“My work today is perceived as being classic, but when I first started out, it was a break from the norm. Since then, I have continued to reinvent myself. I don’t change my style, but I allow it to evolve.” Giorgio Armani
The courage to be yourself, looking at things from your own perspective takes a certain strength of character. How many choral organizations do you know who follow the trend, but not well? Many of us are chided for not going along with what everyone else is doing, not being current or not being socially responsible. Even when we do much which IS current and socially responsible, those with nothing better to do call us out for what they believe we are not doing.
If everyone is doing music for chorus and gamelan, do you have to, even if you haven’t got a clue on how to make it work? Or the composer du jour; must you program their work, even if you don’t like it? We forget: we are able to be trend-setters ourselves and not simply follow the trend. It takes time, experience and a sense of confidence to follow your own path. We struggle and have doubts until we begin to understand it is okay to follow that path. If you are lucky, you are young when you gain this understanding but someone must have shown you the way.
I can still hear a particular conversation I had with my parents, long ago, in my head. I was fifteen and full of myself and, like fifteen year olds everywhere, thought I knew better than my old-fashioned parents. It was a conversation which started out about mini-skirts. It evolved to something much bigger and more life changing than I ever could have imagined.
I wanted to wear the mini-skirt I had received for Christmas from Grandma Grass. My parents did NOT want me to wear it. Grandma had not realized it would be that short when she bought it for me and was willing to take it back for me and exchange it. But I wanted to wear it and wouldn’t hear of her returning it. I cried and stamped my feet (note: that never worked but I was willing to try anything!) and whined. I finally busted out the argument all teenagers use, even to this day; everyone else does it. Meaning, “Everyone wears mini-skirts to school and I don’t see why I can’t.” For some reason, instead of the usual “if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?” argument, Dad shot back, “but you’re not everyone!” That made the difference and shocked some sense into me. He followed up with, “why do you want to be like everyone else?”
Be unique, even doing something ordinary, was the message I got from Dad that day. And we compromised about the mini-skirt. Instead of the knee socks or nylons I wanted to wear, we agreed I would wear tights that matched the skirt so no skin showed. Grandma bought the tights for me and all was well in my Teenage World for a while. Some of my friends even copied my “mini-skirt with tights” look. The next year, our high school relaxed its dress code and we all wore jeans!
I’ve written about Dad before; the fact he was a ballet and tap dancer and had been Bob Fosse’s Vaudeville partner (they were The Riff Brothers). He still speaks of his training at the Chicago Academy of Theatre Arts and how he believes it shaped Bob’s work and his own. They were taught to look at things differently and, if they were going to do what everyone else was doing, they were encouraged to put their own personal spin on it. Dad, at 90, still tells us, “Anyone can be ordinary. You be EXTRAORDINARY!”