On Community

Ever since I took Kayla Hollatz's Crickets to Community course last fall, I've been percolating on the idea of community and whether I'm satisfied by the communities that I belong to. And the answer is: not very - I feel pretty isolated most of the time, since, on most days I work by myself during the first half of the day and am teaching kids for the second half. While that is rewarding in its own way, it doesn’t leave me with much time to interact with peers, and the busier I get, the less energy I have for interacting (#introvertproblems).

So, even though I belong to many different music communities, I often feel removed from all of them as I get stuck inside the hamster wheel of work. Some of these communities exist on the internet, but I've had a hard time finding them (except for teacher communities). If you’re an independent teacher, do you feel like you're consistently a part of a community, or do you feel removed from it? I'm willing to bet that more of us feel isolated than we often admit. An added challenge is balancing the musician/teacher afternoon/evening/weekend schedule with friends and family in the 9-5 world without giving up much needed sleep or rest time (essential for me as an introvert).

I've always been a bit of a musical nomad, and as a result, I haven't always felt like I was fully a part of any one music scene (classical, jazz, composers, etc.). I actually belong to many different communities: the schools where I work (MacPhail and Chanson); professional organizations (APPI, SPPTA, and MMTA); piano teacher online communities, a number of other Facebook groups, and the Brazilian music community, which I feel most at home in (both here in Minneapolis, and the larger community that I've met as a part of California Brazil Camp). I’ve felt myself longing to be an active part of a community.

But, unless I'm meaningfully participating in these communities (which I don't have much time or energy for), it doesn't feel like I'm truly a part of them. Building and belonging to communities takes effort and contribution, and it’s hard to make effort unless you know what you’re working toward, so I started thinking about what I want from a community. Aided by ideas from a transcript of the Musochat Twitter chat (which I really enjoy) from January 2016 which covered this topic, here are some qualities of a great community:

  • Gathering around a common interest
  • Genuine connection / communication (the glue: communication and community have the same word root!)
  • Mutual respect
  • Support
  • Combining strengths, resources, and perspectives
  • Accountability
  • Diversity
  • Open and undiscriminatory (critical in providing support)
  • Effort + involvement (continuing to show up, otherwise it falls apart)
  • Access
  • Often an education or professional development component

So, no wonder it’s hard to create a strong community - we have to commit to truly showing up for others, while we’re also busier and feeling more fragmented than ever, and when virtual connection online often replaces in-person connection. (Although, online communities can be very supportive if they have many of the elements above.) Not to mention, there needs to be enough commitment to leadership for a community to have any longevity. And, I have to admit, in the past I had been known to avoid some professional organizations and communities because I had an aversion to networking that didn’t feel genuine. 

But, if I’m complaining about lack of community in my life, I need to do something about it. If I’ve learned anything about habits, it’s that multiple/huge changes don’t work in the long-term, so here are some small ways that I want to work harder at creating community and connection:

  • Supporting peers through attending their gigs and events (although simultaneous gigs are often a problem)
  • Helping peers by promoting their events on social media
  • Expressing excitement about what other musicians are doing, online and in person - if you think someone is awesome, tell them!
  • Having more coffee dates with fellow musician/teachers who tend to have the same availability
  • Brainstorm new ways to share music with my larger community

Now that spring is coming (and seasonal affective disorder is waning), I feel much more motivated and energetic in all areas of life, so this should be more attainable now than it was in January.

Can you relate to feeling disconnected from your peers? If so, let me know what’s missing from your community landscape. In what ways (even if small) do you create community?

Rebecca Hass

Pianist and composer