Friday, October 28, 2011
WHEN DEATH COMES, EVERYTHING ELSE STOPS
Today I received news that my great friend (also one of my business mentors) passed away.
Carol Shiffman died a couple days ago - after a long, hard battle with cancer.
The last time I saw her we met at the Guggenheim, had lunch at a beautiful cafe called Elizabeth's, and took a walk in Central Park. Our very last moment was the quintessential New York goodbye - we were on the train...."Grand Central Station" it said...all upbeat, full of the strength and grace she always carried no matter what, she said "this is my stop!" - we kissed, left cheek, right cheek, a squeeze of the arm, and she bounded off the train. I watched her walk away until she was lost in the crowd. Then the train continued on....
The minute you know you've lost someone, every single element of the experience of them comes into focus. I suddenly can remember every detail about the way she stood, or held her head when listening, or the way her hands moved when she was communicating with an audience. I can remember every everything....and in such detail.
Carol had an immanent grace that is not easily summarized. It came both in the way she moved - her many years as a dancer and choreographer were evident even when she was riding the elevator - and the way she interacted with people.
She had a special way of receiving people - of really listening to them - of honoring them.
Once in talking about the old saying "this is business, it's not personal, it's business" she revealed the essence of her being...."yes it is business, but the person is always there - you can never overlook the person - the person always has to be considered"
That's not to say that she wasn't tough as nails when it came to business - just that she saw that with anything involving a human, the human must be recognized, considered, and above all else, RESPECTED.
She said that giving introductions was one of the concert producer's most important jobs - that you set the tone for the audience to receive what the artists are going to create....and that it's your job to personalize the experience, to humanize the experience, so that everyone can take the journey together - openly.
She had a way of navigating and mediating even the most tense of meetings/discussions. I observed situations where amidst great chaos she was able to give each person room to feel heard, seen and respected, even though opinions and ideas might differ greatly.
When we met, she had taken the helm as department chair of a music department, even though her background and training had been as a dancer (though she had MANY years of experience as an arts administrator working with music). Through this, she taught me alot about the core of art - how it is really all about the same thing no matter the medium it comes through - and she showed me how each discipline needs each other to learn and go deeper.
She taught me so much about feeling a space and filling a space.
about listening and being heard.
about silent confidence and unspoken channels of communication.
about the subtle lines of awareness that shape every conversation.
She taught me about believing in yourself, how to trust that everything you work on in the studio shapes your life, and that everything in your life shapes what you do in the studio....how to trust that no matter what new situation you are in, you can call on your personal history, on your personal voice to navigate the new with confidence. How to embrace the improvisation.
She taught me more things than I can possibly try to articulate through this sea of tears.
She was a beautiful, graceful, and fiercely strong individual - my life is so much better because of my experiences with her.
She believed in me.
She supported my business when I was just starting out.
and she always supported me as an artist and wanted me to promise to never stop playing - no matter how much administration I got wrapped up in.
Carol Shiffman was my great friend and mentor.
and she called me "Cookie"
(I will love you for always - you are with me on every stage and in every meeting - and you will live forever in our hearts. Rest in peace dear friend - and give 'em hell on the other side)