When I applied to Fresh Inc, I had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into.
I’ve had several friends attend the festival in the past, and all of them came out the other side of it raving about an experience that was one of the best times they had ever had. Their testimonies, combined with the attractive ideas of spending two weeks away from the real world and hanging out with other passionate musicians eight hours away from home, made me want to apply, despite not knowing much else about the festival.
When it was announced that Fresh Inc was moving to an entirely online platform, I was crushed. There was absolutely no way, in my mind, that sitting in a room alone while staring at my computer screen for hours on end could produce anything but a hollow attempt at fulfilling musical experiences. During the distanced learning I had experienced in the last few months of my undergrad, not only had I felt distinctly uninspired and incapable of absorbing any of the information from my classes, but the experience made me feel even lonelier than I was before as well. As I anticipated a similar experience, I felt cheated, like Fresh Inc was going to end up rather antithetical to my vision of what a summer program should be. Rather than forming community through collaborative music-making, I was picturing performers recording themselves in an isolated and sterile environment, only to be edited together after the fact, contributing to the sense of isolation already looming so strongly over the world. While I still chose to attend, it was largely because I didn’t see an obvious way to withdraw.
What awaited me was nothing short of the most inspiring two weeks of my life.
In terms of growing in my compositional technique and artistic expression — which was my main goal in choosing to apply to the festival — I grew by leaps and bounds over the course of only two weeks. More than that, I was blown away by the real-life skills and entrepreneurial ideas I encountered in every session. Having such practical information from people who are active professional musicians was enormously refreshing, and made me really aware of how little practical training I had received up to that point. Furthermore, these musical life lessons, far from being diminished by the online setting, were magnified in importance in the Digital Edition.
In the modern world, an online presence has grown increasingly important. This importance was heightened when quarantine began, as any human interaction, musical or otherwise, was taking place via online communication. Because of this, seminars on such ever-present topics as resumes and artistic practice were shown through a distanced lens: the presentation was over Zoom and the content was redesigned to respond to the current environment. In these seminars, I learned how to present myself as a musician across multiple facets of my career, and I was inspired to adapt my artistic practice to fit the situations around me, be it being stuck at home or fighting for racial justice. Fresh Inc certainly taught me practical skills like how to write a commission contract and better format my website, but, more importantly, it moved me to think about music and my place in the world in a fundamentally different way.
My experience in the Digital Edition motivated me to begin my Master’s degree, despite the first semester being entirely online. If I could have such profound musical experiences with so many amazing people at Fresh Inc, presumably I could make similar connections in my graduate program and beyond. More than that, I felt ready to take on anything the world could throw at me. Would I rather not be quarantining away from my family and friends while sheltering from a deadly virus? Of course. But after participating in Fresh Inc, my outlook has changed. Rather than waiting for things to return “back to normal” to compose music for the concert hall, I am able to fully embrace the new normal and feel empowered to explore and experiment what that might mean. This is our life now, and this is the present moment. Why not celebrate it, learn what we can, and use that knowledge to fight for a future that is more curious, adventurous, and passionate? Besides, normal is pretty overrated.