I am about to tell a story that I have attempted to bury deep, deep in the recesses (no pun intended) of my past. It definitely is not a fond memory, but, for the sake of this Editor’s Note, it must be told.
Back when I was just a wee eighth grader in junior high school, I played guitar in an alternative rock band of sorts (Clear Recognition was the name, if you’re looking for recordings #selfpromotion). Obviously, we thought we were pretty cool. Why? Because we were an alternative rock band. Need there be any other reason? And, obviously, I thought I was at least moderately cool because I played guitar. I kind of just assumed that coolness would come with the fact that I played guitar. It took me a while to figure that one out.
Our first real performance was for our entire school at the so-called Variety Show. Trust me, there was variety indeed. We had the ambitious idea to perform The Killers’ hit song “When You Were Young” for the audience of well over a thousand that included students, faculty, administration and parents. Funnily enough, it turns out that that “When You Were Young” is actually an extremely difficult song to perform, especially for a band of eighth graders who have all been playing their instruments for only a year. On top of that, the teacher who organized the show decided that it would be great to end the talent show with us, since we clearly had the potential with such a great song. So, we had our moment in the spotlight.
The actual performance passed in a blur. I do, however, vaguely remember a few standout moments. I remember seeing our lead singer, Will, do some truly wild acrobatics, much to the surprise of the audience and the rest of the band. I remember watching one of our members awkwardly stand next to his piano while Will commandeered it in an unplanned spotlight moment. I remember seeing my dad’s baffled and surprised expression in the audience.
But, really, it didn’t quite click for me that we had just botched a massive performance. I walked out feeling the way that I imagine Jack felt in the happy parts of Titanic (so not the part where he unceremoniously dies). A few days later, we started hearing criticism floating around at our school. This criticism slowly became more concrete and it became clear that rival bands in our school were actively making fun of us to our friends.
Okay, yeah. We gave them a lot of material to work with. But, really? They made fun of everything from my guitar playing to the awkward piano switch to Will’s singing. It was infuriating, especially because we felt like it would be inappropriate and immature to fire anything back their way.
These feuds came to characterize a lot of my time with the band. Even after we entered high school and got new members and started writing our own music, that first talent show stuck with us. We had an incredibly difficult time shaking that reputation, and every performance seemed to be a competition to convince our friends that we were actually good and not what other people said behind our backs.
Alright. So, I just spent 500 words explaining a high school band feud. Why? Because, at Duke, I am seeing the same absurd feuds in the artistic communities. We seem to be obsessed with hierarchies and rankings at Duke, whether its basketball or academics or the social scene. Sadly, the artistic community seems to not be any different.
But art should be a collaboration, not a competition. Let’s look at music for example. Sure, we can point to the classic musician feuds, like Oasis and Blur or Drake and Chris Brown, and say that great music came from them. But I can’t say that I like any one Oasis song better than the best Lennon/McCartney co-written song. Look at “We Are the World” or any of the numerous follow-ups. Look at the spectacle that was Watch the Throne. Look at The Postal Service. These incredible projects are all born from good-natured collaboration, often by musicians that could be in direct competition with each other.
This weekend is ArtCon, a new art conference that encourages students to take an active part in the decision-making about the Arts at Duke. This conference could be our chance to redefine and really improve our artistic community. Through workshops and focused brainstorming sessions, students will be able to really put their ideas out there and meet other arts-oriented students. This is a chance for administration, faculty and students to come together in the artistic community and figure out how we want to move this school forward.
Duke is a school that thrives on strong school spirit. We’re famous for it. It’s time that we bring some of that spirit to the artistic community. We don’t need to stop pushing each other to make the best art we can make, but it’s about time that we start working together to show the world how great the Arts at Duke can be.
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