That was the question I posed in last week’s post, which argued against the all-too-common practice of sticking a star-studded honor roll into a biography. Masterclasses are really no different than trial lessons, I asserted; they generally don’t have a lasting influence on your playing; and the mere selection to participate in a class is often a matter of luck and circumstance. At least, that’s how I saw it. But before I officially pressed the delete button on my own bio’s masterclass section, I invited my readers to offer their personal opinions on the issue, and was heartened to see some of my musician Facebook friends respond with enthusiasm. The general consensus seemed to be that, yes, if you just play in a short class for someone, you shouldn’t whip out your iPhone directly thereafterwards and add that person’s name to your website bio. However, there were some interesting opinions concerning where it might actually be appropriate to document such experiences.
One idea suggested was that masterclasses should be left out of your bio, but included in your C.V. Regardless of their brevity, masterclasses still represent important, and hopefully memorable, experiences-so if you accept the interpretation of a C.V. as a thorough compilation of significant musical experiences, it is certainly appropriate to give classes a mention. In fact, some applications for jobs or specialized programs even request such an inclusion in the C.V. Similarly, if you spend a longer time period working with an individual who isn’t your primary teacher, that experience merits a mention as well. This was another thought that was brought up. Working with a teacher at a summer festival-which often last well over a month-can significantly effect your playing, and so a mention is validated.
Another reader pointed out that masterclasses are not the only elements in bios that might not quite belong-what about those people who list all of the famous concert halls they’ve played in? Just because you got to play in Carnegie Hall with your youth orchestra doesn’t mean that you possess superior musicianship; it just means your youth orchestra booked a concert there. If you give a solo recital in Carnegie (or Weil, more likely) and the press is practically drooling over you at the end, then yes, you should include it (“The saliva visible on the blouse of the New York Times critic was yet another indication of Ms. Altocleff’s wildly successful debut.”). Otherwise, you should leave it out, no matter how cool it sounds.
Those of you who follow me regularly know that I am very wary when it comes to issues of self-promotion, which is why I was so interested to expound upon this particular topic and garner feedback. I guess it all boils down to that philosophical conundrum of performance: is it about the performer or the music? When we applaud after the performance is over, are we applauding the performer or the composer? Sometimes I feel the composer gets the short end of the stick, because, well, most of the time they are not present at the concert. It is the performers who capture our attention, but the composer who captures our imagination. Yet, how could we not commend the performers for so painstakingly realizing the vision of the composer? How could we not acknowledge the arduous effort they have exerted to make the music live and breathe, on the highest level possible?
No, a performance is surely about both: the creator and those giving new life to his creation. And if a bio is overly lengthy and contains too many irrelevant details (such as having played for Hotshot Teacher A once ten years ago, or having played in the Concertgebouw with the Plainville Pluckers who somehow managed to book a concert there), I think it can take away, somewhat, from the real reason everyone is there. That’s why I think a bio should just state the essentials: here is who I am; here is what I’ve done; here is who has influenced me. Now, let me influence you. (Besides, most of the time, they turn out the lights at concerts, so how can the audience read the bio anyways if it is too long? What if someone arrives just in the nick of time? Do you really want them to pull out a flashlight and spend the entire first movement perusing your novella?)
Well, in any case, I’ve made my decision: I am deleting the masterclass section from my bio. I will keep it on my resume, and gladly share the stories of the lessons I learned from the wonderful teachers I had the opportunity to play for in those situations. But for the basic, nuts-and-bolts picture of who I am and what I want to do with my music, I’m leaving it out.
And that’s my final verdict.