Being a creative requires long periods of isolation. To create something we need to sit down, focus, listen and make it happen. This is perhaps one of the more challenging parts of the job, but eventually we get used to it. Sometimes we can become so comfortable, we start losing touch with our community. I would argue that this is a major problem. In order to have a balanced and fulfilling life you need your community. It doesn’t have to be a large group of people, but you need to find your tribe. They give you love, feedback, support, accountability and joy. However friendships, just like your car, require maintenance. Finding your people, and then maintaining those relationships, is your responsibility. Finding friends when we were kids seemed easier, at least for memory. As adults we often find it the hardest thing to do. So: how do you find your people?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue as I’ve had the opportunity the last few weeks to reconnect with some wonderful groups of people in my life. Many composers have asked me how to connect, where to start looking, so I thought I would fill you in on my personal experience.
I went to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle for my undergraduate music degree. By the time I graduated (as I shared with you last week) I had temporarily quit music. I was going through some stuff and basically left the community altogether. I regret that decisions, but it was a result of exhaustion and grief. Thankfully I have loosely kept up with many of my school mates over the years (thank you FB) and especially recently there has been a new wave of connection, partially due to the passing of one of our own. Loss can often bring us together. There is something really inspiring for me to connect with people I studied with. Our musical journeys have been so varied in the 15 years (wow) since we graduated and there is so much we can learn from each other. Also many of us are now exploring other aspects of the music industry and there are opportunities for support, advise and opening doors for each other. Also, largely thanks to FB, I’ve been able to connect with friends from primary and high school, friends I grew up with. There is something so special about connecting with people that have known you a long, long time. I find immense value in those lifelong friendships.
When I decided that I composing for media was the career for me I started the hunt for my local composer community and found the Seattle Composers Alliance. It was so great to immediately connect with a bunch of other composers. Fairly quickly I joined the volunteer board and was voted in as Vice President. Two things I want to point out here: I found them and then I volunteered my time to help out. Connecting with people requires work, time, effort on your behalf. It was through the SCA that I met my now dear friend, fellow composer Eric Nielsen. He was friends with this famous composer Ron Jones who had a Ravel Study group in LA. So the next time I was in LA I made a priority to check that out.
I first started attending the Ravel Group – now the ASA – back in 2010. I loved the intent of the group. Ron was all too familiar with the isolation of the gig an wanted to create a situation where composers could study scores together and then “eat spaghettios” – meaning eat some food and….you know….talk to each other. I learned so much about orchestrating and started to get to know my LA community, even before I had moved. Eric and I also invited Ron to come up to Seattle to have a weekend with SCA composers and present his “Compose Yourself” seminar. Through that time Ron became a dear friend and a wonderful example of how you can be part of the solution and bring fellow composers together. Ron has always been generous with his vast compositional and orchestrational knowledge, and his friendship. Never has he let his huge credits – Ducktales, Star Trek Next Gen, Family Guy – be a reason to treat other composers as less than.
The ASA is still going today. One of my fellow Seattle composer transplant friends Del Engen has been instrumental in the ongoing development of this group, especially after Ron retired to the NW, and now the organization is headed by David Das, with other great board members like Reuven Herman, Bonnie Janofsky and Carrin Tanaka. They all donate their time to make this be a great community hang for composers. This was one of my first LA families, and while I do not get back there enough (something I hope to change) I am so grateful for how they helped me and connected me to an amazing community.
After meeting my mentor, composer Alex Shapiro, I joined ASCAP as my PRO. I have a terrible memory but I am sure she either told me about i Create Music or at the very least encouraged me to attend. This is something else I did two years before making the jump to moving to LA. I went to this conference knowing No One. Not a soul. But I took it upon myself to meeting as many people as possible and it was there that I connected with composers Joseph Carrillo and Nikhil Koparkar who are still my best friends and now an integral part of Joy Music House. This conference still happens annually. If you are in LA I implore you to at the very least attend the free member meeting. I usually try and organize a hang right after that which any composer can attend, regardless of PRO. I learn so much every time I go to this amazing weekend event, but the most valuable aspect I have experienced is the people. Music creators from all over the world come to share, to learn and to connect. No better place to find your people. This year it is happening from May 2-4. I’ll keep you posted on the composer hang.
I moved to LA and immediately got my SCL membership. For the first year I was here I went to every SCL event I could get to. All the screenings and the panels. I remember Miriam Cutler saying to me “you’re everywhere!” as she saw me at basically every event she attended. I was new to this community, I needed work, I needed connections, so I went to everything. That’s the deal. I am still getting work from relationships I made from that time. Not to mention the amazing friends I made – Dara Taylor I am looking at you – and all the things I learned. The SCL is an incredible resource. You can volunteer with them, you can run for the board and be an active part of the making the LA composer community better. You can see a whole bunch of amazing new release movies, often on studio lots, as part of your membership!
Thanks again to Alex Shapiro, once I was in LA I connected with composers Miriam Cutler, Penka Kouneva and Laura Karpman. Through meeting these amazing women I became involved with the AWFC just as it was being born. My first involvement was at the Grand Performances concert in downtown LA. Laura asked me to help out Penka who was doing the monster job of music librarian in addition to being a featured composer in the concert. I ended up wearing many hats for that performance, which was quite the production. As a result of the relationships developed through that experience they asked me to come on board as Executive Director. Now I am co-Vice President with my dear friend and mentor Sharon Farber. Lolita Ritmanis was the president for much of my time as ED and I am eternally grateful for her mentorship and friendship during that time. Now I get to work alongside our new wonderful president Starr Parodi! I have volunteered a great part of my time into the AWFC. It is a new and growing organization amplifying the work of women composers everywhere. It is “for” not “of”, so our board, leadership and membership is made up of women and men as we all need to be part of the solution for inclusivity in our music, film and video game communities. The relationships I have developed through this organization – both personal and working – have been such a blessing, and have elevated my career, for sure. But it has been a lot of work. You don’t get the good stuff without the hard stuff, my friends.
There are so many other great composer organizations that I am connecting with as a result of everything I have mentioned above. The Composers Diversity Collective, founded by Michael Abels, started up last year. Just in the last few weeks I asked to talk to the Women’s Composers Forum in the UK and the Women’s Film Initiative in Berklee. Great groups are popping up everywhere and are founded by individuals who are dedicated to being part of the solution in their community, filling an obvious gap. You could be that someone. Is there groups like this where you are at? If not, it is up to you to create it.
When I had no credits, no music synced to picture, I started going to these film community meet ups in Seattle, run by the Seattle Office of Film and Music. I met my first collaborators there, filmmakers I am still working with now! When I moved to LA I decided to create the same thing down here. Composer Del Engen and I created the Film, Music and Media Happy Hour. This meet up is still happening today. Over the years different people in the community have taken on the role of keeping it going. Through that meet up I met some wonderful people who are still friends today.
I believe it was at that Happy Hour, or maybe a combination of that space and the ASA, where I met Phil Popham and Sarah May Robinson, and found out about the Helix Collective. At the time they were about to do their LA Live Score Film Festival, only for the second time, and they asked me if I would like to be involved. Phil and Sarah, it turned out, were brilliant musicians, and had a collective of other also-brilliant musicians, and as an added bonus they lived really close to me (unheard of in LA). We immediately started collaborating. They played on my scores, I composed for LALSFF season two and we became best of friends. I am so grateful for our years of collaboration. This culminated in Pulling Back the Curtain which happened last night. Being given the opportunity to compose a chamber concert piece and have it performed by such stellar musicians is beyond wonderful. I have met many great composers, musicians and filmmakers through Helix Collective shows. They are not just an ensemble, they are creators of community, and they actively amplify all the creatives they bring into their space. It is a truly beautiful thing. They also work incredibly hard to make all this happen; they take risks, they put themselves out there. Applications are now available for this year’s LALSF. Composers should apply!
The point of all this is…..
Last night at the concert so many people I love from the LA creative community came out and supported us. I felt like I was in a room full of family. The piece I wrote was very personal to me, about the wild and wonderful ride of last year, and it was brilliant to share it with people who literally supported me through that journey. But the only reason I know all those people is because I have dedicated a significant portion of my time to being an active part of my community.
I know what some of you are thinking. You think it is easy for me. I am clearly an extrovert. Connecting with people is something that comes naturally to me. And that is partially true. I do love people. I often enjoy connecting with people. But I promise you: frequently I am tired. I don’t feel like I have the energy to go out and connect or do the work required of me as leadership in various organizations. I just don’t want to! I just want to focus on me!! I want to just get my composing done. Or snuggle in bed and watch television. The older I get the more I turned into an introvert. (I am essentially turning into my older siblings – not necessarily a bad thing!).
It is your responsibility to find your community and then maintain those connections. Do the work. Last night I met a number of people who told me they were new to the community. They wanted to connect. I asked them what they were doing and they told me about attending the ASA or SCL or AWFC events. They also would say out loud to me: “I feel isolated. I want to connect. Please tell me how I can be involved in what you are doing.” I’ve already received a follow up email today (looking at you, Salil). That’s how you do it, people! You have to speak up. You have to ask for help. You have to make it clear: “I want to be involved. I’m here. This is what I do. If I can be of service, please contact me.” When I hear that, I want to help, and I think the universe does the same thing. It is like that moment in Indiana Jones where he has to step out into space onto the unseen path, and suddenly it appears. Just trust that when you put yourself out there, something good will come of it. Maybe not what you are expecting, but hopefully what you are needing.