Author: Rebekah Heller

Breaking Boundaries, Building Visions

It was 2002, and, looking for a summer festival that was a little different, I entered the the Banff Centre’s Masterclass program to study with famed bassoonist Stephen Maxym. At 87, this ended up being his last year teaching, as he passed away just a few months later. I was so thrilled by him — his knowledge and his generosity of spirit — I still feel lucky to have known him even for such a short time. I had come to bask in his wealth of knowledge, eager to enrich my own musical life with a renewed sense of focus and purpose. But I didn’t just want to siphon off his ideas and keep them to myself. I wanted to find a community at Banff: a mutually encouraging group of bassoonists and other instrumentalists, a collective of new friends with whom I could share secrets, tips and joys as we deepened our musical practice together in this beautiful place.

What I found instead was a shockingly dull and simple program of one masterclass a day, where all of us—at least a dozen bassoonists—were repeatedly left waiting for our chance to play, feeling a forced sense of competition for the attention and time of this great teacher. It felt like such a missed opportunity. There I was, surrounded by incredible musicians in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been, and what I was feeling was not a sense of renewed creative energy, but its opposite. I was bored. All that creativity, all that vibrancy! It felt like such a waste.

I wanted to make more chamber music. I wanted to be pushed into exploring unfamiliar repertoire. And most importantly, I wanted to feel that I was doing so with friends and co-conspirators, building each other up, building something new — not fighting for time, recognition and airspace.

Maybe I had picked the wrong summer program. Or maybe the problem ran deeper than that.

Institutions seem actually to be getting in the way of curious young artists.

I had experienced the same thing in my conservatory years, and it’s still something I see today, running through the fabric of most academic institutions and orchestral training programs. I’ve had hours of conversations with young people, inside those institutions now, who feel it too. There’s an unhealthy sense of competition among the musicians: a feeling that students are all fighting for a limited number of spots in a shrinking field. But it’s more than that. In their determination to force young musicians down the well-carved orchestral or academic grooves, institutions seem actually to be getting in the way of young artists curious to explore alternative ways of existing as dynamic and creative artists.

How do we move towards a more open, more loving, more supportive environment — one that fosters networks of support among artists and incentivizes collaborative creation? What if an intensive summer program were actively designed to nourish this sort of community? How might that vision radiate outward into broader institutional culture?

Enter Ensemble Evolution, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)’s attempt to build such a summer festival at Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity. The goal of Ensemble Evolution is to provide a haven from the shortsighted rigor of practicing the same excerpts and etudes ad nauseam, or performing the same rep over and over, by building a safe place for participants to follow their inner creative compasses, however outrageous or genre-busting those impulses might be. Co-artistic directors Claire Chase (ICE founder) and Steven Schick (longtime ICE collaborator) have designed a program that foregrounds support, inclusion, love and “git-er-done-ness” to empower young artists to dig deep, explore, and support one another as they build work together. The program is about to enter its second three-week season, shaped by feedback from participants and faculty who worked together on the program last summer.

Ensemble Evolution is a place for young artists who aren’t interested in being treated like precious commodities. It’s a community for players who want to become more complete artists by creating work with one another, from the ground up. It’s a place where participants can come as their whole, complicated, dynamically talented selves and take a deep dive into the music that makes them feel most alive and most themselves, in a community of supportive artists engaged in the same brave soul-searching.

Creative discovery can’t happen through contemplation alone.

But this creative discovery can’t happen through contemplation alone. At Ensemble Evolution, young artists are put to work. The first week is fully scheduled: this year players will be performing, side-by-side, brand new pieces written for the occasion by George Lewis, Sabrina Schroeder, Peter Evans, Matana Roberts, and Vivian Fung, among others. Composer participants will be writing new works for their peers. Through a rigorous schedule of musical practice in this first week, including daily 7:00 a.m. hikes in the Canadian Rockies, participants will get to know and trust each other as they move towards curating and producing their own events and concerts in weeks 2 and 3. ICE, as faculty, will be on hand to coach and guide, but every aspect of making the concerts happen is left in the hands of the participants.

Ensemble Evolution is the program I wish I had found at Banff in 2002. It is a dedicated space for artists to seek deep artistic fulfilment in full acknowledgment of the challenges of such a quest — the blurring of genre lines, the carving out of new career paths. It’s an intensive summer festival that strives to help younger artists find, more rapidly and with more confidence than they might otherwise, a place in the world that makes them feel creatively whole. But there’s nothing utopian about Ensemble Evolution. It confronts the pressures faced by practicing artists head-on.

I’ve had many obstacles in my path, as I outlined in my first NewMusicBox post, and I expect many more to come. All of us in ICE have learned hard lessons along the way. At Ensemble Evolution, we share these lessons with young artists with the aim of making the path to creative fulfilment less fraught than it already inevitably is. We invite participants to get closer to every part of the creation process in the hopes that they’ll come closer to realizing their dreams, however outrageous (or, indeed, traditional) those dreams may be.

The most amazing part of last summer, for me, was the amount I learned from the incredible participants. One such musician, Composer Camila Agosto, was already in our midst through her sheer ingenuity and bravery. In 2016, while still an undergraduate student, she submitted information about works to ICEcommons, ICE’s free online database of works by emerging composers. ICE members discovered and subsequently performed Agosto’s music, and we were all blown away by her distinctive voice and vision — rare for a composer so young.

Camila went on to participate in Ensemble Evolution in 2017, and found that her experience has had a deep impact on her musical practice. “The fact that I have been able to cultivate collaborative relationships that were built from the seeds of creative exploration at Banff has allowed me to develop so many projects that are being performed in various venues around the country, exposing our work to the greater music community.”

For bassoonist Ben Roidl-Ward, participating in Ensemble Evolution was mind expanding, and provided an incredible opening to new experiences and possibilities. Not only did he help run the shows, deeply involved in all aspects of producing insane marathons of music for himself and his peers, he performed an incredible amount of music, self-curated and self-produced. I asked him what his last day consisted of and he said “That day, I played iPhone, strobe tuner, and bassoon. I played pieces by Biber, Villa-Lobos, Pauline Oliveros, Anna Heflin, Jordon Morton – none of it assigned. This was all music I discovered in those three amazing weeks.”

The future of music will be built, from the ground up, by the young artists of today.

The future of music isn’t a decision that will be made by institutions, by donors, or even by established artists. It’s a reality that will be built, from the ground up, by the young artists of today. We are rolling up our sleeves and getting ready to help with the heavy lifting. Through creating, learning together, trusting one another, cultivating curiosity and critical thought, and bringing unique voices to the stage (via the mountaintop), the young artists about to enter into the second season of Ensemble Evolution will change the musical landscape for us all.

Finding Ways to Entice Young Musicians to be Creative

Uneasy silence filled the room. Tight bursts of muffled laughter sporadically cut through an undercurrent of shuffling sneakers and nervous wriggling in chairs. Here I was, inviting a group of exuberant Los Angeles middle school musicians to make some NOISE with me in a rendering of Pauline Oliveros’s Sounds from Childhood, but all I got was some side-eye, a little healthy skepticism, and perhaps a touch of dread.

These students were the YOLA at HOLA Symphonic Winds, a group of young musicians from Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, an El Sistema-inspired program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic based out of Heart of Los Angeles, a non-profit that hosts programs for underserved youth in academics, arts, and athletics. YOLA at HOLA—a full, cost-sharing partnership between the L.A. Phil and HOLA—is a free, intensive music program in which students engage in 12-15 hours of group music lessons and ensemble playing each week with the goal of empowering young people to be both musicians and agents of change. The YOLA program, which operates at multiple sites in L.A., focuses on neighborhoods grappling with violence and high poverty rates, and is designed both as a haven from the outside world and as a way to provide a new lens through which students can view themselves, each other, and their collective creative capacity.

The International Contemporary Ensemble’s work at YOLA at HOLA was to pilot a new side-by-side initiative, called entICE, and our goals were multifaceted. We wanted to create a new piece of music, collectively, and workshop it together, from the early stages through its performance (much like any piece in ICElab). In so doing, we wanted to invite these students, who were mostly focusing on music from the distant past, to view this process and the resulting sounds, as theirs—their music, their work.

By playing together (literally sitting next to and among the young ensemble members), we were seeking to build upon and reinforce the ancient tradition of creating and shaping music with one another. Instead of “teaching” new music and telling kids how to play these outrageous new sounds, we would play side-by-side, teachers and students both learning and discovering in tandem.

As an intro (an ICEbreaker—tee-hee) and a way to build trust in the first few workshops with the YOLA students, we incorporated methods from ICE’s earlier education program, a graphic score workshop called The Listening Room. We invited the students to invent their own musical language—using pictures, words, and symbols—in order to compose a series of small graphic scores that allowed us to work towards building a big, collective piece.

When they asked what a composer was, I said, “YOU! YOU are all composers!”

The Listening Room has always been a favorite of mine. I’ll never forget the end of my first workshop in Chicago at the George B. Swift Specialty School in a class of first graders. When they asked what a composer was, I said, “YOU! YOU are all composers!” In one particular child, I saw a look of wonder and awe and then a small but palpable recognition of her own POWER wash over her face. That moment still gives me goosebumps to this day.

Beginning with our residency at YOLA at HOLA, we used what we learned in The Listening Room and incorporated it into entICE residencies going forward, keeping the graphic score intensive workshop as a way to empower and get to know new students while creating a shared language and way of working together before venturing back into the world of notated music.

The overarching goals of entICE were clear:

  • Invite the bright minds of a new generation into the creation process, providing them with a sense of ownership over “new music”: THEIR music.
  • Play together, side-by-side, in rehearsals, workshops, and performances—learning from one another and inviting intense levels of collaboration at every turn.
  • Invite students to COMPOSE, to actually create their own work.
  • Illustrate, through the composers we select, the diversity, depth, and breadth of the artistic world in spite of a dearth of representation.
  • Create a space of trust and comfort; a place where there is no such thing as playing the wrong note, and no sound is “uglier” (or prettier, for that matter) than any other sound.

Tania León, the powerhouse Cuban composer, was our first entICE collaborator. Not only did she write a great piece for the ICE / YOLA experience called Pa’lante, she conducted and coached us all towards an incredible performance. She was TOUGH, but her high standards and her ability to relate to students on and off the podium, earned her the respect and awe of even the most skeptical young collaborators.

We learned so much in that first collaboration, and we are ever grateful to the amazing staff of YOLA for their insight and guidance and to the students for their trust and bravery. Over many intense days and several weekends, we worked on building that trust, finding a shared language, and making something NEW!

And the students, with very little encouragement necessary, ended up creating an AMAZING graphic score, which they called CW Rainforest, a dedication to the founding program director of YOLA at HOLA, Christine Witkowski, who had started them all on their journeys as young musicians. They were so successful in building this piece and rehearsing it on their own, we added it to the performance with León’s piece at Disney Hall; though ICE members sat with and among the student musicians, these young artists were the true leaders in every way. The conductorless ensemble was led by a team of internal firebrands: the percussionist who started the piece with a loud BANG; the sole bassist in a room of wind instrumentalists who bravely took a solo; the brass, who self-organized seven consecutive hits inside the macro-structure of the piece. At every turn, it was thrilling to witness to this collective creative energy and drive.

EntICE has since expanded to many cities nationwide. Our next collaboration was with the People’s Music School in Chicago and composer Marcos Balter, and after that we worked with the SFSYO of San Francisco alongside composer Anahita Abbasi.

Now, FINALLY, we’re in New York City! On March 31, we’ll complete a month of deep collaboration in the Bronx with the incredible students of UpBeat NYC and the amazing Nicole Mitchell, presenting both her work, a piece called Inescapable Spiral, and theirs, titled A Musical Storm, at the Five Boroughs Music Festival at Pregones Theater.

Making music together is a powerful tool.

As entICE grows and expands, so too do we learn from all our collaborators of every age and experience level. Making music together is a powerful tool, and I’m immensely grateful for every young student who has invited me to sit next to them (my bassoon possibly WAY too close to their ears for comfort!) and engage with me in the most resonant and human way I know how: by making sound with one another.

Through the constant work-in-progress that is entICE, one thing is crystal clear: there is much work to be done. As a community, we are only just beginning to start on the long road to recognizing and exploring how to upend the implicit and explicit biases that contribute to the incessant strengthening of the status quo and consistent overlooking of the creativity of the young artists.

And yet, in each of these deep collaborations there is a moment: when these kids see a composer who looks more like themselves than Beethoven or Brahms; when they perform their own pieces, written by and for themselves and one another; when, hopefully, they get a glimpse of their own creative power. That moment is why this work is vitally important. Now more than ever.


Never Say That’s Not Possible

In 2009, as the newest member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, I was invited to perform my first solo show in New York City. I was excited, yet terrified of the daunting task in front of me: programming a solo bassoon concert. In a raw space. With no piano. AHHHHHHHH!

ICE had commissioned a new bassoon and electronics piece (by rising Mexican star Edgar Guzman) in my honor; but, beyond that, how could a person even begin to find such repertoire? Yes, there was the Luciano Berio Sequenza XII, the seemingly endless 18-minute solo marathon (for both bassoonist and audience) commissioned by the bassoon wizard Pascal Gallois. And yes, there were the Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone’s Waltzes(cute, overplayed solo ditties) and, of course, the intoxicating and sinewy lines of Olga Neuwirth’s Torsion. But beyond these, what new, interesting, exciting solo bassoon pieces existed?!

Very few, I discovered. Instead of stomping my feet in frustration or shrugging my shoulders in weary acceptance, I asked, “What can I do to change this?” Thus began a lifelong quest, in step (both artistically and practically) with my new position at ICE, to forge new relationships with composers in order to develop a new body of repertoire for the instrument, and in so doing, empower other musicians to do the same.

We’ve premiered more than 800 new works.

This spirit of adventure has always been at the heart of ICE’s mission to commission new music. Since our founding in 2001, we’ve premiered more than 800 new works. The beauty of our collective is that all 36 of us have incredibly unique and creative points of view, and each new project becomes imbued with those varied and diverse ideas. Deep collaborations, both among ourselves and with composers, ensure that these stories are told using a shared language we build and evolve together.

In an attempt to codify these methods of collaboration, we began ICELab in 2010. Through an online submission process, we chose six emerging composers each year from wildly diverse backgrounds—geographically, educationally, artistically—and gave them the space, time, and resources to experiment with performers before a piece was fully baked. We were inspired by theater and dance companies run by our peer groups (like The Troupe) and mentors (like The Wooster Group), and their spirit of radical collaboration in all parts of the process, from conception through performance. This kind of project, in ICE-land, had previously been impossible, as there was no method in place to fund this sort of musical experimentation. So, with crucial support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we embarked on this adventure.

The results were overwhelmingly, outrageously exciting! Through the application process, we were introduced to composers outside our network and with whom we began long-term collaborative relationships. To name just a few ICELab “graduates” who have continued their trajectories into major, industry-shaking careers: Tyshawn Sorey, Carla Kihlstedt, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Suzanne Farrin, Zosha Di Castri, Marcos Balter, Du Yun (whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel’s Bone had its earliest premiere in the “lab”).

We turned ICElab from a noun into a verb.

In 2014, we turned ICElab from a noun into a verb, sun-setting the initiative as a standalone program and making it the DNA of how ICE works on every new piece. Every new work we make is now “labbed,” supported (through myriad, intentional fundraising efforts) from conception to performance. This allows us to have a period of time for each project in which composers and performers can experiment, play, record, and have the freedom to learn from one another. Because of this deeply collaborative process, pieces aren’t just written for the instruments involved; they’re written for the very specific, creative, and virtuosic members in our ranks.

My own ideas about how to create new work were developing alongside ICE’s commissioning process. By working with composers so closely within ICELab, I was able to see and understand how I was directly responsible for certain impulses and directions in projects—not only within the sonic world of the bassoon, but in the overall shaping of a work. It was thrilling!

The thrill and the risks both felt amplified when working alone. Commissioning solo pieces means lots of intense one-on-one collaboration, and true collaboration, I found, is hard and SCARY; it requires all parties to be extremely vulnerable and open. After the agony of programming my solo show in 2008, I began in earnest to commission the works that would make up my first album, 100 names, released in 2013. On speaking a hundred names (for bassoon and live electronics)—the piece by Nathan Davis after which I named my album—was my first such journey. Nathan works in a fascinating way. He gets his hands on an instrument and starts learning it; he’s deeply interested in the sounds that will come out in the hands of a beginner. On the bassoon, that happens to be multiphonics. ANY multiphonic. Fun fact: on a bassoon, it’s way easier to produce a multiphonic than it is to produce a single beautiful tone. So easy, in fact, that Nathan composed an entire section devoted to a gorgeous, deafening cacophony of many-layered bassoon multiphonics, serving as the climax of the piece that we jokingly refer to as DEVASTATION.

Never say “that’s not possible” or even “no” without really trying (and failing) myriad times.

When working with a composer, it’s so easy to claim authority on your instrument and dictate the limitations and technical boundaries that the composer has to work within. Nathan asked me to try some things that I was convinced I could not do, those that I said were IMPOSSIBLE on the bassoon. It’s easy to respond this way—immediately saying NO—out of the fear of looking stupid or untalented, because everyone else has told you it’s impossible, or because you’ve never been able to do it. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to never say “that’s not possible” or even “no,” without really, really being open to trying (and failing) myriad times. Because of Nathan, his patient insistence, and our trust in one another as collaborators, I often wail out in performance on an “impossible” high A-flat; teeth on the reed, hips thrust out, goddess above treble clef.

The exhilarating feeling of performing new works, created collaboratively, is magnified a thousand-fold when a piece develops a life of its own. I’m especially thrilled to welcome into the world Metafagote (the title track of my second album), an epic, 18-minute work (eat your heart out, Mr. Berio!) by Felipe Lara for solo bassoon and six pre-recorded bassoons and contrabassoons, or for a live choir of seven bassoons.

Not only have I performed both versions of the piece, but several other players have already taken it on. One particularly ambitious and talented young bassoonist, Clifton Guidry at Peabody, is performing it on his senior recital next weekend, and allowing me the immense pleasure of playing in his back-up band. This is SO brave! It is a risk to interpret someone else’s work, and I applaud Clifton and his willingness to be so open and so vulnerable and jump off this musical cliff with me and Felipe and his other collaborators.

Exploration and collaboration are inherently risky…

Exploration and collaboration are inherently risky, but the rewards are so clear. Not only can a deeply personal piece turn into a powerful universal experience, one that can be interpreted by any willing explorer, the process itself becomes a mighty teacher. I’ve become a much better musician thanks to my musical deep dives, within the ICE collective and beyond.

My great hope is that we continue to inspire one another, performing and commissioning new works together, so the next generation’s young artists, faced with programming their first big show, will be overwhelmed by a beautiful, varied, unique, and multi-faceted new repertoire, overflowing with the diverse voices of a movement fed up with waiting for someone else to do it for them.

Jumping Off a Musical Cliff

An excited hush settled over the gallery. Anticipation and delight fueled the tense few seconds before the first note was played. And then… pure magic!

Although the audience was small, the commitment, focus, and sense of community was breathtaking; the barriers between performer, composer, and listener disappeared. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded on all sides by musicians and advocates who were fully committed, generous, brave, and outrageously virtuosic. I felt like we were jumping off a musical cliff together and it was thrilling. By the end of the concert I knew: THIS is what I wanted to do with my life.

This was 2007: my first concert with the International Contemporary Ensemble, in the beautiful Tenri Institute in Manhattan’s West Village. Before this concert, I could not have imagined this incredible moment, or how it would change the direction of my life and career forever.

I gravitated towards the things no one else in my family wanted.

The question I’m most often asked is “why the bassoon?” Growing up in a very small town in New York’s culturally and economically depressed Adirondack Park, I was an outspoken youngest child, aware of being outshone by my older brothers. I gravitated towards the things no one else in my family wanted: I taught myself to LOVE black cherry ice cream, simply because it was the flavor everyone else abhorred. More ice cream for me! The bassoon became the black cherry of musical instruments; in my words, “something that nobody wanted to play.” But, at age nine, I decided I did.

This shocked and charmed my band teacher, who pulled a behemoth plastic instrument out from a very dusty old case. Delighted by the new object, my mother and I headed home with this beast and spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to put it together. This was the late ’80s: no YouTube instrument demonstrations, no method books, and—with no private teacher—I was left to forge ahead with encouragement from my mom (a very good amateur flutist) and an old, yellowed fingering chart my band teacher found from his college course on double reeds. By the end of the day, I had figured out how to play the world’s loudest and most-abrasive version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” much to the dismay of my smirking brothers.

I was ambitious and talented, but never solely focused on music. I never imagined a career as a bassoonist was possible, or even desirable. To feed my myriad interests outside music, as well as my bassooning, I chose to study in the Oberlin College and Conservatory’s rigorous double degree program. And under the direction of Tim Weiss and the amazing Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, found an incredible introduction to new music.

There very little repertoire that included bassoon.

Although I was at Oberlin when the seeds of ICE began to sprout, I wasn’t involved at the beginning. This was not out of disinterest; it was out of fear. Not only was there very little repertoire that included bassoon, it seemed outside of the realm of possibility to me to pursue such a dream. In my mind, an orchestra path loomed larger than life, the inevitable (if joyless) way to make a decent living playing this ridiculous instrument.

After Oberlin, I went to graduate school at UT Austin, still unsure of what was next for me. From Texas, I moved to Chicago to join the Civic Orchestra, immediately afterwards winning a coveted spot in the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, where I stayed for three years performing, practicing, and auditioning for countless orchestras around the world.

As glamorous and high-profile as it was, something about my New World Symphony experience never felt quite right. I kept auditioning for jobs I didn’t really want, never understanding (or questioning) why. Finally, in 2007, I got a phone call from the already legendary Claire Chase, founder of ICE. She invited me to play a concert in New York in a month’s time. I was excited and terrified — the music looked SO hard!

But then I was onstage with ICE at Tenri, diving headfirst into Christopher Trebue Moore’s brand new opus tentacles and knot formations, performing technical feats on my instrument that, if you’d asked me only months before, I would have promised you were impossible. It felt creative, boundless, and exhilarating; it was nothing like playing Tchaikovsky 5 (wonderful as it is) yet again. After that magical concert, I felt so happy and so free, but also so heavy. What would I do with this new pursuit, and the knowledge that something so deeply satisfying existed for me outside the safe orchestral path

Gripped by this new obsession (MUST PLAY WITH ICE) and the equally strong fear of being broke in New York (MUST SURVIVE), I wrestled with my next move. On the one hand, I had an offer to play principal bassoon in the Jacksonville Symphony, with all the recognition, stability, and financial security that came along with it. On the other, I had an offer from ICE to move to NYC and join the group as their bassoonist. The ICE offer felt like all my hopes and dreams materializing! But it also couldn’t offer more than a few gigs that first year, and with very few friends or contacts in New York City, I was terrified of not being able to make ends meet.

I took the Jacksonville job, and with it its modest salary which was more money than I had ever made in my life. And every day I carried home the weight of a job that didn’t bring me joy. Although I worked with some wonderful musicians and made some truly great friends, I discovered very quickly that this world (as I had feared) wasn’t for me. I languished within the rigid structure, longing for agency over what I played, who I played with, and what shape my life would take. After two months, I decided that no amount of fear—especially about something as superfluous as money—would ever keep me from my dreams again. I left the orchestra the next spring and moved to NYC, broke but endlessly optimistic.

Gigs waiting tables are hard to come by.

To survive, I hustled, which meant taking every odd job I could until I landed a coveted gig waiting tables. (They’re hard to come by if you don’t know someone!) I relied on tip money to offset my gigs with ICE and other NYC groups for more than four years. Even on the worst days, slammed with tables full of well-meaning foreign tourists who thought a 10% tip meant I did a “really good job,” I was never sorry I left the stability of the wrong job for the right life.

As my musical career grew, my days of waiting tables faded, but the hustle remained. I hustle every day to do what I do, but the great beauty of my chosen path is I don’t ever have to hustle alone again. I hustle with my colleagues at ICE to expand the way new music is created, experienced, and shared. I hustle with my collaborators—composers, fellow performers, and advocates—to ensure underrepresented voices in our field are brought to the fore. I hustle with the incredible community of performers across all disciplines to shatter assumptions about what we can or cannot do or be as artists. I am most grateful to hustle with and for the younger artists in our community; I strive to help them tear down their own barriers to joy and fulfillment, to empower them to remain fearless in the face of uncertainty, and to convey what I’ve learned along the way: that the safest thing you can ever do is take the risks that matter most.