At what point do we stop emerging?

Be part of the national conversation



I’ve been wondering something lately, and I don’t think I’m alone. What does it mean to be an ’emerging’ artist? And when does this stage in our careers end? The Macmillan Dictionary gives us fairly broad definition of the word:

Emerging: just beginning to exist or be noticed.

For many, the concept of ’emerging’ is synonymous with youth; the young professional who is just out of university, or perhaps still studying, and starting to achieve a level of success in her or his chosen career path. But how does this account for the older artist who has chosen to start fresh in a new field – or the child virtuoso performing with major orchestras before they’ve even finished high school? And what gives us the right to judge whether or not we’ve emerged?

We wanted to know what artists in Australia think. So we asked composers perceived as ’emerging’, musicians perceived as ‘established’, and everyone in between to share their thoughts about this largely unexplored and unexplained concept.

We’re opening the door to a national conversation in response to the question:

At what point does an emerging musician stop emerging?

Nick Russoniello, 2011 ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year:

NickI think it really has two answers. From an artistic point of view, a good musician never stops emerging. For me, the search for musical individuality is what makes it all interesting. I feel like I’m constantly shifting, moulding and changing my musical directions. On a more practical front, I think there is a moment in your career when you realise you’re too committed and invested in music to be able to change-up and do something else. When you know there is no going back and you’ll always be a musician, that’s when you’ve emerged!

Genevieve Lacey, ARIA-winning recorder virtuoso:
Genevieve Lacey - Keith Saunders 1495I hope that I never stop emerging! To me, ‘emerging’ implies that a person is engaged with a process of transformation and growth. ‘Emerging’ speaks of life. The idea of having arrived, or being in any way finished, is contrary to my experience of a life lived in music. For me, a musical life means a life of willing risk, joyful vulnerability, and constantly expanding and testing limits, in response to what is needed in our community.

Peggy Polias, composer and Making Waves co-founder:
Peggy Polias‘Emerging’ is a troubling classification. Some who are earlier in their musical careers embrace the idea of being emerging, while others avoid self-defining thus. This sensitivity especially comes to light in opportunities calling for ’emerging musicians’, where some who might be completely worthy don’t apply to take part.

Many more established artists will say that they never stop refining their craft; older composers who appear to have ‘made it’ will scoff at being described in this way. Whether represented by publishers, agents, working for major labels, universities, self-published, or operating independently: do any of us ever stop emerging?

I myself tend to slip in and out of defining myself as ’emerging’. I’d encourage others to not place too much weight on the word itself and decide according to context or selection criteria if they are emerging in any given moment. Play the classification back at itself!

Ben Opie, oboist and Inventi Ensemble co-artistic director:
Ben OpieFrom my side as an artist, I’m not sure I will ever feel like I’m not emerging. The nature of creating things and exploring new ideas and collaborations means it is more often than not a new experience for me and the audience. So, it constantly feels like it’s an emergence, regardless of how a critic or audience might perceive me. That being said, I think an objective view might say that a couple of years of performing in a particular medium professionally would make someone more established rather than emerging.

Sally Whitwell, ARIA-winning pianist and composer:

sallyI totally missed the boat on this one. The frustration of not even starting something until after one is too old to be considered emerging? That frustration is pretty real. On the other hand, I just work hard to make my own opportunities for my compositions. Because if I don’t do it, who else will?! 

Madeleine Jevons, violinist and Penny Quartet founding member:
Madeleine JevonsI think I’m always subconsciously exploring this. It certainly has nothing to do with age (or shouldn’t) and there is no definite end point, I’m sure. At every stage in your education and development, you end up feeling like you’re back at square one at some point – you start expecting more of yourself and continue to raise the bar, so it really is never-ending.

I’m discovering now it has a lot to do with the confidence to put yourself out there as a fully fledged artist, even if you’re completely freaking out inside and feel ridiculous doing it. We had a joke in the Australian Chamber Orchestra Emerging Artists’ Program that once your year is up, you’ve emerged – tick! This is obviously rubbish, but there are landmarks you can hit which help you understand your own place and value in the industry at any one time; doing well in an audition, getting a good review, playing certain venues to certain people and demanding honesty amongst your peers. These things help me understand roughly where I’m at, and where I want to be. But there’s no bright neon sign flashing: ‘You’ve made it! You’re definitely good, now calm down!’. That would be amazing, though. Can someone make that happen?

David Rowden, clarinettist and Omega Ensemble founder:
david rowdenThat’s an interesting question. I would have thought that around five years after graduating from a conservatory, you would in theory stop being an emerging artist. It doesn’t seem to be that way, however, as you can be an emerging recording artist, chamber musician, or orchestral musician at any point in your career. I have heard of a clarinettist who became an orchestral oboist later in his life – so then would he be termed an emerging oboist?

Lucy Rash, CutCommon deputy editor and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra program coordinator:

Lucy-headshotWe could hold out forever as emerging artists, waiting and hoping for the industry to decide our fate. To a degree, I think it has to be the artist who decides when that emergent phase ends. How we view ourselves translates into how others see us. But this isn’t to belittle the emergent phase; it’s incredibly important and we couldn’t do without it. It’s a phase of incredible rates of growth and learning and discovery. It’s just not meant to be forever.

Angus Davison, composer and Note-Aurius co-founder:

angus platform (1)An emerging artist is someone in the early years of their professional practice. By this definition, I am an emerging composer, and I participate in competitions or opportunities targeted at emerging composers. However, I don’t tend to refer to myself as ‘an emerging composer’ in my biography or online. Though I’m happy for other people to describe me in that way, there doesn’t seem much to be gained by giving myself that label. It’s a more useful term for talking about others, rather than oneself. When enough professional opportunities are coming my way that I no longer need to participate in emerging composer opportunities, then I will cease to be an emerging composer.

Nicole TJ, pianist and anon. co-founder:
IMG_2845-2That’s a great question – one that I’ve wondered myself, as well. If anything, I’d think it’s a label that can act as both a disclaimer or a selling point, but also provides some security in the early stages of striking out on your own and putting yourself out there. As a musician/performer, I think you’re continuously learning and striving to improve, and learning to trust your own opinions and interpretations. To shape yourself as an individual is a transition that can be ambiguous or daunting. I’d imagine the time to get there is different for each person, and perhaps is a reflection of your confidence to rely on your own instincts. It’s a little bit like growing up: despite all the responsibilities of an adult, there’s really just a little kid hiding in there!

Thomas Lo, violinist and anon. co-founder:
IMG_8401-2‘Emerging’ is a label at heart to every owner and entrepreneur. I think it’s possible that one can only come out of this label by external commentators. While it’s great to be validated by others and know that you have finally landed on something, the belief and mindset of being ’emerging’ will always reflect on how much and how fast your company can continue to grow. It’s actually a really good question because we don’t normally think about it until someone labels you otherwise.

Susan de Weger, arts careers adviser and Notable Values founder:
susan‘Emerging’ is often used as code by artists who don’t feel they are, or their work is, yet credible or ‘good enough’. We are educated to believe our craft must be perfect before it’s shown to the world, so the idea of promoting ourselves ‘in progress’ is frightening and loaded with overtones of career limiting consequences. So we use apologetic language like ’emerging’. It also tells the world that the artist hasn’t had the support to discover who they are, how they are unique, why the world should care. Otherwise, their bio would be a unique and compelling story, not an apology for an idealised, future version of who they might be. We only have one story, it’s who we are today.

Michael MacManus, Melbourne Guitar Foundation co-founder and Melbourne Guitar Quartet member:
mgfGood question! To me, ’emerging’ means someone of great talent or potential who has only been active on the professional scene for a relatively short period of time. If I were to quantify it, perhaps five years. After this period, and if they have made an impact on the scene and are recognised on at least a national level, I would call them ‘established’.

In my view, having ‘made it’ is reaching a point in your career that satisfies your personal professional goals, whether they are large or small. This is very variable and personalised.

Warwick Fyfe, Helpmann Award-winning baritone:
Warwick FyfeI’m a little wary of the term ’emerging artist’, and not just because it’s a bit banal and always being reached for by producers of pamphlets and flyers (I’m allergic to cliche). I’m acutely aware that there are many out there who are happy to get as much blood out of any given stone – for minimal outlay – as possible, all the while flattering themselves that they’re providing performance opportunities. So hand-in-glove with the expression ’emerging artist’ goes another: ‘performance opportunities’. Now, let me hasten to add, performance opportunities are a very welcome thing for young musicians and are in the main offered in good faith by people who want the best for the young people in question. And people beginning their careers must expect to perform a lot for free, and be motivated by art for art’s sake. All I’m saying is that there comes a point where this spirit can morph into something more cynical, so that the unscrupulous will try to get the fruits of a lifetime’s hard slog practising for nothing or on the cheap.

Many good people, consciously or unconsciously, will insert ’emerging’ into their advertising as a species of encouragement because it suggests that one’s having a future as a professional musician is a likely or at least possible thing. Otherwise, one is just doing it for fun – a good reason – with no fond notions of future glory. Try as hard as you can to cultivate a realistic sense of self. Hopefully, you’ll know when you’re no longer emerging.

Are you emerging? Tell us what you think in the comments below.


Images supplied. Featured image Edwin Lee via Flickr CC2.0.

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1 Comment on At what point do we stop emerging?

  1. It’s really interesting to hear all these thoughts from people! I’m especially struck by Susan de Weger’s phrase: “We only have one story, it’s who we are today.”

    That’s really good to remember, otherwise “emerging” can start to be something of wall to hide behind, a safety net, a way of saying “don’t judge me yet, I’m still emerging!” Maybe this can seem like a helpful thing to have at first, while you are finding your feet and not feeling completely sure about what you are doing.

    But then I remember one of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a music teacher: “DON’T APOLOGISE!” As soon as you are on the stage, or as soon as your composition begins to be played, there’s no more hiding or apologising or “emerging”. It’s just you, your story, who you are that day.

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