What do you put in your biography for the paper programs of concerts in which you are featured either as a soloists or chamber musicians? If you have a professional/semi-pro website for your musical endeavors, what do you put in that biography?
I ask because I've noticed wildly divergent biography contents in both amateur and professional biographies in my current city, both in paper programs and online.
It is my understanding that in a pro or semi-pro resume, only college-and-beyond education, and post-college professional experience is mentioned. Your childhood local competitions won (unless you did something like win the Junior Menuhin), the middle school youth symphony you were the concertmaster of, your Juilliard Pre-College, your (non-famous) pre-college teachers, your attendance at teenage music camps, etc. are generally not mentioned. The biography similarly follows the items on the resume.
For amateurs, it is presumably reasonable to mention your last teacher, or attendance at an arts high school / Pre-College program if you don't have college-and-beyond to mention. But you don't mention most childhood accomplishments otherwise (some people will mention having attended Interlochen or Tanglewood in the summer, though). Amateurs may also mention their current profession. (Pros with a day job occcasionally also mention their other profession.)
Does anyone else have a different opinion? In my written biographies, I only mention current stuff. Nothing from childhood at all (I presume no one cares about my youth symphony concertmaster/principal 2nd positions even if they are prestigious, or childhood competitions won), but I notice pros including this stuff.
For an amateur, it seems reasonable to mention something like a youth symphony concertmaster position -- just limit pre-college accomplishments to the most prestigious one or two things.
Keep it short, relevant to the event, and no padding. For a classical Violin bio., I do not mention that I played in a drum line for a fife and drum corps, electric guitar, Mariachi singer, etc. What I also find annoying is solo singers listing every opera role that they have done.
Basically, you want to put a few things into your bio that will give the reader some background on you, so that they know who you are and where you're coming from. And if you have to reach back a little farther (i.e., because you don't have more recent accolades to list), then I think that's what you do.
I don't know who reads bios. Usually they are more like puffed-up resumes in the program notes I see. I have played with these big names, blah blah blah. One thing I'm always curious about that gets left out just about any performer bio is who they studied with - And yeah, they will mention they studied with Delay or this or that big name, but I feel like the formative teachers always get the shaft, which leads me to believe that the bios are just a vain publicity exercise, and that names that aren't big enough aren't worth noting.
(edited a little bit to make clearer) I think Paul's bio is very well written and fun to read and learn a bit more about his background! For Lydia I would recommend something similar. I agree, do not list youth accomplishments. So, basically, that you play since early childhood, possibly mention your teachers, say that you are nowadays a professional in (fill in blanks), that you are now an avid amateur, studying with current teacher name, playing/concertmaster of current orchestra, and perhaps list some recent events/places where you have performed solo or chamber music.
People do read bios, especially if the performers are not famous.
I always read the printed bios in the program. But I agree with Christian that when there are long lists of former collaborators, that starts to remind one of 1 Chron 1.
I like to read about people who are performing. The best bio was one, where a young artist described why she decided to pick up her violin, how she met and begun collaboration with her pianist, how they did choose the pieces for the program, and how they ended up to perform in that rural area of nowhere of Denmark.
I like reading bios which show the performer(s) as real people and don't read like some c.v. of past teachers, honors and performances. And when I'm asked to provide such a bio for a printed program I try to do the same.
I think as an amateur I'd just as well not do any bio at all. A (professional) violinist once told me: "Never tell that you are an amateur when you perform. You'll only bias the audience against you". This may be exaggerated but I do think there is some truth to it.
My favorite biography ever:
David, Micheal, Albrecht, and Andrew, I loved your posts. :-)
You have to be careful with humor, though. You don't want to convey the notion that you think the organization that you're performing with is some kind of joke. I was making my orchestra debut with Blacksburg Community Strings! I wanted to play as well as I possibly could, and I think I pretty much did, although certainly it was not a perfect performance by any stretch. My fellow orchestra members were trying their hardest too. We're definitely amateurs -- no question about it -- but even though we don't "take ourselves too seriously," the endeavor itself is a serious attempt at a good performance -- and, of course, an enjoyable experience for all.
I find it nice to read about people's histories, especially in concerts aimed at the general community, where people bring their kids. A lot of folks include how old they were when they started playing, and a bit about their early years (whether they started via Suzuki or other training). And it's nice to have a little bit about them as human beings, too.
Paul, moment of truth: Do your family enjoy eating your food, as much as you enjoy cooking it?
Couple of random, jet-lagged thoughts in no particular order:
Very lovely reflection on how bio content should vary depending upon one's goals, but also one's positionality (as a superstar, young professional, amateur, etc.) by Katie B.!
John, yes they do. I'm never going to win any gourmet cooking contests, but I am good at making "family fare," as I learned from my mother and I have been doing all the cooking as long as I have been married. (My wife does any baking that may be needed -- I do not enjoy baking, but she is good at it, just a lucky break for me there.) This afternoon I had a bit more time because it was a "snow day" and I made almost 8 quarts of beef stew, which will give me four meals for the four of us. I am guided by taste, nutrition, a desire to decrease (gradually) the amount of red meat (beef stew is something I make maybe once per year), whatever is on sale in a particular week, and simplicity for making a large quantity that I can put into containers and reheat all week. Fortunately my kids eat pretty much everything that is put in front of them. Last week I made 8 quarts of pasta e fagioli. What will I make next week? I impulsively bought a package of freekeh at the international market and I have never made it before so I'll probably turn it into a pilaf to go with some skewers -- with any luck I'll have a nice enough day on the weekend to fire up the grill.
Thank you for this thread. It is really helping me to think about how to help my kids with this. I really hate his current CV-like bio.
Lots of interesting (and good) advice on this topic.
All very interesting. My standard program bio is fairly dull (and it emphasizes what I'm playing this year in hopes that people will come to the concerts):
Lydia, looks good except that the sentence "She presently studies with Emil Chudnovsky" seems out of place to me. I would make that your third sentence, right after the sentence about studying with Lee Joiner.
I agree. I actually put my current teacher last so his name does not get lost mid paragraph. People who hear me play often are interested in hearing more about my teacher and it's thus a good deed of sorts.
What David B said. As a member of the audience or the accompanying orchestra I often think the biogs too self-congratulatory. But what about some information about the instrument?
Nice Lydia, I like it, but same reaction as Paul's about the last sentence: people may be confused that Chudnovsky is your cloud computing teacher or something!
I am always curious to know what people are using equipment-wise, but I'm also cognizant of the fact that whatever is listed is not necessarily what they're playing that day.
If Lydia wants to trim it further, I would suggest:
Lydia I thought about including a description of the violin that I play (even though certainly it is not in the Vuillaume class), but I concluded that it sounded stuffy, so I'll be curious to see how you solve that. One option might be to somehow include that information elsewhere, such as a photo caption. "Cover photo: Scroll of Lydia's violin made by JB Vuillaume in 1860" or whatever.
I think it reads fine. If I had a big name violin, I don't think I would put it out there myself, just because on one hand, people out there are shifty, and on the other, I think people glom onto names and start to try and attribute your performance to the instrument, which is silly.
Paul that's a creative idea!
I enjoy reading bios in every concert, especially bios of those who are not famous.
Lydia, I love the format- it's topical and focused. From a stylistic point of view, every sentence starts with "She is" or "She was" or some other passive verb. Consider punching up the verbs and mixing up the sentence structure.
I actually like to make it deliberately clear that I'm an amateur. I think it's useful for the audience to realize that people can play seriously without doing it professionally. (And similarly I like to understand which people are performing pros vs teaching pros vs educator pros.)
"I think it's useful for the audience to realize that people can play seriously without doing it professionally. "
Flourished, tackled, and honored are exactly the type of emotion/personality words I was talking about and don't have the writing chops to actually come up with! "From 9-5" is not literal but a humorous (? that's not the right word) of changing the subject in a lively manner.
Indeed, the advantage to being a cheerful amateur is that you go out and perform in circumstances that a professional would be afraid to perform in, because the amateurism is a certain amount of freedom to be imperfect without feeling like it's ruinous.
Hey Andrew, I missed meeting you when you were doing a masterclass for Emil's students; I had a concert to play then, I think. :-)
That was a long time ago...maybe the 15-16 season? But I think I'm playing in Fairfax in 2021, so there will be other opportunities.