New Avenues in Collaboration

By Hilary Hahn
Discuss! To comment on this entry, click here.

In a time when artistic organizations are vying for attention and burgeoning public access to formerly "elite" art forms is setting a new stage for the future, artists are being challenged to rethink the definitions of their craft. They are forging lasting connections across genres and culture, some joining together over a geographical divide, others meeting up in person to make creative history. In music alone, the last few years have brought unprecedented inter-genre collaborations, as well as forays into experimental film, dance, live photography, narration, and cooking. In all fields of the arts, however, countless projects await discovery. It is clear that inventive types are pushing their own boundaries, attempting to meld their training to something out of the ordinary without losing their professional values or respect for tradition.

The latest collaborative trends incorporate little of the crossover inclinations of the past. The label "crossover" refers to mixed genres: classical plus bluegrass, rock plus classical, or plugged-in, amped-up, alternatively decorated versions of standards, to name a few.  Those experiments are now considered old hat, and much of the controversy surrounding them has died down as they have established themselves in the mainstream public's awareness. Recent developments, on the other hand, are neither mainstream nor genre-driven; instead, they are organized by the artists themselves and favor pursuits that show each participant at his or her perceived strength. If anything is mixed in such projects, it is the best qualities of the performers. Through those elements, the audience is led full circle to the initial source of inspiration: the art itself.

Like most musicians, I have ventured into unfamiliar territory. Any new project is a bit of a gamble; one hopes that someone else out there will appreciate the attempt. Most recently, I completed a tour with singer/songwriter Josh Ritter. In a joint effort, we split a recital, presenting it as solo artists (he without his band, I without a pianist) in classical concert halls, on classical concert series. The content of the program was important to us, so we shaped the project around our particular musical partnership and our individual musical preferences. Each of us performed core repertoire, and we linked our work - I joined him on some of his songs, stepping into his musical world, and he entered the classical realm in an intelligent, thoughtful way. Some onlookers thought it risky, but the entire undertaking could not have been more organic. Happily, the unbiased reactions of the concertgoers proved that listeners are ready for a challenge, ready to be led beyond their existing frames of reference. They revel in projects that performers believe in. They enjoy discovering the unusual. Most importantly, they want to be taken seriously by both artists and presenters.

For any artist, the benefits of free-flowing exchange are invaluable. I know my own experiences best, and I am grateful to my colleagues for their influence on me; working with them is an education unto itself. From fellow classical musicians, I learn mostly by example, from elements of their interpretations that catch me by surprise. Many concepts are directly applicable in performance; I try out ideas right alongside the people who inspire them. Through these colleagues, I also discover more about my artistic heritage than I knew existed. When I step outside of my classical comfort zone, on the other hand, what I pick up is more basic but equally stimulating: improvisational techniques, stylistic adaptations, abstractions in creativity, and a greater understanding of the channels of artistic movement. Sharing experiences with non-classical artists galvanizes me to reevaluate my contributions within classical music. This is not unusual. Even at our most divergent, performers from different backgrounds have many of the same goals and needs.

The creative cycle extends behind the scenes as well: administrators, too, struggle with artistic dilemmas. In trying to forge something enduring but exciting - a forward-looking community in which art can thrive - they are restrained by pressures of ticket sales reports, budgets, personnel coordination, and board meetings that few performers experience firsthand. Adding to the difficulty, relationships between office and stage can be complex, and misunderstandings are frequent. We can start small in bridging that gap. Perhaps business or administration courses could be required for performance majors. A seminar could be held about the creative demands placed on artists. We could organize a few more no-holds-barred venues for experimental projects. One item in particular should be immediately addressed: the dearth of secure forums to discuss industry frustrations, where colleagues from all disciplines can offer constructive solutions. Supportive networks are so important. Too often, in the interest of politics and jobs, people keep problems to themselves or share them only with like-minded coworkers, fostering resentment and destructive "us versus them" mentalities. With positive input, however, the smallest effort can offer infinite opportunities for development and collaboration.

Let's not forget that most people in the arts have embarked on careers of ideals. This can be divisive, as one person's ideal can undermine another's, and close-held convictions can lead to passionate disagreements. In moderation, though, such friction is a good thing, since creativity is one of the few qualities made more worthy by conflicting beliefs. We can strike a healthy balance. The future of the arts will be driven by the age-old battle between reverence and rebellion - but neither side should win.

To hear more from Hilary Hahn, read her online journal.  
To learn more about NPAC sessions such as "The Art of Living or Living for Art: A Survival Guide for Artists", visit
the website.

May 18, 2008 4:33 PM | | Comments (6)


It's not clear just what constitutes 'crossover'. Having an orchestra back up pop/rock musicians? Didn't The Beatles and others do that in the 1960s?

Or the other way around if the timbre of a piece of concert music is violated by allowing a pop musician to put their two cents in isn't that just turning it into pop music?

Keep them coming Hilary!

Although I'm not in the music industry, her thoughts and writings shed insight into issues I also face as a creative professional.

art vs. commerce
traditions vs. experimentation
technical excellence vs. conceptual creativity

Whether you are an automotive designer, architect, or film-maker, such constructive dialogue provides a platform to discuss and challenge the artistic process that permeates into every part of the profession.

I saw Hilary share the stage with Tom Brosseau at Amoeba Records in Hollywood about a year and a half ago, and though their separate musical genres are as different as can be, they blended perfectly. It was interesting to watch one of the world's great classical musicians adapt to the more harmonic style of accompaniment necessary to play a "solo" over the chord progressions of a folk song, and even more interesting to note that Hilary was still getting used to playing in this mode.

Jamming was something new to her.

Anyway, as other posters have noted, collaborative efforts are nothing new in most forms of music, and there is no reason why a musician from any category shouldn't work with anyone they feel a musical kinship with. In progressive rock music, players across the spectrum jam all the time.

I'll tell you who I'd love to see Hilary play with, and that's Blackmore's Night. She could play like magic over the top of Ritchie Blackmore's Rennaisance-influenced guitar melodies.

It's very gratifying to see that this crossover collaboration worked out for you two, and furthermore that it has created new discourse in other crossover fields as well. I have had similar discussions at Eastman about creating more cohesive arts and administrative programs, as most musicians and administrators alike have communication problems (incredible that having the resources of both Eastman and the Warner School of Business at the University of Rochester, no such degree programs have been created yet).

I wholeheartedly agree that schools should incorporate some seminar sessions to their students on the matter, and ideas such as yours help to reinforce my goal of pursuing a career in arts administration.

Thank you for the inspiration, and my apologies again on the cell phone debacle this summer at Encore!



I'm a big fan of her classical work as well, but I'm certainly very happy with the crossover work that Hilary Hahn has done thus far. It's been an absolute treat to see several of these crossover projects in person as well as on record! It's both entertaining and inspiring, and as yet another artist, it gives me a lot of food for thought for my projects.

In fact, "crossing-over" sometimes works very well within a single artist's projects aside from collaboration. Confusing as hell for industry people, but they don't really understand us any more than we do them. It's just natural and human to want to experiment with the things that are in normal mode, and even though Hilary says "such friction is a good thing" (and this was about ideals, I guess industry people have them too), I don't think anyone wants to be told by a record company how to make a record they already have their heart set on, whether it's written out or you have an elaborate jam. I used to think my music was supposed to BE something or have some kind of definitive title or descripition, but where would you put Elvis Costello or Rufus Wainwright? They're not "Rock", and calling them "Singer-Songwriters" almost totally undermines their work. Do we really need categories anymore since we're slowly watching CD stores disintergrate before our eyes?

I'm so glad to finally see some attention paid to cross over and how it is not a bad thing for a classical artist to do. For well over the last 10 years, there has been constant cross over by classical singers and musicians into metal and rock (as mostly seen in "symphonic metal" bands in Europe). Now this is so mainstream and is giving classical musicians additional opportunities as well to get classical music to people who probably would feel intimidated by going to an orchestral concert.

I've been singing cross-over operatic vocals with symphonic metal bands for nearly 9 years now and have seen a huge wash of classical singers and musicians grow over that time. Its a really great thing to see. My organization, the Minnesota Shubert Center even created an online education program called Backstage Pass which followed two of these bands on their North American Tour (they are from Europe).

It should be recognized as a viable outlet to do cross over work, if not for the survival of classical music.

Thank you,

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Be sure to check in all week for continuous blogging from NPAC.  Attendees from across art forms and job functions report on their conference experiences. Comments from the convention and beyond are welcome!

Reporting from NPAC:

Amanda Ameer
- web manager, NPAC
Sarah Baird - media and public relations executive, Boosey & Hawkes
Joseph Clifford - outreach and education manager, Dartmouth College Hopkins Center for the Arts
Lawrence Edelson - producing artistic director, American Lyric Theater
James Egelhofer - artist manager, IMG Artists
Ruth Eglsaer - program consultant, Free Night of Theater NYC
Jaime Green - literary associate, MCC Theatre
James Holt - membership and marketing associate, League of American Orchestras
Michelle Mierz - executive director, LA Contemporary Dance Company
Mark Pemberton - director, Association of British Orchestras
Mister MOJO - star, MOJO & The Bayou Gypsies
Sydney Skybetter - artistic director, Skybetter and Associates
Mark Valdez - national coordinator, The Network of Ensemble Theaters
Amy Vashaw - audience & program development director, Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State
Scott Walters - professor, University of North Carolina at Asheville
Zack Winokur - student, The Juilliard School
Megan Young - artistic services manager, OPERA America

Please note: the entries posted by the attendees above represent their personal impressions, not the viewpoints of the organizations they work for.

About this blog From April 1 through June 9, 2008, weekly entries will be posted here by some of the performing arts community's top bloggers. This 10-week intensive blog will serve as a unique forum for digital debate and brainstorming, and both the entries and comments will be archived for use at the live NPAC sessions in June.  New entries will be posted every Monday morning. Please note: the views expressed in this blog represent those of the independent contributors and participants, not the National Performing Arts Convention.

NPAC - the National Performing Arts Convention - will take place in Denver, Colorado on June 10-14, 2008. "Taking Action Together," NPAC will lay the foundation for future cross-disciplinary collaborations, cooperative programs and effective advocacy. Formed by 30 distinct performing arts service organizations demonstrating a new maturity and uniting as one a sector, NPAC is dedicated to enriching national life and strengthening performing arts communities across the country. Click here to register, and we'll see you in Denver!

The Authors Jaime Green, Nico Muhly, Kristin Sloan, Jason Grote, Jeffrey Kahane, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Greg Sandow, Hilary Hahn, Tim Mangan, Paul Hodgins, Richard Chang and Andrew Taylor!

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Recent Comments

Tony commented on New Avenues in Collaboration: It's not clear just what constitutes 'crossover'. Having an orchestra back up pop/ro...

Daniel commented on New Avenues in Collaboration: Keep them coming Hilary! Although I'm not in the music industry, her thoughts and wr...

Adam commented on New Avenues in Collaboration: I saw Hilary share the stage with Tom Brosseau at Amoeba Records in Hollywood about a...

Pavel Sullivan commented on New Avenues in Collaboration: It's very gratifying to see that this crossover collaboration worked out for you two,...

Chris McGovern commented on New Avenues in Collaboration: I'm a big fan of her classical work as well, but I'm certainly very happy with the cr...

Melissa Koch commented on New Avenues in Collaboration: I'm so glad to finally see some attention paid to cross over and how it is not a bad ...

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