This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. For the complete interview, you can access here.
Kristine Dizon: Hello! My name is Kristine Dizon, and I'm the CEO and founder of the Modern Artist Project. Today, I'm with Juanita Calderon, who holds a B.A. in Modern Languages and is finishing her music education and choral conducting studies at Javeriana University. She has supported music organizations such as Wimbledon International Music Festival and Latin American Forum of Music Education as a community manager and content creator. She's currently the Communications and Artistic Projects Coordinator at Somos Capazes, a Colombian NGO dedicated to peacebuilding. She believes art and language are deeply rooted in human culture and is committed to transforming lives through music and education. Thank you, Juanita, for joining us today.
JC: I’m very happy to be here as a guest on this magnificent podcast.
KD: Thanks so much. So, I know I talked about what you've done now and what you have done a little bit in the past. But could you share with our listeners more about what led you on this path to seeing music and education as a way of peacebuilding?
JC: Sure. Well, at first, I always knew I wanted to study music. I started studying it from childhood, but mostly at school, nothing very formal. But when I told my parents I wanted to do it, they were shocked. You know, they're both lawyers. So, you can understand why that was a major thing for them. So, I decided to just negotiate with them and tell them, "Okay, I also love languages. I could go for a double major in languages teaching," and they were very happy with that decision. That's how I found education. That's how I found that by teaching, you can maximize the impact of what you learn.
And after that, well, I started my double major in music. And since then, music and education and languages have all been revolving around what I do, how I think, and well, this has led me to many interesting places, such as GLP, the program where we met. And there I found myself trying to look for what I could give my cohort, given that I was younger than most of the people. I was a little bit scared because most of the people had more experience than I did. Then I started looking, "Okay, what about my experience? Can I share it?" And that's where I found that growing up in a place and in a generation so connected to social media, I understood the impact that creating valuable content can have on today's generation. That's why I'm thrilled to be here in the podcast because I believe this has the value to lead us artists into the next level.in the podcast because I believe this has the value to lead us artists into the next level.
KD: No, I thank you for sharing that, and what I love about the fact that you negotiated with your parents. So, in one way, you're using your parents' lawyer skills that they have and being able to meet with them in the middle. This idea of negotiation and being able to find a balance too, you know, because of the fact that maybe at the time it was something really difficult for them to digest. But I mean, with the path that you've taken, one of the things that I really liked about what you just said was the fact that education allowed you to maximize not only your love for music but also your connections with people. And I think that's something that is really meaningful and powerful. Now, when we think about the GLP. Just for our listeners, GLP stands for Global Leaders Program.
And so, that's actually how I have gotten to connect with Juanita during the group sessions that we've had and being able to learn more about her work and things like that. So, could you tell us now in regards to when we think about the digital age, right? You've done work as a communications manager, you know, being able to create content and things like that. How valuable do you see that for other people in regards to, you know, not just, you know, for music but other disciplines like theater and the arts?
JC: So, this reminds me of a story that impacted me, and that was when I met the Amber Trust, an organization that teaches music to blind children. They had an event embedded in the Wimbledon Music festival. At first, I thought this was trailblazing, you know, a conference about inclusive music within a music festival, like per se, I thought this was a very innovative idea, but then I will, well, I thought to myself, I am privileged to be able to attend these kinds of events. That event changed many things about how I think about education, on how I see how education can be so different for many people. And that's when I said, this must be known. It isn't enough to create a valuable cost, but you must share it. I mean, sharing is caring, and it's also a responsibility when you have something of value because that's also part of our citizenship, part of our humanity, sharing what we know so that we can build and keep on doing great things as a collective.
KD: And I agree with you. And the thing is when we talk about "sharing is caring," a lot of people, and you can tell me I'm wrong, believe that if I make great art, if I make great music, if I make great whatever, if I make great spaghetti, right, then that's just enough, you know? And the thing is, like, you can be great at those things, but at the same time, you know, with globalization and how our society has developed with technology, do you view it as something that's going to be continued, you know, relationship with people, you know, the idea of technology being a way to share your passion to share your art?
JC: You know, maybe the medium changes, but society itself is a network and we've always survived by sharing with other people. I mean, maybe I didn't have skills before, but someone else comes and helps me overcome my obstacles. So, I do believe that's an essential part of living, surviving, of getting things beyond your goals for example or achieving goals. So, I totally agree with you.
I think that it is very important to reach out and say, "Hey, I believe in this, and this is why I think you should believe in this and you should be part of our cause." That's the powerful movement of social media. But, it should be done right with social responsibility, accountability, and not just saying things because they sound nice, but also providing the evidence behind it.
KD: No, for sure. And I think, you know, a lot of the time when we look at individuals or companies, this idea of authenticity is the idea of being genuine. You know, sometimes, I don’t know about you, but sometimes, you know people try too hard to just say, "I'm real." like sometimes, if you have to say that you're real are you? right?
JC: Yes. This fight for authenticity, I think, has its roots in trying to be someone different because I am trying to live up to society's standards.
KD: Yeah. Tell me.
JC: Okay, a while ago, two weeks ago, I had to write a personal statement for a course that I'm applying for, and it was the hardest exercise. That's where I realized, "I don't even know who I am." Well, I might know where I studied, but that exercise helped me understand that maybe because we're always watching different and new ideas, we lose our focus, and that's what we should always have with us.
KD: Yeah. And I think, you know, you said a lot of things, you know when we must put it on paper, you always feel like, "Okay, I have this confidence. I know what I'm doing. I know what I want." But until you must sit down with a pen and paper and write down all your ideas, then it gives perspective. What would you advise our listeners regarding young professionals who are wanting to go into the field in the arts and cultural sector, whether they want to go as performers, educators, or administrative staff, or what they can do to engage more within the community?
JC: There is a common practice in marketing that's defining the buyer persona and knowing the audience that you're talking to, and I think that's great. But maybe simultaneously, you should also define the seller persona, if I could say it like that. That's connected with the authenticity issue that we were talking about earlier. If you are connected with what you are saying, the rest will develop. That's what I personally believe because most of the posts that have more engagement have to do with the authenticity of everyday life. They might not be the most produced post or recording ever, but they must be maybe a funny story before an audition or something more real. I think generations nowadays tend to value more real content rather than super-produced content.
KD: Yeah, and you know, the thing is, it's one of those things that, you know, for example, if you do like behind-the-scenes, right? You get to see daily life. You know, like, for example, let's see what Juanita does or what Christine does, right? Type of thing. And people engage with that because that's something that, you know, when we think about privacy or, you know, being able to share and let people see what we do behind the scenes, you know, I can imagine, and you know, studying music education and choral conducting to be really demanding. So, you know, being able to say, "Okay, I'm going to make some content that illustrates the realness of what I do," and how many people in the world can relate to that.
JC: Exactly. I think you couldn't have said it better. And I also imagine you with this new project or with your center that has been going on for quite a while. I don't know if you've noticed or experienced maybe a time when you say, "I want to post this, but I don't know if it's the right thing," when you doubt a lot or when you see musicians with projects that have more years of experience and say, "Maybe that's too much. Maybe they are perfect. I am not going to get to that level." And I believe these posts of authenticity backstage, what are my thoughts behind my performances, help to understand that I can be like the people I look up to, that they are humans just as me, and that's a very deep thought level.
KD: Yes, and I feel like in a sense, you know, when we think about how we present our best selves, you know, people talk about, "Oh, when I wear my concert dress and have my hair done, that's my best self." That's a lie. I, you know, when we think about the concert and we think about the actual everyday life, you know, one of my students said, "Kristine, I got your CD." I said, "Great." There's a strange lady that's on the cover. She does not look like you." I was like, "What are you talking about?" Well, I mean, it's just not, that's not you, you know? And because that's an image that we create. I know I was laughing too. I couldn't believe that he was saying this, but at the same time, it's like, you know, it's that image that we have, we shape, you know, regarding being able to present our music, presenting our art. So, have you ever encountered any difficulties or experiences that would help our learners, not learners, but our audience in being able to connect with that imperfection?
JC: Well, I think in a way that was a conscious mistake because I see audiences as learners as well. You know, I also like to think about the pedagogical approach to social media management. You know, you can just say what's on your mind without thinking, maybe, what's the best way to do it. And I believe that the most important part of showing your message is not only about the content but also the way. I think that with social media, you must play with the way you share things.
KD: You know for sure, and I think that's something that's important to, you know, because I know I don't know about you, but do you have colleagues that are anti-Facebook, anti-Twitter, anti-Instagram because they are private individuals who value their privacy? But who are also excellent musicians or artists that can't get work because they don't use those platforms?
JC: That's true, that's true. And I saw it when I suggested this new way of showing the community of the Latin American music educators forum. It was because when I showed them this whole digital community perspective, some of them said, "Well, I don't use social media. How can you still include me in your community?" That made me think that maybe right now tables are turning, and we also need to think about the people that don't use social media regularly or other digital media to see how we can still connect and not just leave any audience behind.
KD: And I think that's something that's important too, you know. I think what you said just now about not leaving an audience member behind, I feel like sometimes we get so caught up with technology, how fast it's moving. You know, I sometimes feel like "Oh, today is Thursday, right? Or today is Friday?" because of the speed. I don't know if you felt that too, but how can we be more inclusive to all communities? Like, I'd be really interested to hear your ideas on that.
JC: Well, I think that now that the pandemic is over, we can go to the real world a little bit more. And even though the communities that don't share a lot of social media aspects, if they agree, they can appear, well that could be an example of how they can be included. I think that the best action we can do is to listen, to listen to the communities. And for example, maybe if this random person doesn't use a new digital media but has a subscription to the newspaper, maybe we could try to write an article for the newspaper or something like that. There must be some kind of connection.
KD: Yeah. And, you know, perhaps, you know, a podcast, right? Or being able to create content for blogs, and being able to be really creative because I feel like sometimes we kind of get lost or stuck in a box, and we want to be creative, but until we're in a situation, for example, with the pandemic where we had to be creative, like no choice like you are going to use the internet or you're not going to learn anything at all. Right. But at the same time, it's important. And I think we do need to listen to audiences more because audiences know what they want to listen to. They know what they want to hear. I’m curious to know your thoughts about when we think about modern music, when we think about composers of different backgrounds, the different initiatives that we're doing for them regarding how we're presenting those projects to audiences. What do you think we could do to better connect? You know, we have the performance, and then we have different communities.
JC: Well, here in Colombia, I'm witnessing a very nice, I don't know how to say this, uprising of musical journalists, but digital journalists. So maybe people that didn't even study to be a journalist but that studied visual arts or some other kind of media or are very good at writing and listening to music. And they've started their own projects, their own magazines of music.
And now what I can see is that they go to concerts. They ask the public, for example, last year we had a festival, a public festival that was called Rock. I wouldn't know how to translate it better. Maybe let's say "Opener Rock." And for example, some of the experiments were "What's your best metal scream?" and, well, it was hilarious. And I think those are the type of things that we have to continue doing.
There's also something that makes me think, and it's how many people are standing trying to sell the perfect formula for marketing. So they say, "Well, first you have to release a single, then you have to release a post with the expectations, then you have to release your song." And then, as if it were a recipe, sometimes it works. But it doesn't guarantee success, especially when you're not enjoying it.
It's the same with the arts. I don't know if you've heard this criticism. This happens a lot in music education. And it's sometimes the academic world gets so heavy that you start well, that you stop enjoying it. Something that you enjoyed a lot at first, you just stopped liking it, and you don't want to do it anymore. You just do it for the grades or to graduate. The same thing can happen with digital media if you're not connected enough. So my advice would be, if you think this strategy isn't for you, change. It doesn't matter if you start from going back and forth. That's part of the process.
KD: Yeah, definitely. And I think the most important thing is being happy with what you mentioned. If the change doesn't work, if this method doesn't work and you feel miserable, then why continue feeling miserable? You know, like perhaps do something like, you know, snail mail. I mean, I don't know about you, Juanita, but I love getting mail that is not a bill or a type of notice. For me, it's like when I get things that are handwritten from someone, let's say if you sent me a card like any card just be like, "Hi, Kristine, right?
JC: Thank you for inviting me to your podcast.
KD: You know." And then I would look at it. I was like she wrote me a card because with the value you know it's not just, I mean with what you mentioned, yeah, there is value in digital media, but you know we sometimes forget about those small things, you know, with handwritten mail, like what happened to that. Right? Oh, you know, the internet happened, right? But then being able to, okay, if I want to spread the word, then why not send out snail mail or send out my recordings or you know, by mail? I mean CDs are not a thing, but I think that's something you bring up a good issue because now it's making me think about how our world is evolving, but some of these things within digital media may not be the thing for some people.
JC: And also make us question like are the numbers that ultimate reality? Especially with streaming services where the inequality just widens. I don't know if you've seen some studies, but I've seen the numbers between a comparison from top artists and artists are just starting. Monetarily, it means nothing, basically. And also, some people believe that the number of followers, the number of likes determine an artist's worth.
But I've seen that cultivating better relationships with your audience is better in the long term because it's not a secret that everyone comes by followers right now. You know, there are hundreds of businesses that are now working towards helping you gain followers, but not in an organic way and followers that just end up being bots or having these giveaway contests that may help one post become more engaging but not to stay in the long term.
So what you just said, like these efforts to build rapport physically and well, I think there are also digital means to do that, are more valuable because those help. I mean, if I write a letter to tell people that listen to me, some people will value that much more than if they just heard my song on Instagram and just gave like, and that's it."
KD: Yes, and no, I mean you bring up so much because I love the fact that you mentioned organic marketing because I live by organic marketing. Yeah, people think I'm crazy, but the thing is a lot of the time with businesses who want to grow quickly and people say, you know, I don't know if you've heard this, but people say, oh, you know, like I can pay someone and they can like increase my visibility and like yeah, you can, is exactly with what you said, but a lot of time it's like through bots or like paid advertisements and things like that and with how the platform has changed across the board, right? You can tell if someone's trying to sell you something, right? Versus actually like having it appear and having it be something of interest to you and the idea of being able to cultivate trust. So a lot of the things that, you know, it's just a lot of time with people in business or even just in arts, because like, you know how it is, people want to be like, I want to be famous. Yeah, you know, type of thing. But the thing is like, people see this iceberg, but they don't know exactly what happens below.
JC: And that's why this content relating to the stories and what a musician has to go through in their daily life is so important because that also connects with the fact that some of the arts positions are undervalued, underpaid because what we see on the surface is a performance at one of our performances. So people say, I'm not going to pay some random amount of money for a one hour performance, but they don't see the hours invested in having a high quality performance for example, or a high quality class.
KD: Yes, and you're preaching to the choir here because a lot of the time, people think, "Oh, if you're excellent, you were born excellent." I'm like, "No, I was not, but I like to be, you know, type of thing." But that's just the reality of it all. People don't realize that it does take time. And with what you mentioned, I think it brings up a good point. Maybe musicians or artists, in general, or actors, we could be adding more value and showing the audience. We don't have to tell the audience because they'll be like, "Oh, they just want money," right? But being able to show the audience the value to make them feel the value of what we do. I don't know what your thoughts are about that because I mean, that's just so hard to do, you know.
JC: I am currently reading a book called Music Matters. I don't have the others here, but I'll remember them soon enough. I booked it from the library because I was like, "This is a very important question." Once, a cousin asked me, "Okay, and what music?" And I was like, "Because I like it." I didn't have a strong response to that. So, then I started looking for ways to explain why music can transform lives. And I believe it's time for us to start showing why and why it's not just to go to a concert and have fun. It's not just for mere entertainment, and that's what differentiates artists from mere entertainers that are just looking to grow their numbers and to be viral. Artists really want to leave a message in society, and that's something to reflect upon constantly. And that's something that will guide you through, no matter the obstacles. No matter if you must start again.
KD: Yes, and I feel like, in a sense, that if we're open enough, that we're comfortable enough in our skin to be able to say, "Well, this is me, this is the real me. You're either going to like it or not, and if you like it, awesome, then we'll be friends. If you don't, that's okay because the world's a big place, right?" Because sometimes, we get into imposter syndrome, we say, "Am I even good enough to do this? Am I capable of doing this?" Being able to ask these questions, and if you want to make great art or if you just want to share art, you should just go for it, you know. I don't know what your thoughts are on that, but you just go for it, just share it, find ways to share it.
JC: Yeah, that's all I can say about it, but that's the solid answer. I believe that it has a way of finding you sooner or later in life. In my case, I wanted to become a conductor when I was a kid, then I gave up on the dream, and then choral conducting got in the way and I was like, "Languages, conducting, I love it, let's move on." And I think that can happen also with your media path or with your outreach path that you try, and at first, you don't succeed like the Coldplay song, but then you try again and again and again. If you have enough conviction, you'll try until you get it, and go ahead.
KD: You know, but I'm just agreeing because, you know, a lot of the time, people think if I don't get it the first time, then I'm just not good enough, and there's no point trying anymore. Whereas, when you think about even some of the most successful musicians or even actors, or, you know, I mean, they only see what success they've achieved, but we don't know how many failed auditions there were, how many times they were told no, or that they couldn't do this, or that they weren't within the image of what we would want. Being able to say, "Okay, well you're good, but there's something missing about you," and really making it so that it really makes you question, but then you get to the point where, "Well, at the end of the day, we're human. We're the ones that live in our bodies, and we're the ones that are going for it." I don't know about you, but I always found that my colleagues who don't give up, who have that conviction of what you mentioned and who are just really putting themselves out there, I feel like that takes courage.
JC: It does, and it's not as if you were born with that courage, but it also takes time. Maybe some people do it first, some people do it, or don't do it. But the question here is that everyone has their own definition of success. Everyone has their own time. There isn't a recipe for life, there isn't a recipe for success because everyone has a different outlook on life, and maybe, for example, I can look up to a very, very famous artist and say, "I am never going to have her followers. I am never going to have these." But I don't know what that artist gave up to have that. You know, there is a very important musician in Colombia that is thriving right now. I won't say who it is. But the point is that some time he told me that he was very happy about his success, but he sacrificed so much of his childhood for the point where he is now, so we need to think and to redefine our vision of success.
I mean, it all comes back to what you want and how you want to connect with the world, like what's the message you want to give the world. Then it is a bilateral process. You listen to the audience, the audience listens to you. It's a conversation. It shouldn't be just, "I am giving something." That's why live music is so important.
KD: Yeah, because it gives you an opportunity to be able to connect in person with that artist, and it's not just about the recording, right? And the thing is, you know, when we think about our age today, the digital age that we live in, and we think about all the possibilities with what you mentioned earlier actually, you know, with how many artists who are just releasing music independently, right? Versus like artists who are established, which is great, you know, who are making like millions, right? But then just being able to get your foot into the door, it can be difficult at times. So, in regards to like, young professionals who are or not even young professionals, or professionals who want to redefine what they're doing or to want to change or find a way to create change, right? Because change is impactful. What advice would you give to someone after talking about all the tools that we have available in being able to create a career that makes them happy?
JC: My one-word answer is "live." There isn't music without context, there isn't art without life, without inspiration, without a motive to write things, to create. So maybe if you're feeling a little bit lost, it's time for you to go on an adventure. It has helped me personally to go on trips and to go far away. Or maybe not always physically, but maybe to read a different book from the books I've read, or to take a different but this time to the Subway. I don't know, to change and spice up things in your own life as well, because that will give you meaning. And I think you should listen to the universe too. You should listen to the clues life gives you while you are living. You know, the answer is not going to come magically from you sitting three hours next to a blank page trying to write a script. For example, sometimes you just must go out and live, and then the answer will start to develop somehow.
KD: Yes, and you know what I loved about what you said is, you know, not just the idea of living, but even being able to find ways of doing that because sometimes, you know, within the struggle of being an artist, you know, or you know, wanting to share it and you know, being able to find different ways. Sometimes we struggle because, you know, we get clouded, you know, we can't see clearly. But, you know, being able to travel, read books, be inspired, you know, by something, you know, whether it be a form of learning, you know, maybe a film that inspires you, you know, to be able to get on to that journey, and I think that's important. So, thank you for sharing that.
JC: I'm more than happy to. For me, a key is also to be connected to your own emotions. And I remember this movie "Inside Out" because at first, we say, "No anger, sadness, I don't want them," with how social media is portrayed. I want to always be happy, live a perfect life. But I see that slowly, there are other channels trying to show what real life is like. For example, there's a podcast called "Things Musicians Don't Talk About". I strongly suggest you read it, to listen to it, sorry, because it helps us to burst away that bubble of being perfect all the time and understand that from my sadness, for example, that music educators are not valued enough. I go to the forum of music educators in Latin America, and I tell them, "I want to be your community manager, even if you don't pay me because I know that you have a lot of things of value that you can share with the world." And from this anger of saying, "Musicians are not valued enough," from this anger of musicians being disconnected from their purpose because they think that they might need to do that to survive, is that we are doing this podcast and talking about how we can be modern without letting it eat our own essence.
KD: Yeah, and I admire that fire that you have to just be able to stand up and say, "Hey, listen, something's not working, you guys, we gotta fix this," because the thing is, like, if we want to continue living, not only living but also sharing, being able to find ways to express ourselves, we have to create awareness, and awareness is so crucial, you know. I know at least in the United States, I can't speak for Latin America, there are so many pay cuts that are happening for teachers, there are so many teachers actually having to get second jobs or actually teachers changing careers because they don't get paid enough money or they're spending too much of their own money in being able to create good things for their students, and that is, that's a hard pill to swallow. So, I think, you know, everything that you mentioned is excellent in that regard. Now, I know we've talked about a lot of things, I mean this has been pretty intense, but in regards to, you know, like the preparation part, you know, in regards to what let's say, young professionals who just graduated college, you know, what would you tell them, you know, to I guess to assure them that, you know, it's going to be okay or maybe you could say, "No, it's not going to be okay because this is what you're going to encounter." What advice would you give them?
JC: I would give advice ideally to people that just entered the major because university is bubbling itself or calm here where you have the ensemble where you have the instruments, the resources. Sometimes the real world is not like that and sometimes it is better to have this real-world experience as soon as you can. So maybe try to start a new project since, well, from the very beginning you can go and play at hospitals, you can go and play at a restaurant, whatever you prefer. You can maybe teach some music to your cousin who has always wanted to learn but gave up on that, you know, like try to get as many real-life experiences as you can and reach out.
I feel that my career, my professional development has happened because of my efforts to network because I know that change doesn't happen with one person. So that would be my second advice after having real-world experience, look out for the people you look up to, that you admire, that you feel can help you and reach out. Maybe 80% of them will say no, but the 20% can become your mentors, can offer you a job, can even only let you observe their classes, their concerts, anything, anything is a learning opportunity, and you shouldn't be afraid to go for it even if it doesn't work. I mean, the more doors you knock, the more you are sure where you're going because also maybe I will try something new. Maybe I try producing and then I say, 'no, this is not my pathway. At least I'm going to know about it. At least I won't regret that I didn't try.
KD: No, this is really excellent advice, and I think we're going to leave on that note for our listeners because you know, we've talked about so many different aspects of the profession, you know, being able to build awareness, being able to not be afraid to network, being able to just really put yourself out there, but doing it in a way that it's authentic. So, Juanita, thank you for joining us today and for sharing your experience and thoughts with us. We look forward to seeing the amazing things that you continue to do for our community.
JC: Thank you very much, Kristine. I am very happy to be here, and I believe in the Modern Artist Project. So, I really hope it goes forward, and I'm happy to share it with whoever I meet in the future.
KD: Thank you!
Kristine Dizon is a multi-faceted performer, teacher, writer, author, linguist, and entrepreneur. She is Founder & CEO of the Music & Language Learning Center, The Modern Artist Project and co-founder of the Gran Canaria International Clarinet Festival and American Single Reed Summit. She is an artist for Uebel Clarinets and Silverstein Works. Learn more at www.kristinedizon.com.