Music Center CEO Rachel Moore Shares Wisdom with Graduates

Music Center CEO Rachel Moore gave the keynote speech at this year’s Conservatory commencement ceremony, giving valuable advice about pursuing an artistic career to our graduating class.  Photo by Joshua Krause

This May, the Colburn community celebrated the commencement of 39 Conservatory students who completed their degrees this spring. The ceremony was filled with moments of laughter, joy, recognition, and inspiration, with performances from graduating students, moving and witty speeches, and the conferring of honorary doctorates to esteemed faculty Arnold Steinhardt and Rachel Moore, CEO of The Music Center.

Keynote speaker Rachel Moore gave valuable advice to our graduating students, reminding them to relish their accomplishments: “Too often, as artists, we fail to acknowledge our growth and success. We are very good at saying what was wrong or incomplete.” As a former professional ballet dancer, she was guilty of that herself. However, she recognized that the skills and knowledge she gained as a performer were crucial on her path to becoming President of The Music Center. In her speech, she outlined three maxims to help guide artists in today’s world.

Read Ms. Moore’s speech below, slightly edited for style, length, and clarity.

  1. Never let others define success for you. Success is a complicated topic and differs greatly from person to person. It is both personal and relative. When I was a young dancer, I defined success narrowly, and, as it turned out, not productively as being a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and nothing else. Everyone, I thought, knew that being a star was a success. If I wasn’t that, I was a failure. This approach is extraordinarily limiting. When you think about success, think about what in the work is meaningful to you, what fulfills you. When you focus on your success vs. someone else’s, you are not going to be happy.

    In speaking with all the performers I interviewed for my book, many of them expressed regret for having, initially, very narrow views of what constitutes success. I would say to celebrated artists, “oh, you have had such an amazing career,” and their response would be “oh, but I was never as good as so and so.”

    In fact, when I spoke with Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director of ABT, he expressed great regret at how as a dancer he defined success. He was a principal dancer with ABT, danced on the world’s greatest stages with some of the most celebrated ballerinas of his era, but, instead of relishing these opportunities, he spent his time comparing himself with his dance contemporaries. In retrospect, he realized that those types of comparisons were neither helpful nor fair. He wishes he could go back and truly embrace his work as an artist, appreciate the beauty he created.

    He now understands that what stands the test of time is the work you do, not the title you hold

  1. Be very clear, and be able to articulate your artistic mission. You need to think about the reason you exist as an artist. You must be able to communicate that to others. Consider the following:

    Why is your work significant or essential to you? What is it that makes you passionate about your work?

    Secondly, beyond your personal interest or benefit, why should your work matter to others? Why do you think people will connect with your work? How is it different and why is that important? Keep in mind that you are in a performing art form, so an audience’s relationship to your work is critical. That’s why you need to answer this question in a very compelling way. If you don’t believe your work is special, that you have a unique voice, then why should anyone else? This is hard work, but trust me, the time you spend to think through the relevance of your art is critical if you are going to be competitive in the performing arts world.

  1. Keep an open mind. Follow your passion, but always keep on open mind. Any artist who thinks their vision, their approach, their work is the only way, is no longer an artist at heart. Artists take risks, are curious about the world, push themselves in ways that are uncomfortable. Always remember that it’s about the work, not your ego.

So, as you look forward, here is my wish for you as you launch your careers:

Enjoy the journey, enjoy the path. Seek to create a career that highlights your unique voice, is executed with integrity and is sustainable in the long term.

There will be days when you are afraid. When you are tired. When you are dispirited. Before you give up, please keep in mind that the arts are important, that you are important. Your voice and your worldview are critical. The world needs to see itself in new and different ways. The arts not only express great emotion; they allow us to step into another’s shoes, help us see that no matter who we are, or where we live, we are not much different than those across the globe; we are more alike than different. In short, the arts celebrate and strengthen our common humanity. And so, in those dark days, when you have doubt, remember that your work is essential to our culture, our community and our world.