Like Minds by Vanessa Littrell (’19)

In August 2019, the MFA in Music Composition welcomed graduates of the program back to VCFA for our first-ever alumnx event. Twenty alumnx attended, from our very first class to our most recent! Frank J. Oteri and Trudy Chan led a three-day seminar on a range of professional topics, including: self-representation; preparation of both physical and digital scores, recordings, and other materials; writing effective artist biographies and press releases; registering your music with performance rights organizations; applying for grants and awards; which service organizations to be aware of; what music conferences to attend and why; and more… 

 

Vanessa Littrell (’19) was one of the participants. In the guest post below, she reflects on the opportunity to reconnect with her community of fellow composers.

 

Like Minds

In the final semester of the MFA in Music Composition at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), there were many conversations about collaboration. As we planned for graduation, and strategized for the “afterlife” or post graduation, promises were made and contact information exchanged. And then real life set in, sending us towards the ever present pull of family, work, and other interests. The glow of creating art threatening to dim itself as unattended tasks or forgotten naysayers reappeared in our foreground. I won’t dare to speak for everyone, but there are many reasons art takes a back seat once the MFA is in hand.

But the greater influence, the greater gift, is this sense of being a tribe. I call it the grand puppy pile of artists.

 

And yet, just as the tides of indifference, apathy, or lack of time and space were threatening to suffocate, there was a text, or a post, or a real live phone call bringing the magic of VCFA back into focus. This is the true collaboration. Yes, we can make awesome songs together, and sometimes we do. But the greater influence, the greater gift, is this sense of being a tribe. I call it the grand puppy pile of artists. What we have in common is a need to create art. And sometimes just the mere mention of our times at VCFA is enough to reenergize that creative force. That is what brought me to the alumnx event this past August. Setting the intention to reconnect, to have real conversations about the business side of art, and to commune with like minds.

…the unquantifiable experience of saying “yes” to art and “yes” to supporting each other.

 

I could regail you with the minutia of what we did in our sessions. We sculpted our artist statements, created new elevator speeches, looked at our websites through different lenses, and helped each other find our greatest strengths as artists. This alone was worth the trip back to VCFA. And then there were side conversations with professors. These moved beyond the stress of trying to meet performance deadlines and into the juicier know-how of applying art to life. Reconnecting with our mentors allowed whole new exchanges about searching, connecting, collaborating, pulling it all together. Over soup, on the way to a lecture, I had many invaluable conversations about creating space for art and continuing a network of support. These talks were the most valuable asset to this event; the unquantifiable experience of saying “yes” to art and “yes” to supporting each other.

Following through on promises to stay in touch, I have had multiple conversations and accountability sessions with other alumnx since the event. Jenny Davis (’18), Tiffany Pfeiffer (’19), and I have been strategizing how to support each other as female recording artists. We meet every five weeks and are working on a business plan. Jan McBride (’19) and I meet monthly to recap our work or general “arty” thoughts. This is essential as we reinvent ourselves in the professional realm. Carl LaMark (’19) and I connect to discuss what we are doing, and where it goes next. We share our perspectives on musical theater, what works, what doesn’t. Nick Creed (’19) has come to my studio several times to help with vocal arranging and assist with male vocals on my demo projects. With his assistance, we reworked one of the duets from my musical into a beautifully emotional piece.

All of these interactions help my work stay fresh and invigorated. It is these collaborations born of the VCFA alumnx that I hold dear. These are the fruits of my alumnx connections. These are the rewards of spending time with like minds.

 

Vanessa Littrell is a vocalist and composer who sculpts with lyrics and melody. Carefully crafted in the traditions of folk, rock and popular music, her work taps into the audience’s imagination, coaxing them to lean in a little closer. Always looking for a new experience, she has dabbled in traditional, abstract, choral, spoken word, techno, symphonic, political rant and lullabies. (newly vamped website: vanessalittrell.com)