Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
“At what point do you say, ‘Wow, I really want to dangle upside down from silk scarves and play the violin for a living’?” This question was posed by myself and couple friends of mine as we reconnected over a cup of coffee. We were discussing life paths and career choices– still trying to figure out what we wanted to do “when we grew up”, despite having graduated from college and started various jobs, families, and all recently having reached the milestone 30th birthday. It was in this context that one of my friends mentioned the aerial violinist, Janice Martin. We collectively wondered: what is the secret to thinking so decidedly out of the box as this performer does?
To be sure, thinking outside of the box is a rather cliché concept now, the subject of countless self-help books, business seminars, and the like. Regardless, it truly is something people seem to have a hard time executing. We learn early on as children to draw inside the lines, follow all the rules, and act orderly and contained. Creativity, while not completely disregarded, is often more of an afterthought. Most follow the same pattern into our adult life: go to school, build a career, get married, have kids, and those who dare to do those in a different order or on a different timeframe are often questioned or ridiculed.
To add to this, our brains seem hard-wired to place everything into neat little boxes. Psychological theory calls these boxes “schemata”: mental structures to organize information. Every time your brain receives new information, it tries to fit it inside already pre-conceived schemata. It is an efficient and quick way to store, retrieve, and process information, helping us to respond quickly and appropriately to many situations. However, when we encounter new experiences or information that does not fit into an existing schema, a common reaction is to ignore or quickly forget the offending information. Occasionally, new information that differs so completely from a schema but cannot be ignored will cause the existing schema to be altered or to create a separate schema for these “exceptions from the rule”. The question is: do these schemas we have created for ourselves and our roles sometimes needlessly box us in?
Let’s go back to the aerial violinist. According to her website, Janice Martin is a classically trained violinist, pianist and vocalist who works with the Cirque du Symphonie, combining her talents with aerial acrobats to be the “world’s only aerial violinist,”¹ and also returned to headline the show Encore! aboard the Showboat Branson Belle in Branson, MO for the second season.² Watching the videos of her performances, I am struck by not only her musical prowess (and I am a classically trained violist, so I can tell that the pieces she plays are difficult enough while performing them on solid ground, let alone while dangling by scarves), but she also displays an amazing grace, power, and strength in her aerial performance. Her vocal and piano performances are equally impressive, even if not performed while hanging from the ceiling. Truly, she is a formidable artist, putting the often touted “triple threats” to shame.
Ms. Martin is a unique artist to say the least, so it should be no surprise that her path there is equally unique. Musically trained at the Indiana University and the Juilliard School of Music, she found her first job in perhaps an unlikely place: the US Army, where she played in the US Army Band in Washington, D.C., as a solo violinist, including performances at the White House, the Capitol, and the State Department for President Bill Clinton and other world leaders.³
After her enlistment with the army, Martin was awarded honorary use of the 1708 Burstein/Bagshawe Stradivarius Violin by The Stradivari Society.¹ She then toured domestically and internationally, soloing with the Milwaukee Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Houston Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Edmonton Symphony, Portland Symphony, European Union Chamber Orchestra and the New York Symphonic Ensemble, to name just a few.¹ Her career and accomplishments as a musician alone are truly impressive.
How then did Janice Martin go from an internationally recognized musician to an aerial violinist? Where do the aerobatics come in to this story, exactly? After the death of her friend and sponsor, Joseph Burstein, Martin returned to New York in hope of creating a show of her own that encompassed more than just the realm of classical music.³ The necessary creative inspiration came one evening while Martin was in the audience of a Cirque du Soleil show; the performance that night moved her so much that she determined to become an aerialist and, combined with her violin virtuosity, have a one-woman show like no other.³ No doubt this is where her training in the Army came in handy once again, what with the vigorous physical training, including rope climbing. Janice Martin debuted at Carnegie Hall and then spent over a decade traveling and performing her self-choreographed shows.³ From there, it is all history, as they say.
So, what can we learn from this fascinating woman? Wearing skin-tight outfits and dangling upside down from scarves and rings from great heights while playing the electric violin is not exactly my dream job, but I certainly enjoy watching Janice Martin live out her dream. And that’s what I want to do– live out my dream; the trouble is, I don’t just have one, and I haven’t quite figured out how to combine them all so snugly like Ms. Martin has. Do I– or you– have gifts, talents and interests that seem incongruous, but somehow together create one exceptionally unique career, much like this daring aerial violinist? How can Ms. Martin’s unique path help to inform our own search for a fulfilling and interesting career or life?
First of all, Ms. Martin pursued her passions diligently and put in the hard work. Take it from this former music major (who admittedly dropped it only three semesters in to pursue a psychology degree instead), getting into Juilliard doesn’t happen by doing the bare minimum in your practice sessions. Opportunities to grow, use, and express your talents won’t open up for you if you aren’t seeking excellence in whatever it is you do. So, the things you love to do? Learn to do them well. Practice. Practice. And then practice some more.
Ms. Martin also did something a lot of us could do more of: get out there and live life. She didn’t just sit at home, absorbed in her own brainstorming sessions or creating a mission/purpose/vision statement. No, she was out enjoying life, and it was there, while taking time to attend a Cirque du Soleil show that she found the final inspiration. New experiences, new relationships and new adventures will bring fresh ideas and inspiration. You know what the same old thing brings? More of the same old thing.
I don’t have all the answers on how to think outside of the box, as I’ve gotten myself into some ruts that lasted for years. But at this point in my life, I’ve realized that life is too short to try to squeeze myself into a box, be it someone else’s or one of my own creation. And to you, Ms. Martin, I say, “Bravo.” You are truly an inspiration.
Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar City Publicity
²Silver Dollar City Publicity (2012). Encore! Returns after Stellar First Season [Press Release].
³Silver Dollar City Publicity (2012). From Humble Beginnings to Carnegie Hall [Press Release].