I don't remember much about the previous times I went to the Baha'i Music Industry Weekend. It was always a wonderful experience, but I remember in the past being much more stressed and exhausted. I am constitutionally an introvert and have historically suffered from high levels of social anxiety. (People often wonder how I can be an introvert & love performing, but I contend that the two really aren't related.) This year the entire weekend was so uplifting, nourishing, restoring, and supportive. I learned a lot and enjoyed making new friends and hanging out with old friends. I wasn't as awkward this time.
The last time I went to the Rabbani Trust (formerly Social and Economic Development) Conference, I was very unhappy with how I was treated as a musician. I had just released my first album, Intone. I had tried to contact Jack Lenz, who was in charge of the music, months before the conference, to find out if I could get into the musical program. I didn't have much success contacting Jack and decided to go to the conference anyway. When I got there, I asked if I could perform and was given slots during the devotional programs as well as during one of the evening programs, and I sold lots of CDs and got good exposure. Still I felt as if I had been brushed off. I felt like it was degrading to have to beg to perform, and I thought there should have been a process for musicians to apply to perform, especially new musicians who needed exposure.
This year I paid my own way to the conference again. I had contacted the organizers, who said they thought I might be able to have a chance to perform, but the sets wouldn't be determined in advance before the conference. This time I ended up being able to perform every evening, including during the big music show Saturday night, and twice during morning devotions. So essentially the same thing happened as last time, except that this time I was able to be flexible and grateful for the performance opportunities and really enjoy the conference. It was wonderful to hang out with the other musicians, some of whom I knew and some of whom became new friends. Also this time there was a choir, which I joined, another uplifting and enriching experience.
Having been back to both of these conferences again after several years, and having such a different experience this time, made me stop to reflect about how I had changed. How was it that conferences that had been so stressful and in one case negative before were so uplifting and joyful this year? It's hard for me to really pull together all the experiences that have changed me, from maturing within the wonderfully supportive and loving DC Baha'i community, to taking the Landmark Curriculum for Living, to hours and hours of individual therapy. So many other Baha'i artists have been role models for me, teaching me through their actions to drop my self-centered diva demeanor in favor of an attitude of service, to be flexible and understanding of my fellow Baha'is. I think one turning point for me was when I realized that serving the Baha'i community through music was such a joy for me that I felt communities were doing me a favor by giving me opportunities to perform. It was at that point that I stopped being so rigid in my expectations of how I should be treated as a musician and started focusing more on what I was contributing to the event and to the people involved.
It has been a long journey, but such a rewarding one! I am grateful to everyone who has given me an opportunity to sing, and to everyone who has been kind, supportive, and understanding of me as a musician, and to all my mentors, most of whom don't even know how they influenced me simply by showing how it was done.