The art of the bio (Part I)

Writing your own biography, in third person, can be a bit of a challenge. You need to find that fine balance between pointing out your brilliance and turning yourself into the next coming of Jesus. How often do you find yourself rolling your eyes or simply blanking out when you read some composer’s bio in a concert program? I recently came across an example, which was actually nauseating:

Blank’s list of works includes orchestral and chamber music—vocal and instrumental—as well as scores for theater, dance and film. His music has been called “brilliant” (Boston Globe), “stunning” (Milwaukee Journal), “wonderfully idiomatic” (Salt Lake Tribune), “haunting” (Strings Magazine) and “remarkable” (Fanfare). Chicago Tribune music critic […] called Blank’s Piece1, “a cosmic beauty … of acutely crafted music.” And music critic […], of Classical Review, called Blank’s work Piece2, ‘a very impressive and significant world premiere … the composer makes the music sing magnificently.”

Aside from reading like verbal masturbation, this masterpiece of writing also tells me absolutely nothing about this composer. Who is he? What are his values, his interests? Has he done anything cool lately? Frankly, I don’t particularly care what these people whom I don’t know from newspapers I have never read have to say about this guy, even if he is a “cosmic beauty.”

A good way to put your reader in a coma is listing every single performer who’s ever played your music in every possible country, and every damn famous person you “studied” with*.

Blank2 has worked with such distinguished soloists as John Smith, Jane Doe, Pinky Piklvich, Rusty Nail…….[this is where you blank out because you’ve never heard about any of these twenty people]. Her music has been performed by orchestras such as the Springfield Community Philharmonic, The Sackville Orchestral Players, The Wolfville Symphony, The Prince George Community Philharmonic…..and has been premiered in Uzbekistan, Luxemburg, Montenegro…and the following 49 of the 50 US states: Utah, Vermont, Ohio, Missouri….

Again, not only is this kind of bio impossible to read because the letters automatically go out of focus, but it also tells me nothing about you except that some famous people and a bunch of others cared to play your music. Tell me who you are, not what others think about you, and do it as quickly as possible. My attention span is very short, especially if I’m trying to read your bio between pieces.

Next time I will put together some tips for effective (and efficient) bio writing.

* had a 10-minute master class with, shook hanks with at a conference, etc…

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