There’s something I have to tell you, Dear Reader. I have a secret life.
I’ve known this about myself since I was 14 years old. I experimented with this part of who I was a lot while I was in college, but eventually I moved on and settled into a more traditional lifestyle and quietly tucked this side of myself away. I lived like this for years.
But that’s been changing. It all started shortly after my first marriage ended, when I was looking for something to take me back out into the world. Suddenly, this other side of me seemed unavoidable – I felt so compelled to show who I really was, to do it again and again. I worked on Wall Street at the time, and suddenly it seemed people like me were everywhere and I had never noticed before: hanging out in seedy bars with late night open mics, or sneaking out during our lunch breaks to a quick session in a rented room nearby. We led a second life complete with different friends, different clothes, different mannerisms, but more fully ourselves.
And then I met my current partner, Ryan. Unlike me, Ryan had never hid behind another identity. Ryan is proud, fearless, open, visible. When, during one of our first dates, Ryan suggested we write a musical together, I knew I could no longer hide who I was.
I am, Dear Reader, a musician.
I’ve been playing guitar, singing songs, and writing my own music for over 30 years. I was even in a college rock band called the Rhythm Method, and we were stars of a sort in Athens, Ohio in the 1980’s.
These days I have a much bigger and more exciting gig: I’m Composer in Residence for Downtown Art. My wife Ryan is the Artistic/Executive Director, and she’s been leading this amazing theater company for over 20 years. Even more remarkably, for the majority of that time the company has been dedicated to working with teen artists to create original theater, music, and performance events, and to champion the capacities of young people in a world which often dismisses their artistic contributions.
We are about to open our new season (with an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and you can purchase tickets here). It is going to be an amazing show, complete with an original score composed by one of our very talented young company members.
Downtown Art also plays a major role (so to speak) in Fourth Arts Block and the E 4th Street Cultural District. And Ryan and I are both members of the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts Working Group – which brings together a unique alliance of artists, activists, creative manufacturers and policymakers that are committed to revitalizing New York City from the neighborhood up.
Creativity and Lunacy
But I also want to say that I’m only half-joking about my conceit of “coming out” as an artist. There’s a reason why so many bankers, nonprofit executives, public sector leaders, attorneys, and real estate gurus don’t show you their poetry, their paintings, or their latest compositions. New York City is unusual in its deep commitment to fostering art and artists, and to patronizing a wide diversity of creative forms and traditions.
Even here, however, artists can suffer from the same stereotypes that trouble them elsewhere across this great land of ours: we are supposedly moody, self-absorbed, bad with numbers, impractical, idealistic, foolish. We don’t contribute meaningfully to society, and instead indulge a hobby beyond reasonable proportion. We aren’t reliable. In fact, we’re just a little bit nuts.
But I speak from deep experience when I say that the overwhelming majority of artists I know are the exact opposite: detail-oriented, highly capable, resourceful, and able to deliver complex projects within budget and on time. They generate new ideas and combine old ones in compelling and powerful ways. They help us see again the world around us, and to find its wonder, its tragedy, its humor and its grace.
I’m an artist. I’m also a community development banker, a philanthropy professional, a nonprofit executive and a management consultant. My mind is big enough. So is yours. I would like it so much better if you would show all of yourself, and I will try and do the same. It’s so much more interesting.
What’s more, at the heart of all our work is the creative process, the ability to think freshly about each situation, to imagine and re-imagine: whether you are a nurse, statistician, bricklayer or an app designer.
- Welcome address to freshman parents at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory.