Presence

A few weeks ago, I found myself across the island for New Music Dublin. As I sat waiting for the next performance with my professors— composers John Godfrey and Karen Power, also up for the festival—another Cork–based composer walked in to take her seat. “Oh!” said John, “there’s Maria Minguella.” He turned to me and asked if I had met her yet in my Cork escapades. “Yeah, I know Maria,” I responded, grinning. “She was my ride up here, we sing in choir together.” Both my professors chuckled and John remarked that I had managed to meet quite a lot of people in the scene, to which I responded something to the effect of, “You know, it’s pretty easy to meet people if you just show up to things.” John gave a full laugh at this, then replied, “and you’d be shocked at how many people haven’t figured that out.”

For better or worse, we were both right. Time again I’ve met people (sometimes future collaborators!) simply by my presence and willingness to introduce myself. In music, it’s what you have to do—though the slow-to-die myth of the genius composer suggests that if you just write a perfect piece then the people will come, people actually come if you went to their thing first, had a chat with them, and shared your upcoming projects. But showing up isn’t just a matter of personal gain; it means something to others when they see you present and engaged.

Showing up is hard, and it’s something I struggle with. Countless times over the course of my school years an event popped up on Facebook—a friend’s concert, a lecture, a protest—and, despite my interest, I didn’t go. Usually I’d turn it over in my mind, ultimately figuring that I couldn’t spare the evening: there was just always too much work to do. In some cases that was true, and “showing up” in Cork hasn’t always been a stress–free decision, but reflecting on it this year has made me ask, “where can I show up more?”

In music, it’s a relatively low–stakes situation, and on the whole my presence affects very few (mostly me). But what about situations where my presence does matter, or could make a difference? Which of my communities do need to see me there, maybe not in collaboration but in solidarity? Who are the people who do need active support or encouragement, not because they have no voice but because others won’t listen? How and when can I re-prioritize my tasks to foreground active participation and recognize when a community needs me more than I need perfect marks?

It’s ever easier to be well–informed without showing up, and it is important to recognize your limitations. But people in Cork show up: to solidarity protests, to concerts of unfamiliar music, to gatherings. Maybe it’s at the expense of an assignment or a quiet afternoon, but maybe it also demonstrates a healthier understanding of the relationship between yourself and your community. I’ve gotten okay at showing up in the music world, but after this year I think I have some further reprioritization coming my way.

Showing up to Crash Ensemble at New Music Dublin

The Cork St. Patricks Day Parade is, more than anything, a family affair of community gathering. Followed immediately by the less-family affair of gathering in the pubs.

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