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 Francesco Rocco, Vice President of Lilium Sound Art, an association that promotes music, art, science and culture. Thank you, Francesco, for joining us today.
Francesco Rocco: Ciao, everyone. Nice to speak to you, Kristine, tonight, and welcome everyone who's listening.
KD: So, what time is it in Italy right now?
FR: That's a good question. It's almost midnight. But again, like, I used to work at nights, you know, as many musicians do, arranging and composing. So, yeah, it's totally fine to have these kinds of conversations at this time of the day.
KD: So, Francesco, can you tell us a little bit more about your background?
FR: Oh, yes, absolutely. In a few words, I am mainly a musician, a music teacher, and a guitar teacher. As you can see, that's my guitar case, just came back after a long day at school. So, I'm classically trained, I studied conservatoires in Italy first, and then I moved to the UK, where I studied in London at the 2011 Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
And this maybe tells you really a couple of details about how I have never been that academic in my training, I always looked for, you know, kind of modern alternatives to the very old-fashioned ways of seeing classical music. And not only that, then, you know, then my life brought me many experiences. I always, not just in music, but in general, in art, tried to explore a lot of languages and I started getting into photography and video making.
And also I hold a degree in environmental engineering because I'm passionate about the environment and I have a passion for science. Although I don't, you know, practice the profession of engineering, I still, you know, studied for a few years. And when I can, I do my part to help the environment and the address. That's pretty much, a few words.
KD: No, that's amazing. It sounds like you have a variety of experiences. How do you feel those shaped you to be the artist that you are today?
FR: That's a great question. I don't have a direct answer because every day I feel different about myself and my art. So, I guess that all these experiences, combined together, shaped the way in which I see the world. And there are moments in life where I can use some skills that I learned, for example, at the engineering school where I need, I don't know, to deal with some financial aspects of my projects.
And the more soft skills when I have to interact with other humans, for example, designing a project with my association, you don't send out the one you mentioned before requires a lot of those and others, of course, pick up from the, you know, all that big amount of experience that I had during my studies as a musician, especially when I have to perform or compose or interact with other artists. So really, it depends on the day. It depends on which project I'm doing, I guess.
KD: No, this is really great and I feel like a lot of our listeners would be able to learn from this, you know, in regards to taking the skills, which it sounds like you have with, you know, music, photography, engineering, science and being able to create something that was really meaningful for you. How did you go about it? And how long did it take you to get there?
FR: That's a great question, especially the first one. How did I get there? I think that you know when I first started my conservatoire studies in my hometown, which is a city called Padova. It's not far from Venice, for those of you who don't know the north or east of Italy that well. So, I started studying there. It was a very old-fashioned approach to, you know, music studies.
And I felt a little bit, not ready for the world, for the big world outside the academy. I felt that, okay, I was learning my guitar skills, but that kind of training was not giving me the tools that I knew I would have needed then in the future. And also because I think that the arts nowadays are not just about, you know, playing an instrument super well, but it's also about being sensitive on how the board is changing.
And this means dealing with a lot of technologies, a lot of science, a lot of communication, and in general, being able to have a wide vision of how the world is going. For instance, I decided then to get deeper into environmental science, but that was my personal choice. So, I guess that the idea that was at the beginning, that sparked the idea of not just following the academic studies of music, was that those were not enough. They were not covering all the skills that I needed more and more.
KD: No, this is really great to know. Just because of the fact that when we think about our world-changing and this is something that I think that is very interesting that you bring up. How do you think, you know, when we think about different teachers, different people that we work with, how we can make them more aware of that and how, by increasing this awareness, can help us, you know, be better advocates for the art that we serve?
FR: That's a great question. And especially as a music teacher, I have to say that probably one of the answers, because there are many, of course, it's not just one answer, you know, to complicated problems, but one of the answers could be technology. You know, before studying engineering, I studied 1 year of art history and the contemporary art teacher told us an interesting story about how the history of art really dependent on technologies and how technologies affected society, and how artists reacted to these technologies.
So, there are generational gaps. We can notice that when we think about our parent's generation and now, you know, my generation, I'm in my thirties now and I can definitely tell that the gap is huge, but I can already notice that there are gaps between my generation and my younger student and the way in which they are leaving the school, their experience in the school is completely different from my experience. So, I guess that's one tool that can help unify and certify, you know, both parts of the dialogue, the teachers and the students, can definitely be an upgrade on technological aspects of nowadays life, for the older generation.
KD: No, this is really great with having education, playing a really big role in how we can make that difference. And I feel like sometimes, we as music teachers or teachers in general, underestimate that agency that we have. So, one of the things that, you know, with the different budget cuts that are happening, you know, in the arts, I know where it's like I'm preaching to the choir, right? That is happening in the arts. Do you have any suggestions on how we can make music or even just art in general, more relevant to everyone in the world?
FR: That's not a very good question. I, again, that's not one single answer. I think it really depends on the social and economic context we are living in. Like that could be an answer for me, someone else living in France or in Japan, or in South Africa could have a completely different vision of this.
But in my experience and you know, again, talking with many colleagues from around the world, I really think that, you know, in the past, the role of art was to kind of capture these signals from society, before the society itself could clearly express them. And it had, in a way the role of anticipator, the role of the artist, you know, that could explain to society well in advance, what the direction was in life in this world. Nowadays, artists still hold that very, you know, powerful role.
But again, I think that in many social contexts, technology is taking over somehow. So, I believe that we need to find a dialogue with technology if we want art to continue pursuing that beautiful goal and aim which is to help people imagine the future.
KD: No, I agree with you and I think that dialogue is important. And I feel like in a sense, when we think about the digital age that we live in, it's pretty crazy. I don't know about you, but I'm also in my thirties, and nowadays it's just like it's amazing how many things are just easily available now on the internet.
But at the same time, it's one of those things that we also have to learn, you know, even where we are of how we can make sure we can establish that presence. So, how do you feel, Francesco, being an artist in this digital age that we live in?
FR: It's busy, I guess it's busy. That's the first thing that comes to mind, especially because you got many things that you can learn almost free or accessible in just a couple of clicks away from you, you know, and that's the exciting part, but the busy part as well. You know, that's what makes it.
It can be overwhelming, let's be honest. And sometimes, it's always good to go back to that very human way of making art. Just like a few people in a room with their instruments, singing, and playing, that's for sure. But I think that nowadays, the pros and cons of this technology are that the pros, it can really be accessible. Like a banal example, but speaks a lot for that, I can record from my new CD from the same laptop I'm talking to now.
And again, when I was a music student, this was like kilometers away from my visibilities. So nowadays, a young artist can definitely take advantage of all of these tools, but it needs some guidance on how to organize and navigate through this huge amount of possibilities that an artist can have. I believe that's the role of the teacher. That's why the teacher should be well educated first, and then it can definitely be a guide because we need someone that helps us see the path through all of this. That's my belief.
KD: No, this is really great. And I feel like that path is something that's really important. Because I know from my own personal experience too, it took a lot of experimenting and making mistakes, and being able to learn from those mistakes to be able to at least be on the path that I'm on too. And it sounds like you've found your path in a really great way. I mean, the environment, engineering, I could not imagine myself doing that, on top of doing art. So, that's something I think that's really beautiful.
So, when we think about, you know, this type of impact that influence you, you've already mentioned that now with the technology and you becoming educated and more comfortable with it and using it. How do you feel it changed your way of being able to communicate with your audience?
FR: I don't know if it actually helped me in the communication with my audience, for sure. It's, you know, it's something that I know how to do now, like to do to use this technology. But communication, it's a completely different thing, if you think about it. It's like a sculpture that you can sculpt, you can create a beautiful statue and then you have to be able to show it to the world.
I like the idea that the technology is like sculpting. And of course, it's a short step because we are all exposed to, especially social media. But in general, like a strong network that is created and sustained by the technology we all use. But knowing how to communicate, I think that doesn't depend on technology itself.
It depends on our idea of who we are and what we want to show others without art. And that you can be a great technician, engineer, scientist, or super pro at computers or whatever. But if you don't have the tools that can help you, at the end of the day, I think that true communication goes through that inner voice that tells you, you need to tell this to others.
So, I believe that technology can help, but artists still need to look for that. Because let's be fair, you can have, you know, ten thousand of, you know, views or comments or whatever they are, they don't count, they don't, they don't really count. You just need to change one person's life and your art reach the goal. That's what it takes.
KD: No, this is really great. And I think that's something important to communicate those types of differences, you know, with the idea of communication and, you know, being able to have art, you know, be able to speak to itself whether or not, you know, it touches someone or it makes someone happy or even, you know, makes someone angry and, you know, even that's ok too. It's, you know, when we think about, you know, the reactions that we have to art or even to music, it's good to not feel indifferent, to be able to inspire a type of emotion. And I think that's something that's really important. So, in regards to like the advice that you would give a young person today, who's wanting to pursue a career in music or not even in music, art or theater, what would you give them, in regards to, you know, your own personal experiences?
FR: Yeah, like again, it really depends on what you want to do with your life. And it’s not even that, because I don't know what I want to do with my life at some point, you know, but about what your interests are. But for sure, I will say that a background in science, a little background in science can definitely help you, it can help you with your invoices, with your tax return.
It can help you with fixing problems with your laptop because you understand that it's a CPU problem and not a GPU problem and that can already, you know, save you a lot of money. And again, I think that having that kind of scientific approach in analyzing a problem and stepping back a little bit and you know, yeah, seeing that with a method can help art, definitely.
It can help art in its creation phase, but not necessarily because you don't necessarily need that. But it can help all the other activities that, as an artist, you will have to do at some point. Unless, you are someone that is lucky enough to come from a rich context where we just need to think about, you know, sculpting your sculpture, and someone else will bring it to the museum and make sure that everyone will see your sculpture. If you are lucky enough to live in that condition, good for you. But I tend to notice that the majority of the artists are not from that position. And I want to value the artists that decide to, you know, undertake this beautiful and brave career if you want, even though they don't come from that amount of money or social context that really sustain and have them in all the phases of their life.
So, if that's your condition, that was my condition, for example. I think that all the things that you know how to do, are things that you're not paying someone else to do that for you. So, in the long term, it really makes you step forward faster. At the beginning, it's a lot of work, it's a lot of studying and understanding, making a lot of mistakes. Please enjoy making mistakes. It is the most beautiful thing in life. But in the long run, people will notice that this person can really master so many skills, and when you master them because you need to learn them. Because if they serve the purpose of your art, even dealing with computers can become beautiful because it's not just about computers in themselves, it's about how they help your creativity.
KD: No, I think, you know, you've touched on several points here, Francesco, which I think are very important. You know, this idea of being creative with the skills that we have. You know, it's like basically saying that it's okay to be scientific, you know because the skills that you learn in science are going to help you be able to survive as an artist or, you know, being able to say, okay, well, I know how to do X Y Z then, you know, with the logic with, you know, problem-solving, being able to do these types of things, it's only going to make you better. And one of the things that I really liked about what you said was the fact that it's okay to make mistakes. As long as we learn from them, it's okay to make those because I feel like, you know, with today's society, I don't know about you, but we get so afraid to make mistakes because we get scared of embarrassment and humiliation.
FR: That hurts and now, I'm speaking as a music teacher. I think something needs to change and it needs to change fast because it's not, I won't tolerate it anymore. We are so afraid of those mistakes, especially when we are in school. We need to make mistakes, especially when we are in a safe environment, you know. So, it happens and high school students, those in the first year that I just met maybe one month ago, we just started this long path of learning music, learning an instrument. And of course, what happens at the beginning is that you make mistakes. I mean, professionals make mistakes. So, why wouldn't you? So, they play and they make mistakes and they tell me, oh, I'm sorry. And I'm like, you don't have to feel sorry, just be happy because look how many things we're learning, thanks to that mistake you just made. And look at how many opportunities it gave you to stop for a second when you realize that you made a mistake.
That's the moment where you don't realize but you're really started learning from it. It's just the fact that it made you stop. Hold on, something was not okay there. That's where your brain started, okay, let's learn from it. If you're afraid of it at that point, you're stopping this process of, okay, what went wrong? How can I make it better? Don't be afraid, just embrace it. That's you. That's part of your path in life, somehow.
KD: No, this is really important. And I feel like this is a very important conversation to share with people because of the fact that a lot of the time, we focus so much on what we need to teach our students. What they need to know, what they should know, but not allowing the space for them to be able to breathe, you know, in the sense of, if I make a mistake, then she's gonna think I'm terrible.
Whereas it's actually not true. It's actually if you do make a mistake, it allows me to understand what I can do to help you become better. And I think these are things, when we think about this idea of, you know, art, you know, in schools, I, at least in the United States, there's a lot of budget cuts in the United States which actually breaks my heart because going through that system, I was able to have the opportunity. If it wasn't for the music programs in school, I probably wouldn't have been able to take this path.
And so, do you have any advice for any of the teachers that, you know, struggle with, you know, this idea of retaining students, you know, to show them the value of music, of what they could do to, you know, help their students become more involved.
FR: I think that's a very sensitive topic and we all suffer from it every time we hear that you know, the funds for art are being cut. Like a part of you feels poorer, literally. I think it depends on the age of the students, but I think having honest conversations, it's the first step to take. Sometimes as an artist, we are afraid. We are the first who are not able to connect on the, you know, day-to-day point of view with other humans because we tend to think so much about our art. And you know, the big systems in our life that we sometimes forget the little things, the daily things, and having an honest conversation on how a life of an artist can be. And with it, beautiful aspects with its weaknesses, with its ties as well, helped see the role of an artist in society as normal.
We need to normalize artists in society. Artists that pay taxes, that need to pay for their bills and their car insurance and need to travel kilometers to, you know, go to another school that just offer them a new contract or to record that CD that has been waiting for too many years and having these owners' conversations. And little by little, I hope will help the audience to interiorize this role of artists around them, around us. Because we all can be artists little by little, especially with technology. Nowadays, if you want, just one smartphone a way to create something beautiful, you know. I have honest conversations with students with the parents and explain to them how it is and explain the struggle that you're living that we, all the workers, have struggles. Different, of course, and it’s I think correct and honest that, you know, society starts understanding deeply ours.
Many times - and that happened in Italy, which I don't want to mention and anyone specifically, but it happened that, you know, there are some artists that are marketed like, you know, the visionaries. Like many colleagues get angry because they say, you know, this person gives the idea to a big audience that artists don't need to eat or pay their rent. It's important that as a category, we look together for solutions to find a clear place in our societies.
And I'm talking about and I would like to know what you think about this, Kristine, and everyone else who's listening about proclamation, and laws. In my country, for example, compared to the country where I lived before, the UK, there's a huge gap in laws that regulate our work. If you want to be a freelance musician in my country, it’s not that easy. So, we need unions. We need to find ways as a category to be relevant and heard, and finally regimented.
KD: No, I agree. And I think, you know, when we think about, you know, the survival of art and when we think about having it be something that is tangible, something that people can, you know, feel good about. Even, you know, being able to inspire different memories. I think, you know, types of unions, types of communities that allow, you know, that type of support I think are crucial.
I think community actually, Francesco, you bring something up that's very important. The fact that you know, a lot of the time, I feel one of the downsides with the digital age that we have is that we are kind of isolated, right? In the sense that, you know, I could do everything from my computer, or I could do everything in a studio with a computer, type of thing. I could get a pianist if I want them to play with me. But at the same time, when we think about that isolated production of art, sometimes we forget that we need communities of people to share that with, to, you know, with like-minded people. And I agree with you. I think the community is extremely essential to the survival, not only with the education part that you mentioned, but you also know, being able to share this with your students, explaining to them the importance of why they do what they do, right? With studying music, how to move on with that, you know, these are very important things.
So, when you think about young professionals when you think about what they can do. I know we talked about this idea of different paths and being able to say, okay, well, it depends on what you like. But when we think about, you know, I don't know about you, but I never learned how to write a curriculum or to write a CV, or even, I had to take classes in writing to become good at it. But I mean, what would you give advice to, in regards to like, you know, people who want to, you know, do art, who want to pursue it?
FR: The first thing that I will tell them is like, do not be afraid of asking people. Because we all have so many skills around and the first thing to do is ask for help. Ask for help from those you think can be well prepared in the field you're interested in such as writing a CV, for example. And the list can go on. The first thing is like, sure, you can find many answers online. But if I think about my path as an artist, and not only the biggest learning moments where I just, you know, picked up that phone or just organized a meeting with that friend. And I'm like, hey, please friend, help me. I need to understand this. I know you're good at that. I know it sounds banal, but we are so afraid of asking sometimes for help and for advice and we love to give good advice if we can. So, that's the first exchange and that's the beginning of our community to think about it. So, that's for sure.
On the other hand, is really to look at how the industry is doing. Meaning when you study, for example, engineering, you, at some point in your studies, start looking at how the industry is going. And you start wondering, okay, I could do that kind of job or the kind of job that I used to dream about when I was like, younger, doesn't exist anymore, but it turned into something different. So, there's kind of like a mature approach, a mature point of view on how the situation is from the market and for the industry will be working with. And to artists, I say, have a look at what's going on. Is this music apart from your personal taste? Well, like what's going on in the world? How are artists from the other side of the world doing? What are the new tendencies? Like in, what are the new niches that are coming out?
Be here to discover. Be ready to be surprised that, you know, something we didn't expect that something that you really disliked will become the next big thing and you might end up liking it at some point don't be too hard on judging yourself for not liking it first because that's what's gonna happen in your life. You're gonna change ideas many times.
KD: No, I think that's really great advice. I think what I also liked was, you know, the idea of not being afraid to ask for help because I feel like today in our society, we get so pulled back, you know. I don't want to bother this person because of this or maybe they're too busy. They might be too important for me. And that actually hinders our ability to create a community with the people that could potentially help us collectively grow together as one.
And I think that's something that's great. I think also too, I know for a fact that if I were, you know, it's so funny the last bit of what you said, you know, to just always try, you know, new things. You know, for me, if I were to tell myself ten years ago, like 24-year-old Kristine. Hey Kristine, you know, it's okay to ask for help, you know. And I think that piece of advice, Francesco, that golden nugget is really valuable for people, for sure.
FR: That's exactly it. Like I wish I realized it earlier, but I think that's part of the game at some point. Just realize it's okay to ask. Also, ask with precision. You can be humble when you do that but don't be afraid of not knowing things again. The fact that you don't know things is not a mistake. It's just something that is happening here and now and it will change, at some point. Of course, learning to do research by yourself is a great tool.
And that's how you will end up learning the majority of the notions, and information, but the experiences that will remain in your brain are probably going to happen through direct communication. So, be precise about what you're asking and, you know, study before the situation. Maybe try to imagine what the person you ask to is most prepared about and just go for it with your limits and yeah, be honest about yourself. People appreciate that.
KD: Yeah. So, like manifesting, being honest, visualization, I think these are really great pieces of advice and this was really great, Francesco. 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 your students in classical music. So, thank you so much, Francesco.
FR: Thanks, Kristine, and thanks everyone for listening and hopes to speak to you at some point soon.
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.