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  • Writer's pictureEvan Clifton

Musician's Priority List: 1) Communication. The End.

Hi friends,

As you hopefully gathered from the topic of the first post on this blog, I’ve been undergoing a MASSIVE musical transformation over the past two years as a result of recovering from Focal Dystonia and everything that came along with that. One area of my musical life that is undergoing the most transformation is that I am starting to look at the musical world as a whole and what decisions I can make that will positively impact it. The “future of classical music” is constantly talked about nowadays with the difficulties that many symphony orchestras are facing, but I have a different take on it.

As musicians of any kind, our job is to communicate through music in a way that is understood by our audience. I’ll say part of that sentence again… in a way that is understood by our audience. If our audience doesn’t understand what we’re doing, then it doesn’t really mean much. Back in September I wrote a post on my Facebook page about this after observing a masterclass with the great Jeremy Wilson. Here is that post:

Hi friends, long post incoming but I’d be honored if you took the time to read. It’s something that’s been on my mind for some time and I haven’t known how to articulate it until hearing Jeremy Wilson’s masterclass at WMU this past Tuesday.

As musicians and artists our job, our responsibility, is to communicate. It is an absolute requirement, otherwise, why are we manipulating inanimate instruments? At that point, it is not music or art, it’s simply execution of a task just like administrative work or working on an assembly line (which are both incredibly valuable contributions to society, just to be clear). In order to communicate anything clearly and effectively to an audience, it takes incredible vulnerability from us. We have to “go there” emotionally within ourselves if we hope to share that with others. And yes, it is risky and it is scary, but what comes as a result is the true function of an artist, communication. It can be particularly risky and scary when we ourselves have faced significant failure or rejection, a common human response to that is to close off from vulnerability, I can personally attest to that as of late… But as much of the music produced nowadays is becoming more manipulated and artificial, this is particularly vital right now in ALL genres.

When it comes to formally trained musicians, such as the classical music world where I spend most of my time, this falls on educators to both lead by example as well as actively cultivate this behavior in their students. Having spent many years in music school, this is something that is so rarely even discussed let alone put into practice. Humans respond to real, authentic music that communicates and the world is in desperate need of communication. And yes, music may seem like a small way to try to make this come about, but having experienced it first hand last night at Jeremy’s recital, it works.

If you’ve read this far, many thanks. I don’t consider myself to be particularly well spoken but I felt this needed to be said. Have a happy Thursday, y’all! And remember, listen to some music today. After all, it’s good for ya.

THIS is the real affliction that is plaguing many classical musicians in recent years; lack of true and authentic communication. Everybody wants to be the best, most proficient, player on their instrument, but what are you really accomplishing by doing that? To move audience members, make them think about what they’re hearing, challenge their preconceived ideas about classical music, and change their hearts as human beings, we simply must put the majority of our focus on communicating through the music. This takes honesty with ourselves and total vulnerability to others and it can be terrifying, especially following rejection or failure, but if we don’t “go there” our art will not have the effect that it needs to.

Another part of this communication issue is simply playing music that audience members can relate to. Not everybody easily understands music written by dead German men (gross over-generalization…) so we, as musicians, need to choose to program music not only that we can communicate through, but can be understood by the audience. This is why I have been choosing to program music that has been written fairly recently by composers who are still alive. Not only does this support them and further the creative process, but they are alive right now. They understand society right now and what people respond to. Composers who were writing in 1850 simply lived in a very different world than we do and audiences responded differently. In recent months I have begun focusing on commissioning music from great composers like Nicole Piunno ( and Tyler S. Grant ( with the hopes of doing my small part to remedy this issue.

Of course, focus on communication is required of all music, but classical musicians just seem to be a bit behind the ball… at least in large part. One cellist that is constantly on the forefront of this (and as a result is extremely successful) is Yo-Yo Ma. In recent years he’s been involved in many cross-genre projects that are seriously incredible. Enjoy this recording from NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series of a few tunes from the record “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” by Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan, Aoife O’Donovan, and Yo-Yo Ma.

MUSIC. It’s good for ya.

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