Understanding Visionary


Visionary, the music innovation project, is designed to empower classical musicians to play an integral role in revitalizing and reinventing the way classical music is presented and perceived. That is our mission statement… but what are we looking for?

In the last article you got a glimpse of those who are spearheading new developments in entrepreneurship, education, and creativity in the classical music world. What are the common elements that make them Visionaries?

The Kronos Quartet remains one of the forerunners of this new creative and innovative mindset. So let’s ask ourselves, why is Kronos great?

  • They have continually and persistently pursued a singular artistic vision of expanding not only the repertoire, but also the context of the string quartet.
  • They incorporated new methods of organization, such as having their own management team—100% in-house controlled with a (now) staff of 10 people.
  • They were creative and unique from day 1—when they started they were inspired by new music and new trends. This allowed them to be a trend setter.
  • They built rapport with audiences.
  • They brought in new audiences and created new concert series.
  • They commission new works, acting as a patron of new music and emerging artists.
  • They incorporated new technology such as video and Internet.

All these things allowed Kronos to transcend the archetype and stereotype of a string quartet. Like Kronos, the artists that followed in their footsteps also emulated (knowingly or unknowingly) many of the qualities that made the quartet great.

But how about a creative music educator such as Sebastian Ruth? Although a visionary of a very different kind, the same requirements for creativity and innovation apply. Why is Community MusicWorks great?

  • They have continually and persistently pursued a singular artistic vision “creat(ing) a cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children, families, and musicians.”
  • They formed a 501 (c)3 non-profit and a board of directors to help the organize and become more effective
  • They were creative and unique from day 1—with a vision for the impact they wanted to have, CMW was able to break new ground in terms of what had been done to serve the community… and this would become a powerful attracting force for funds
  • They built rapport with participants in their program and stakeholders in the community
  • They reached out to a traditionally under-served market
  • They continue to make new and exciting opportunities available to those they work with
  • They incorporated new technology such as video and Internet

So what makes up a Visionary?

  1. A vision/dream
  2. A core artistic mission
  3. A niche with a need
  4. A product/service/opportunity of top quality that fulfills that need
  5. An organization of top-notch people with exceptional skills
  6. A self-reliance that allows artists to take ownership and handle practical business elements such as management, organization, booking, and strategic planning.
  7. A solid method/strategy for managing finances and budget
  8. An ability to promote through self-branding, creating a “buzz” around what they are doing
  9. A willingness and desire to build relationships with people
  10. An excitement and passion from all people involved that attracts people and capital and allows the organization to persevere in the face of failure

In his latest book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Seth Godin explores the idea of becoming invaluable into today’s world. If you are indispensable, then your market will reward you because you offer something that no one else offers. He also challenges our traditional conceptions of art:

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator…… You can be an artist who works with oil paint or marble, sure. But there are artists who worked with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances. (83-84) [1]

Today’s Visionaries are artists. They are the people who ask: “What can I bring to the table that is unique? What am I doing that is different from others? How can I contribute to the classical music world in a remarkable way?”


Slight Edge Steps

You all know the old saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Neither is success. Looking at the list above, there can be a tendency for people to get overwhelmed. Young artists might be thinking to themselves as they read: “I’m NONE of those things. I’ll never make it out there.”

First, take a deep breath. Relax. Now think it through. What do you want to achieve? What do you see yourself achieving in the future? It is common for many people to get lost, discouraged, or resigned if they look too far down the road.

If you have ever read Jeff Olson’s book The Slight Edge [2], then you know that success is not built upon the few big dramatic decisions in life. It comes from the small little habits and actions that you do CONSISTENTLY EVERY DAY. Success takes time, and you have to start small.

Most importantly, you need to have a constant reminder and driving force in and of the vision you are casting. That is what will fuel your passion and press you forward when you feel like giving up.

When Kronos first emerged, they realized that classical music was facing a lull. While there was a still a loyal consumer base, many young audiences were not captivated by the old-fashioned nature of the classical world. Kronos understood that there was a market need for something new and exciting. With their innovative ideas and model, they developed a response to that need.

Today Kronos’ recording and performances (themselves significant contributions) represent only a fraction of the group’s dedication to new music. As a non-profit organization, Kronos has commissioned hundreds of new works and mentored many emerging professional performers. Their Under 30 Project, launched in 2003, is a unique program for composers-in-residence who are under 30 years of age.

Their achievements are incredible, but remember that they represent the accumulation of decades of effort.

Even Kronos had to start somewhere. Each of the musicians embarked on their journeys of personal and professional development long before the quartet was ever an idea. And after they banded together, they did not suddenly become successful. If you trace the history of the organization, you can see that people have come and gone in the group. Kronos has had their failures as well as their successes. And any successful person will tell you that failures are important because you learn more from failure. [3]

And finally, remember that while Kronos started one of the early waves of creative innovation in the modern classical music world, there were certainly innovators before. But, sometimes creativity is not always recognized for what it is. Sometimes it is YOU that makes the difference, YOU that makes an impact and changes the hearts and minds of the audience. But, other times it is THE WORLD that has to be ready for that change.

Today the world is ready. Are you?


[1] Godin, Seth. Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? New York: Penguin Books, 2010. 

[2] For more on The Slight Edge, see http://www.slightedge.org/

[3] This theme is one we will explore in greater detail in future articles here at String Visions.

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2 Responses to Understanding Visionary

  1. Cellimom May 23, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Thank you for really helpful series! It is a must read list for especially young musician.

  2. Colin Cronin May 23, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    I’m glad you find this helpful! We’d love to hear from everyone reading here on how classical music can be a powerful force for change. There is so much being written now about the impact that music has on society, but perspectives from those on the ground seeing the change at work are invaluable!

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