Biographies tell a story
I'm very grateful for this article from Interlude writer Frances Wilson. She begins with the observation that most musical biographies seem rather formulaic. Venues, conductors, competitions and teachers. There are alternatives:
Wouldn’t it be refreshing, once in a while, to read an artist’s biography which was less a list of achievements and name-dropping, and more about the personality behind the dry words and the professional photograph? To discover more about that person’s musical influences, their likes and dislikes, what music excites them and why, and what makes them tick as a musician? Details that may not be found on the artist’s website and which might bring musicians closer to their audiences. In reality, most artist biographies tell us very little about the musician or musicians we are about to hear in concert and seem only to serve the requirements of their agents and managers.
I remember just before I made my first version of my website. I was nervous to do it: I was a hack! I didn't have major accomplishments, I didn't have a lot of performances to advertise, and why would anyone be looking for information about me anyway? I relented only to treat my website like a portfolio, but I still felt that its presence suggested that I had an inflated sense of my own fame.
Writing a biography was very similar. I couldn't create as impressive a biography as those I read of professional musicians. Even amongst many of my student colleagues, I didn't have the biggest named schools, or major competitions, or prestigious festivals to arouse audience interest.
Besides, some people's biographies come off sounding fake or contrived. "I studied with the student of a student of ___________ famous teacher." "I won some competition only 5 people heard of" "I made up a series of adjectives which have no objective value regarding my playing".
Then I read the book Beyond Talent by Angela Myles. Her idea regarding biographies was to tell your story as an artist. She suggested collecting 'raw material', any aspect of my career, talent, strengths, fun facts, which made me, me. What was the brand that only I could sell.
I crafted a biography which I used for several years (with minor adjustments here and there) that I was happy with, because it gave the audience context to my performances. My biography wasn't there to wow them, it was there so that my personality, my history, and my music making could emanate from the same source.
So no more hiding behind inflated accomplishments. I'm calling for a resurgence of honest biographies that tell stories. True stories.
(and by the way, I've been revamping my own biography. It will roll out in a few weeks, before the end of July!)
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act