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IIRY Podcast: 18. “It’s a weird time to try to reinvent yourself.”
A chat with Nick Photinos, innovative cellist and founding member of Eighth Blackbird, about career transformation and the importance of preserving our mental health during this time of pandemic.

In my candid conversation with innovative cellist and founding member of Eighth Blackbird, Nick Photinos, we discuss career transformation during the pandemic; how we attach our sense of worthiness to the things we create; and how this time of pandemic and quarantine can be best used to ask ourselves “why am I making music?”

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Nick Photinos

4:23 – Struggling with productivity and career transformation during the pandemic.

4:38 – Nick talks about the “profound change” his career is taking now as he prepares to leave Eighth Blackbird and how we all identify with our professional personas.

6:00 – The challenges of reinventing oneself during the uncertainty of COVID-19.

8:29 – The genesis of Eighth Blackbird at Oberlin. Tim Weiss.

12:52 – How Nick decided it was time to leave Eighth Blackbird and move onto the next stage of his career.

15:00 – The complexities of interpersonal relationships within small ensembles. How Eighth Blackbird defined their mission and made artistic choices in the beginning.

17:35 – What happens when something we identify with changes?

21:28 – How competitions helped Eighth Blackbird at the start of their career. How uniqueness helped their career and why it can be hard to differentiate yourself if you stay on a very traditional career path.

24:28 – How staying true to what “lit him up” is what gave Nick clarity in his career and artistic goals.

25:38 – Why Eighth Blackbird could only have formed at Oberlin.

27:55 – How Nick got started playing music and the importance of collaboration.

31:45 – How Nick is finding ways to collaborate in his home with his family.

32:38 – Nick’s arrangement of Aphex Twin’s tune, Avril 14.

33:43 – Nick’s work with Dana Fonteneau on how all of the ways musicians are used to measuring themselves is gone and how this time can be best used for musicians to ask themselves “why are we doing this?” In the absence of all the traditional reasons to making music, why should we keep making music?

35:19 – The joy of playing new music because there is no “right” way to play it.

35:47 – Bob Dylan’s ability to communicate despite his “horrible voice” and the importance of asking ourselves “what am I saying?” How to be authentic and fresh.

38:43 – How the well worn paths have become too well worn and why it’s important to ask yourself “where does this eventually lead?”

40:20 – Nick and I talk about the c0mplexities of the classical music world’s obsession with youth. e.g.“From the Top.”

43:07 – The ways we derive our sense of worthiness from our professional successes and identities and the challenges that come from this over-identification.

44:33 – Why people skills and “soft” skills are the most important for the success and longevity of your ensemble.

47:43 – Memorization and why it’s especially important in performing new music and how it can liberate the performers and also increase the audience’s understanding and enjoyment of a piece. Michael Torke’s Yellow Pages.

53:45 – What Nick is planning for the next stage of his career as a solo artist.

55:17 – Why deadlines are useful for Nick in his creative work and development.

58:29 – How Nick cultivates his creative courage.

1:01:14 – Nick talks about his interest in miniatures and how his first solo album, “Petits Artéfacts,” developed from his interest in encores and short pieces.

George Saunders

Lydia Davis

1:04:16 – Why Nick would tell his younger self to focus on the people and things that “lift you up.”

1:04:55 – Why “not beating yourself up” is especially important during this time of pandemic and the importance of preserving our mental health during this time.

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