From Season Announcements to Intentions and Reflections
When sharing a post about my updated website on Facebook, I mentioned (in passing) that I might write something soon about Season Announcements. I fairly immediately heard from a number of colleagues voicing sentiments ranging from "They're the worst" to "I truly despise them, but what can you do?"
For anyone reading this who might not be a choral musician active on Facebook, season announcement posts are a genre of post that has taken hold where musicians share an 'update' post listing out the gigs that they have been hired for this coming season, with the rather arbitrary start date of the month of September. For me, this year in particular, seeing some of those posts has contributed to a sense of a manic, back-to-school energy that I am finding has started to consume my entire fall, landing me mentally with a bump at the Christmas holiday.
My reaction and what I was hearing from colleagues got me thinking back into the past and wondering: when exactly did I begin to notice people making 'season announcement' posts on Facebook? I remember starting to notice a standard pattern or style: a photo of the performer with a list of dates, concerts and venues where they will be making music. This, alongside the collective trend of arts organizations planning and contracting seasons further in advance, can give a sense that the year is fixed, even though that is so far from the truth: there is still space for things to change.
I remember, too, always feeling a pretty immediately mixed suite of emotions seeing those posts, emotions that I still feel today: excitement and genuine joy for friends and performer colleagues at seeing their opportunities, as well as a sense of 'FOMO' or fear of missing out and insecurity. Did I have anything to share that was 'important enough' for a season announcement? I wondered it then and I still wonder it now.
Soon, another consideration crept in: by not making a season announcement, was I implying that I wasn't excited about the performances I would be singing in ? Was I letting down the people and organizations I was performing with by not being more active on social media? Was I giving up a chance to be noticed and potentially jog someone's memory so that they might remember me and hire me for their next gig?
In sitting down to reflect on all this, I found myself casting back, trying to remember to earlier, formative performance experiences when I was younger and living in New York. I remember reaching out to friends and family over email, personally inviting them to a Messiah performance or holiday concert (or, memorably, a live murder mystery radio play I had a background role in providing sound effects on my cello).
What felt different about that primarily, I remember, is a sense of excitement as I got responses to those invitations, sometimes people saying they couldn't make it but were happy to hear what I was up to (and might share their own update with me in return). Every now and then, magically, someone from a non-musical part of my life would come to a concert, would have a beautiful experience and would tell me so after.
It is perhaps this feeling, of connection, of serendipity, of giving and receiving, that I miss and that I compare with the relative existential emptiness I tend to feel when I see or contemplate making season announcements. Suddenly you find yourself fixating on a small square of text, looking, scanning to see all the great things this person is doing, and wondering why you aren't singing with a specific group again or comparing yourself to them in a vacuum (as social media loves to force us all to do). The practice seems designed to create and reinforce a sense among all of us that attention, that precious resource, is limited and that we must fight for it tooth and nail.
Of course, this can also be mixed in with very real joy at seeing all of the wide-ranging concerts and projects going on, reminders of a vivid art scene that enriches all of our lives. And, as one colleague shared, self-promotion is part and parcel of being an artist. Don't we have to live with it to some extent?
I recently started reading a book by Katherine May called Enchantment: reading it so far has been one of those experiences where you find yourself underlining every word, and soon realizing that this person is articulating exactly what you have been feeling for longer than you had realized.
"If there were a spirit of this age, it would look a lot like fear. For years now we've been running like rabbits. We glimpse a flash of white tail, read the danger signal, and run, flashing our own white tail behind us. It's a chain reaction, a river of terror surging incoherently onwards...We are in the business of running now. It is all so urgent. Every year it seems we must run harder. There is no other solution. We can only run, and panic, and chatter out our fears to others, who will mirror them back to us...it sometimes feels as though we are stoking a giant machine that will eventually consume us anyway."
Suddenly our wins, our victories, our losses, a sense of possibility, hope, anxiety and yes, even fear, get swept up and bundled into a format completely mismatched with our ability to express emotions or to receive them. I've seen some colleagues this year reflecting, in a vulnerable and authentic way, on what's changed for them, on the exhaustion they felt after last season, a year crammed full of performances coming out of COVID, and their intention to focus more on doing less.
So, I think that's where I've started to land: on the importance of sharing intentions and reflections, and of setting them for myself. Though of course that takes time and can't always happen in the time frame we or the collective attention-span demands.
In the meantime, I'm planning to try to actually write down some of the dates and times of colleagues' and friends' performances and make sure that I show up.