When Anne and Will Schmid were awarded the 2015 FARM Lifetime Achievement Award, Anne prepared a nice speech. Then she decided not to read it. But she was kind enough to share it with her FARM community. Here it is:
We both thank you for this honor. Playing and singing music has always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of our 48 years of marriage, and we love to hang out with folks like you who share our passion.
Many years ago, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion at FARM, and the #1 area of interest to the participants there was How To Get Hired. Since founding the Stringalong Weekends back in 1982, I’ve hired between 15 – 40 folk musicians a year for thirty years. They have taught me a lot. So Will and I thought I might say a few words about Hiring from the point of view of an educational folk music and dance retreat.
As I looked back at my hiring — and re-hiring — I kept coming back to a single theme – the ability of an applicant to get out of his/her own skin. To step out of their shoes and into those of our Stringalong participants, our students and our audiences. Let me give you a few ways this played out.
MAKE IT PERSONAL: I often got resumes that were blanketed out to many venues at the same time. They sometimes started with “Dear Sir” and they inquired whether the artist could “perform at [my] festival.” The Stringalongs, however, were basically an educational retreat and though the staff always performed there, the emphasis was on teaching classes. Our participants all came with instruments, hungry to learn.
So I appreciated folks who did a little homework about US before applying. Folks who asked questions, who understood our mission, who read our whole web site. It’s helpful to everybody if you first ask around about the climate of the place, learn a few names. See what you can learn about their challenges, and ways to help them further their own mission. Get into their shoes.
SPEAKING OF TEACHING, teaching, to me, is giving the gift YOU already have to other people. Enabling them to start having some of the fun YOU have with music. Teaching can make you more hirable. Teaching ability was one reason I kept hiring Joel Mabus over and over again. In addition to his consummate performances, with commentary that was as entertaining and as carefully crafted as his music, Joel could teach flatpick guitar, fingerstyle guitar, banjo, songwriting and a panoply of a million other things. If I needed a class on The Fashion Sense of a Shroud-Eating Vampire, Joel could teach it.
Remember Leonard Bernstein? West Side Story? Conductor of the NY Philharmonic Orchestra? Years ago he took what used to be a very formal (almost stuffy?) performance-only atmosphere, and began to teach his audience what the music was all about. Now orchestra conductors all over the world are doing this. Teaching is an important way to give.
A word about Group Teaching: Group teaching is a whole different animal than teaching one on one. Too many teachers don’t take the time to learn the carefully structured sequences that underlie good group teaching. When I was supervising student teachers at the U of KS, I asked my group of interns to write down the steps for teaching a child to tie his shoe. Some could think of only 3 or 4 steps, and they were all in the wrong order. One gal listed 23 steps in perfect sequence. You can learn a lot from using a well-regarded book to see how teaching an instrument is constructed. You’ll want to adapt it to your own needs of course, but often a well-known book shows how to sequence the steps in the right order. Too many times I’ve seen a new teacher teach beginners two chords and then offer them a tune to practice those chords — with 3 or 4 extra unknown chords in it. So consider the importance of building and honing your teaching skills.
SINGERS, KEEP UP YOUR CHOPS: Consider taking a couple of voice lessons from a classically-trained teacher. There are tricks for breathing that can help you avoid singing sharp or flat, and ways of phrasing words that can help your lyrics be more easily understood. You worked hard on those words; you want them to be heard.
FIND WAYS TO BE CRITIQUED: Being evaluated is scary sometimes, but it’s a form of getting out of yourself and finding out what your students and your audiences want and need from your music. Identifying and conquering your weak spots is just as important as adding cool new skills. People don’t like to be critical of you, especially when talking directly to you. So sometimes finding a way to make their feedback anonymous can make people feel safer to tell you things it would really be helpful for you to know. So seek out ways to get evaluations.
MY EAR CRAVES VARIETY. Broaden your “musical intake” by listening to a wide variety of music. You never know — Tuva throat singers? Chinese erhu? … might have something to teach you. Mix up your listening. If you’re a songwriter, keep variety in mind in your writing: look at your lyrics and see if there might be a sameness in the words you prefer. Look for melodic phrases you may tend to use a little too often. Sometimes adding songs to your program that were written by someone else can make your own songs sound more unique when you come back to them.
WHEN YOU DO GET HIRED, BE INCLUSIVE. FIND WAYS TO HONOR OTHERS. Li’l Rev (now a harmonica and ukulele author and full-time performing musician) first came to the Stringalong Weekends as a participant. He began to help out and pitch in every way he could. He built such a strong sense of community that he made everyone around him feel included, regardless of their abilities. When he was later on the Stringalong staff, he always invited other performers to join him on stage during his preciously short performance time. He remembered to announce other artists’ concerts and publicly recognize his students’ accomplishments. He was constantly getting out of his own skin and tuning in to the needs of others.
WELL, IN CONCLUSION, ADVICE IS EASY TO GIVE. I never played an instrument or sang much as a youngster, but I was lucky enough to “marry” music. When I first met Will, he would throw his head back and sing with such a sense of joy and abandon around our house that if I didn’t join in, I felt left out of the fun. He never criticized my then inexperienced voice, and he bought me an instrument that was perfect for a beginner. I consider music the loveliest gift anyone has ever given me. So without further ado, let me ask my favorite Music Man to lead you in some singing.