learn to bust the starving artists mindset, co-created with my partner, Cory Huff.
- My first CD, Online Dating Blues, the song arrangements on which were a true collaboration between me and my amazingly talented band members (I can’t remember who came up with which ideas).
- Ahem – Argentine Tango, anyone?!! (And salsa, and ballroom, and… And yes, that’s me in the photo, taken by Rosaura Sandoval at Jazz Camp West.)
And, of course…
- Every single time I play with a band
Which made me think about my recent open mic performance at Jazz Camp West the last week of June, where I performed a true collaboration of my original song, The Last Five Pounds.
Interestingly, just two nights before that open mic performance, the very night before driving into the redwoods to get to camp, I had the opportunity to perform my song on local television, solo.
And since there was no audience (except for three cameramen, the director, the producer, my boyfriend, and a few other performers waiting to go in front of the camera themselves, it was even more solo than usual.
Check it out:
The next morning MB helped me load up the car for camp, and into the redwoods I drove. And less than eight hours later I was deep in collaborative flow, while waiting in line to audition for the vocal intensive.
With about 80-100 singers in attendance, most of whom do choose to audition, that’s a lot of singers to go through, and it takes hours. Even with each of us only singing sixteen bars.
(But it’s worth the wait, and the nerves.
Because the vocal intensive is an opportunity to study in a small group with a special guest instructor for three and a half hours every day. This year, the vocal intensive instructor was Patti Cathcart, of the guitar/voice duo, Tuck and Patti.
That was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.
The auditions are always nerve-wracking, and with only ten spots in the vocal intensive, and at least three times that many really good singers in camp, it’s always a crap shoot whether you get in or not. I haven’t always bothered to audition, either — sometimes there are other classes during those three morning periods that I don’t want to miss (and let me tell you, that makes the first day at camp a lot less stressful!)
But this year, despite some pretty fantastic-sounding offerings in those morning sessions, the chance to study with Patti for a week sounded beyond fantastic, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring.)
I was just about the last person in the audition line, and in for a long wait when I finally staked my place. But hey, we’re all at Jazz Camp! Everyone is happy to be there, despite our audition nerves, and we’re feeling chatty. Soon I was deep in conversation with a woman named Cynthia.
We talked about our mutual love of harmonizing, one thing led to another, and pretty soon I was playing her The Last Five Pounds on my trusty ukulele, and she was oohing and aahing in harmony.
That was it. I’d debated about whether to put a band together for my performance, but finding rehearsal time at camp is a lot like finding a needle in a haystack, and going solo meant a lot less stress.
Now, though, it was clear that my song just had to be done with background vocals!
And Cynthia and I decided together that two backup singers would work so much better than just one. So I asked my friend Angie Doctor (of The Bobs), a pro if ever I knew one, if she’d like to join us. She jumped in without hesitation.
The two of them worked out all their harmonies together, a trio of mouth-trumpet solos happened by accident — and stuck — and small details (like the hands in prayer during the out-of-time section) emerged organically as we played and rehearsed.
Twenty-four hours later, with maybe a half hour of total rehearsal time with all three of us in attendance, we stepped on stage. The video below is the result (gratitude to Andy Mogg, the camp videographer!):
Of course videos never fully communicate the experience of being there live, but I’m curious which of the two videos above you find more compelling.
I know which experience was richer for me (take a guess), but then again, having an enthusiastic audience colors everything.
I’ve also learned that what I feel onstage doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the audience’s experience. (This is a good thing for any performer to know — just because you think you sucked doesn’t mean anyone else did. Of course, just because you think you hit it out of the park doesn’t mean anyone else did, either… ;))
Am I giving up solo work? Hell no. But I am embracing and reveling in the collaborations so far in my life, excited about the ones brewing behind the scenes, and looking forward to seeking out more collaborative opportunities.
And if I inspire you to do the same, so much the better.
PS – Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!