Every Friday on this blog is “Makin’ it Happen Friday”, where I feature another musician who’s found a way to make a living playing music. I am constantly inspired by others, and hope to pass that inspiration on to you.
I have had the pleasure of working with Beth Fleenor on a number of occasions, and each time I do I leave thinking “I gotta work with her more often”!
Since arriving in Seattle in 1998, the versatile clarinetist / vocal percussionist / composer has carved a place for herself as an energetic multi-instrumentalist and dynamic generative artist. Her robust malleable sound, organic approach to improvisation, and openness to experimentation in all forms, have fueled a list of collaborations ranging from shows in nightclubs, festivals and concert halls, to performance pieces, recordings, modern dance pieces, sound art and art installations.
Subscribing to the principle that “art is the discipine of being,” Beth harbors a strong love for variety and all forms of sonic manipulation. Such flexibility has allowed her to move freely through genres including, but not limited to, jazz, rock, classical, contemporary chamber, metal, folk, ambient, surf, and noise.
The best indication of Beth’s place in the Northwest new music scene is the list of wonderful artists she has collaborated with, including Robin Holcomb, Denney Goodhew, Jim Knapp, Timothy Young, and Eyvind Kang, among others.
Currently she can be found performing with Bling, Figeater, Owcharuk 5/6, Double Yoko, Chick Influenza, and projects of the Monktail Creative Music Concern. She has also been sited ensuing mayhem with Balkan punk shaman clan Kultur Shock including performances at the Creation of Peace Festival (Russia) and Sayan Ring (Siberia).
If that’s not enough, Beth spends much of her time helping other artists through her company The Frank Agency, an innovative arts management organization dedicated to bridging the spaces between artists, presenters, and audience members. Beth assists her clients in areas including concert production, grant writing, booking, promotion/publicity, and strategic planning.
Is it any wonder I love her? 😉
I asked Beth my standard Makin’ it Happen questions and learned much from her answers:
OWM: How’d you get started in the music biz?
BF: My first “professional” gigs were through my high school band in Bristol, VA when I was 15 – playing in church holiday programs. Just before I turned 18 I moved to Seattle to attend Cornish College of the Arts where I met a wide range of musicians and composers – many of them becoming friends and colleagues I still work closely with on a daily basis, 11 years later. I came into college with strong reading/interpretive skills and no improvisational experience, so right of the bat most of the gigs I played were chamber music, new music, theater and small written background parts. Then as I started to get into improvisation, I had the great fortune of working with Jim Knapp, with whom I played my first jazz gigs in Seattle. I am indebted to him for his encouragement and patience as I began to step out and find my voice as a generative artist. Still in school and working with a lot of different types of composers, I began to get interested in completely improvised music and different types of improvisations within formal structures, but was completely frustrated and imbalanced between my “classical” and “jazz/improvised” selves. In 2001, a dental accident caused me to take a break and a big step back, moving to Nashville, TN and relearning how to play my instrument, as well as rethinking my interest in various life/career paths. I had been producing concerts and getting more involved in the administrative side of music / non-profit arts and realized that I wanted a life full of both performance and production, so once I rehabilitated from nerve damage I returned to Seattle and started down my current path. At that time I found my mentor, Denney Goodhew, and began to study sound, and art/life, from a more multidisciplinary perspective. Most of what I’ve done since has had to do with playing in bands, working directly with composers, and other media, and I can say that every project is very different and very much its own thing. I began writing music and leading my own projects about six years ago, and this past year I took my first gig touring as a vocalist/instrumentalist which feels like the opening to the next big chapter.
I guess that is a really long answer to say that really, I think I get started in the music business again every day…
OWM: What 3 things have helped you the most in becoming a working musician?
BF: Friends. Confusion. Perseverance.
Friends have been important all along the route both as encouragement and also as cohorts. I work stuff out with friends, play in bands with friends, I get gigs from friends and I collaborate on projects with friends….most of the music I play ends up being either my own or one of my friends’, which I find completely delightful and a great honor.
Confusion keeps things moving forward. I am in a constant state of being interested in a million things and it is hard to know where to focus all my energy. I find that a collection of projects will grab my attention and I kind of circularly go around working on things bit by bit, with intensive times of focus where I generate a substantial body of work in one area. The confusion part is important because working through it inevitably triggers the intensive and highly productive and focused time, and it keeps me moving with projects 6 months and 12 months out, which I have to do to keep everything rolling.
Perseverance is absolutely integral in becoming a working musician. No matter how many different things I do or have success with, it is all completely fleeting, so to stay working I have to constantly be engaged and moving, pulling in new projects, coming up with new ideas, practicing, writing, training, running my agency. This gets hard when there are time, money, self-esteem or other issues floating around. In all instances I come back to one fundamental truth – I am happiest when I am playing music – so I cling to that when things are difficult and I am unsure of myself or the next steps.
OWM: What advice to you have for aspiring musicians?
BF: Take a good long look at who you really are – the complete you. How you want to move in the world, what you are interested in perpetuating, all those things, and let that inform your direction. I think it is most important that you cultivate YOUR voice because each person is completely unique and has a set of skills and traits that no one else can match. The more you get inside of your sound the more opportunities start to find you to access that sound. It is a beautiful process. and when you daydream, if you envision something that doesn’t already exist, then ask yourself if you want it bad enough to go and build it yourself – and if so, then please do it, because other people will probably want it too