Why Even Try?
When he started his career, Sybarite5’s Louis Levitt took a few wrong turns—in part because he was afraid of the judgment of others if he pursued what he felt was his true calling. But experience is showing him how to put aside that fear, to value humor and authenticity in his work, and to feed his artistic inner self.
When I made the videos above to promote Sybarite5’s new album Outliers via my new side hustle Bright Shiny Things, one of my fantasies was that someone in an office somewhere saw a video, cracked up, and then said to their office mates, “Hey, come over here and see this funny-ass video from Sybarite5.” I then, in my mind’s eye, pictured the entire office crowding around one screen to watch our videos, laughing and chanting, “We love Sybarite5!” for 5-20 minutes/hours. I know this is exactly what happened, at least on a few occasions. Please don’t tell me otherwise, as my fragile ego cannot take it.
Anyway, I sincerely hope the videos contributed to our fans’ enjoyment, as well as to the album’s #1 debut on the Billboard Traditional Classical Charts.
(Now, we know there are those who will throw their arms up and scream, or quietly mutter under their breath, that we’re cheapening this classical art music by adding humor. These are probably the same people who think we need to only wear tuxedos on stage forever. These people likely want us to be something other than what we are.)
So why do it? Why do I go to the hassle of doing this for “new music?” It’s not for the money, and it’s not for the fame. No one is #newmusicfamous or #newmusicrich.
Here are the stock answers: The work is fun, and I believe in the project. I believe in the ensemble, music, and the composers. I know this music needs to get out into the world, and I want to see that happen in any way possible. So if I need to make some videos, FINE.
But I think I can dig a little deeper. The next answer is still pretty simple—we as artists continuously need to find new ways to talk about the music and the art we are creating. And I’m not afraid to make funny videos about something that people may consider “serious” art. I’m just not.
Now we get to the deep water—I have to admit to myself right now that it’s not easy for me to say that I’m not afraid of something. In our modern, social media-driven world, there is certainly at the very least a perception that there is a lot to be afraid of. I’ve recently come to realize that there are many choices I make because I am afraid of the judgment of others, so now what I want to understand is why I’m not afraid to do something so I can live with less fear. I think that making promo videos or marketing materials has something to do with the fact that I see performing on stage and interacting with our audiences online as not being so different.
If I’m doing my job well on stage and if Sybarite5 is doing its job well, we share something with the audience. And we get something back as well. There is a relationship. There is intimacy and laughter, which are related by the way.
To truly laugh with someone—not at them or near them, but with them—requires a certain amount of intimacy. Because laughter, like any emotional expression, requires the safety to express that joy. The trust that your expression won’t be dismissed. The openness and sharing of the moment. It requires an understanding of why the moment is funny, and why the shared experience is important. —ourbodiesourselves.org
I see our social media accounts, videos, albums, printed and online materials as part of a conversation happening within the context of our on-stage relationship with the audience. And so to some degree, because we are sometimes funny on stage, we can certainly make some funny videos. It’s an authentic presentation of who we are as artists and as people.
Perhaps I’m particularly mindful of this because as I began my own career, I took a few wrong turns before I found my confidence and got going down the right road for me.
When I started my professional life in music, there was no path forward to have a career as a double bassist in chamber music. It simply didn’t exist. Most of my training was focused on getting a job in an orchestra, which I eventually did. And, while performing orchestra masterworks is something that gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, I knew very early on after getting an orchestra job that I would never have a say in the artistic production in a way that was deeply meaningful to me. So a search began. The search was within myself, and outside myself. I asked lots of questions. Is this an expansion of my education? A means to an end? Do I have already the answer? Is there an answer? I didn’t know. I just knew I needed to search. This wasn’t going to be easy, simple, or quick, and I knew it. Nevertheless I went there. I played for a lot more people and sought out new teachers. I eventually came up with musical and artistic growth as a path. I founded Sybarite5 and soon that became a vehicle for my artistic and musical growth in a more profound way than the orchestra.
Discovering this path took some time. I say to a lot of friends that I probably spent about five years scared shitless to even mention out loud that I wanted to have a career in chamber music to most of my teachers. They’d laugh out loud, right? I thought these people were orchestral gods of bass, and I think they would have seen chamber work as a total cop out to getting a “real job” in an orchestra. And, if I’m being honest with myself, which I am, those choices were being made because I was afraid of the judgment of others. This was often counterproductive to my artistic and musical growth. I’m mentioning this again now because if I had known what I know now then, just maybe I could have made my decisions a little quicker or with more ease, and it’s my hope that maybe some youngster will read this and they can skip the five-year indecisive torment plan.
Actually, it probably took me eight years to really make a decision to put the majority of my energy into a career in chamber music (and therefore not into orchestra auditions). Oddly enough, the single moment that I can say I chose chamber music was when the New York Philharmonic called me to play as a substitute and I said nope, I had to study chamber music in Aspen. I wasn’t afraid, and I was too naïve to know that they’d never call me again. But in hindsight, I made the correct, if subconscious, choice by going with the thing that fed my artistic inner self. I took a path that had more potential for growth.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and judgment, and how those two things influence the majority of the decisions I make. But there is one place that they don’t get a say, and that’s when I’m on stage performing new music. Why is that?
I guess I’ve got a week to figure it out and let you know.