Last month I had a blast working with 15 musicians in the four ensembles that participated in Carnegie Hall’s first ever Audience Engagement Institute, designed by the fab Deanna Kennett, Education Manager of the Ensemble Connect program. In the workshop session I had with the artists, we focused on clarifying one’s mission, and we used some exercises that are still resonating with me. Try them yourself—2 juicy questions and some mad libs—I’d love to know what comes up for you with these! Let’s start with the questions:

I. What first turned you on to music?

Maybe it was hearing a particular piece, or a concert, or a specific teacher. And if there wasn’t one specific “A-Ha” experience that got you started, then think about what got you to commit to music.

Writing down your answer helps organize your thoughts and clarify your experience. And your story will be more alive if you can remember and communicate how you reacted to the music: what it felt like in your body. What it did to your imagination and your thinking. Each one of us has her or his own way of experiencing music.

A violist in the group spoke about having a feeling of joy exploding from the top of her head. For me, I remember a first full rehearsal of Shostakovich 5 that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The piece gave me a sensation of physical space and power and a kind of cold beauty I’d never experienced before.

Tell your story to someone who hasn’t heard it before. And find out their story. This can be great to try with your students as well as with colleagues and in networking situations.

My experience with this is that telling and hearing such stories is always inspiring. It changes the energy in the room and helps people be more open to listening and being human with each other.

You can tell a version of your story as part of your teaching artist work, and use it in speaking to audiences or introducing yourself at the next master class you present. Get real with people and connect.

It’s also a great starting point for working on your mission statement, bio, teaching artist statement, or any other promotional piece, because it can connect us to our most authentic selves.

II. What’s the most meaningful audience connection you’ve ever made through a performance?

Think of the specific performance and what was special in how you felt connected with the audience. What in the performance helped create that meaningful connection? Did your programming, the intimacy of the venue, speaking from the stage, or a post-concert meet and greet play a role in connecting to the audience? It’s worth considering so you can be more intentional about the kinds of performances you book and create. What could you do to make more of these kinds of connections this coming season?

III. Metaphor Madlibs

A piece of homework I gave the artists in advance of the session was to come up with three metaphors to describe their ensemble. You can use this exercise for your own ensemble, or adapt it to use to describe your teaching studio, your organization / department, or yourself as an individual.

The answers are invariably far more revealing and engaging than most of the bios and mission statements I read (so they make a good warm-up for working on promo materials).

Complete these 3 “mad lib” style metaphors to describe your group (or organization’s) ‘DNA’—what you’re really about and how you operate. (OK, so technically these are similes but I’m sticking with the alliteration.)

A. We’re like a ­­­­­­_________________ (name a household appliance) in that we ___________________ and we _______________ in order to ___________________________.

B. At our best we’re like a ­­­­­­_________________ (name a plant) because we _________________ and _______________ so that our audiences _______________________.

C. Our energy is like that of a ­­­­­­_________________ (name an animal) because ___________________________ and people tell us we ____________________.

The mad lib exercise is a fun way to dig deeper. Often the metaphor we choose (or the one that chooses us) reveals more than we think. It loosens up our thinking and shakes out some core truths about who we really are, what our work is actually like, and why we do it.

I’d LOVE to hear what metaphors you came up with! Send to

If you’d like to discuss your career goals, and find out how coaching can help you achieve them, let’s talk! Reach me at

Have a great week,



Dream Big, Plan Smart. Live Well!






Get More!

Get More!


You're busy, so let me send the latest Music Career Byte direct to you each Monday. That way you won't have to find your way back to the blog to get more great career tips!

You have Successfully Subscribed!