My name is Maggie and I play strings…for all things. For hotel lobbies during the holidays, for hip-hop/pop/jazz/soul/disco instrumentals in studios, on stages, on video, in university practice rooms, classrooms, on boats, on ranches, on mountains, in bars, at Boys & Girls Clubs, weddings, and radio stations. That’s what I tell people when they ask what kind of strings I play. Well not really…but that’s me, I have my strings in all sorts of projects, it’s like I’m investing to retire or something… I’m diversifying. I just love playing. From the moment I started viola I LOVED IT. I started making up my own songs, learning all the NPR jingles by ear, and tried to sleep with my instrument like it was my teddy bear. Playing viola and violin make me feel like I can communicate who I am and my identity is strongly correlated to performance art. As a performer, then, I endeavor to make a living by making myself vulnerable.
This is a story about maintaining artistic integrity while also struggling to stave off financial scarcity. This is also however a testament to my belief that regardless of what wretched monstrous slithering beasts money can turn people into, there are still human beings among them, making this whole endeavor of getting paid for what you love worth the battles with snakes.
Once the basics of form and melody are in place, what I look for in music is openness, vulnerability, and a self-curated sound, along with enough confidence and passion of delivery to save me from becoming embarrassed on behalf the artist. Recently at Town Hall, Dr. Cornel West made a far too familiar phenomenon clear by stating, “there are plenty of individuals making hundreds of thousands of dollars who can NOT sing in tune […] do you really think your soul can be satisfied with music made since 2001?!” Hell no!
Dr. Cornel West, Town Hall Seattle, October 9, 2014
I believe that when we love art and love what we do, we love hard. But the challenge and danger with love is that it is always in close relationship with death. To love hard is to be willing to sacrifice something to be a part of something greater, sacrificing our precious popularity for something bigger than ourselves.
That being said, there have been times when I’ve felt let down by our creative community. Where I previously believed a group to be ‘loving hard’ I will be wrong. There are artists who call ‘exposure’ payment enough… even though in reality you’re the one who can’t seem to understand why a recently emerging band would think they’re doing you a favor by hiring you to play for free…. These occurrences lead me away from believing that all artists ‘love hard.’ Because where hype is king, being vulnerable for a living really sucks. I’ve engaged in some pretty severe self-preservationist defensive behavior lately…outlined perfectly by the following rant-ish train of thought…
“I’m sorry you guys, my mother never let me consume Kool Aid… It’s fake shit. Like the scene/hype/exposure you’re offering to pay me with for contributing my degree-earning 17-years-of-training-and-counting musical work to your ‘project’… Nope you’re doing me NO favors. I’m walking away as far as my two feet and any means of philosophical educational and artistic transportation can take me. You are toxic to the world of art!! I’m leaving you to drown and crystallize in your swimming pool of synthesized flavored Kool Aid! ”
Recently, in this fatalistic disillusioned mindset, I thought I’d go shake some people down for the money they owed me for my work, cause you know, I’m broke and mad… and I want more from this life. One of those people happened to be a hip-hop artist who’s gaining major attention outside Seattle and who’s charismatic performances have had audiences circling up and sitting criss-cross applesauce in the middle of Cap Hill Block Party.
When we worked together earlier this summer, I came away from the session exhausted, inspired, and satisfied. I like to call that a mark of integrity. When your body is exhausted, it went into your work, when your soul is full, that’s what your work gave you. That’s what this shit is all about. LOVING HARD.
Still though, I’m always ready to go to battle with snakes, and when July goes by… no check, I send an email. When August goes by… no check, I send another, maybe ‘less friendly’ email. When September and half of October go by and no check though, I’m convinced I’m being misused and all of a sudden the fulfillment and satisfaction I felt in June is out the door, down the street, and around the corner…cause I am sending the email of emails.
In the middle of the night last week I drafted an email using the scariest Sallie Mae inspired wordage I could muster… threatening him with the people I know, I threw character judgements his way, and the worst… threatened him with never-ending emails until he decided to act on his word. Then I clicked ‘send’.
The battle had begun….
Eight hours and three long emails later I got a phone call. I answered and heard “before you say anything let me just apologize…..” An hour and a half goes by. In that period of time, we talk about our artistic philosophy, the ways we’ve been screwed over, and the reasons we had become so armed to go to battle against each-other. We became friends. And yesterday morning I woke up to a check under my doormat….Serious.
If this is how I’m going to find the real human beings among the monsters, I’m okay with that. Because you’ve gotta dig through and rip open a lot of oysters to find the pearl of enlightenment. Walking away from projects, partnerships, and leaving nasty fruit on the ground is okay. The Kool Aid is always going to be there at the open bar, and we’re all liable to sip it. To sit back in our contrived peanut gallery and throw shade on all those guzzling fake flavors of Popularity and Fame is not healing or solving anything either. The love train of our creative community leaves regardless, better get on! Give yourself some recognition and credit for waking up and shaking off your sugar high, and ‘love hard’…that is the real nurturing we need.