What does this contribute? Fret Fest 2016

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Fret Fest

This post is late. I had hoped to get this up last week but was finishing the last pieces of Fret Fest business. I was on solo dad duty as tiny baby’s mom was away—the latter was all consuming! Now, on to the post:

One of the things I think about with each experience I have in music (and sometimes life) is: “What’s the takeaway?”

What is the one thing (or two if I’m lucky) that can be learned from what just happened or is happening? This month I have two takeaways (bonus!), both of which are important.

1. I do not, no matter how much I’d like to say the contrary, have the self-control to buy a package of cookies at the grocery story without eating all of them within 12 hours.  Seriously, the whole box in an evening…along with a frozen pizza.  Paul Newman’s “Ginger Newman O’s” are my downfall each and every time. The takeaway? Ditch the frozen pizza.

2. Directing/Building a guitar festival (something I never planned to do in my career as a musician) has become some of the most rewarding, creative, challenging, and inspiring work I’ve ever done.

While the first takeaway is important and falls more in the “life” category, the second is the one I’d like to focus on.

This was the seventh year for Fret Fest at Peabody and the third year for me as the sole-director of the event. Creating and maintaining Fret Fest requires a tremendous amount of planning and teamwork with the staff at Peabody.  I feel incredibly fortunate to work with an amazing team and have learned, firsthand, how important it is to: 1. Ask for help/advice; 2. Be humble; 3. Listen; 4. Be patient; 5. Stay flexible; 6. Never give up; 7. Know that something(s) will be out of your control; 8. Say thank you to everyone (#8 is really, really, really important).

As I have continued to build this festival to reach new audiences, the biggest takeaway for me is actually a question: What does this contribute?

This was a question I had never brought to the festival until the past two seasons, and it’s had the biggest impact on my approach towards the day.  [And, in some ways, a large impact on my independent musical work and creative projects.] I love this question because it can be interpreted in many different ways and because it offers the opportunity to set yourself in the guest’s shoes.

What can I bring to this day that will be memorable and unique for everyone who attends?  What styles of music can we explore?  What workshops can we create that will inspire, challenge, and stretch the aspiring young guitarist or the individual that just wants to keep growing as a musician?  What would happen if we brought several styles of music together in a single concert?  Will there be cookies?

These are just a few of the questions that came up to the surface when I looked at Fret Fest from the point of contribution.  More importantly, it provided me with a bit of perspective when I found myself up to my knees in challenges.   For example, this year’s Fret Fest was happening on the same day as Baltimore’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Ok, you’re thinking…”so there’s gonna be a parade…big deal?”  Well, the starting point of that parade was Mt. Vernon Square (where Peabody is based).  We were the launching pad for all the fun. In addition, the parade, with it’s bagpipes and all, would be starting at 2pm, which was at the same time as our Guitar Ensemble Concert. Did I mention that the concert hall has enormous windows overlooking the park where the paraded participants were stationed???

This is where those 8 points I mentioned earlier came in handy.  I asked for help, listened, tried to stay flexible about options, was definitely humbled by the situation, realized that much of it was out of my control, and didn’t give up (though I had a few trying moments). When the final ensemble performed at the concert it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Afterwards, I said thank you to all the people who attended the performance and to the amazing people who soundproofed the concert hall!

The answers that you find when you stop and think about what you are contributing don’t have to be huge, mega-complicated things.  They can be small gestures, moments where you and others are able to take the time to answer a question, make sure a person feels included, or simply help someone with a chord they have been working on.  It can be that shared experience where you all watch a performance and react to elements of it as a group or as an individual.  And, yes, it can be making sure that there is a plate of cookies available when an event has finished.

But what does this have to do with me playing the guitar?  Precisely nothing and everything.   What is extraordinary about this day, for me, is that for a short time Peabody is filled with people, in all stages of life, who share the same passion for music and the guitar that I do and we’re all together in one place.  Does it mean a little less guitar playing for me in the short term? Yes. But that time away from the instrument is a small sacrifice to create a community built from a single question about what a person can contribute.

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