It helps a business define its core purpose and goals. It is the guiding principle of an organization. What is it? A mission statement. Businesses typically have these to delineate their range of activities as well as to guide future decisions. You can usually find an organization’s mission statements on its website listed under their “About” or “Mission” header.
What does a mission statement have to do with being a composer or musician? Everything! Just like an organization, we too have activities that comprise our core purpose (be it composing or music-making), as well as goals for our future (such as composing an opera or winning an audition for a professional orchestra). And similar to companies, we should have a mission statement to keep us focused on our current activities while also taking steps now to ensure the realization of our future goals.
The first step to writing your personal mission statement is to research how companies write theirs. What kind of activities does each organization cover? How general or specific do they get in defining these activities? Here are three great examples of mission statements from Chicago organizations, each of which has approached their statement in a slightly different manner (click on each header to view their webpages):
“Chicago is a creative enterprise devoted to furthering the art of singing together without instruments.” Chicago a cappella follows this with their ensemble biography.
“Fifth House Ensemble taps the collaborative spirit of chamber music to create engaging performances and interactive educational programs, forging meaningful partnerships with unexpected venues, artists of other disciplines, educational institutions, and audiences of every type.” Fifth House then lists their five core values that support their mission statement.
“Cedille Chicago is dedicated to producing classical recordings of the highest quality featuring outstanding musicians from Chicago. Our purpose is to enhance the world’s catalog of recorded music by exploring new and under-represented compositions and documenting important interpretations of standard repertoire. The extensive dissemination of these recordings is designed to bring these artists to a worldwide audience, thus enhancing their reputations and careers, and to benefit as great a listening public as possible.” Notice how Cedille’s mission statement starts with a broad sentence, then fleshes out its mission in the second and third sentences. Cedille follows this with a section on their history.
Once you’ve researched a few organizations, make a list of what kind(s) of music you’re creating and/or performing, as well as the your range of musical activities. Add your goals to this list, both short- and long-term (think of this in terms of projects that you want to do in the next 12 months, in the next 5 years, and in your lifetime). Now that you’ve got a list, figure out what are the most salient details that comprise what you do and use these to craft your mission statement. Revisit your mission statement every so often to see if you still agree with it; tweak it as your goals shift over the course of your career.
Your personal mission statement is something that you can keep private, or can be incorporated in part or full into your official biography that you post on your website, in concert programs, etc. Ultimately, think of your personal mission statement as a rudder that can help navigate the course of your musical career, keeping you focused on your short- and long-term goals as you go.