What's in a Team?

In September 2017, I organized a core team retreat to discuss the strategy for the year build the relationships between members. To prepare, I gave an assignment for everyone to create “personal bios”. These bios would contain their stories, successes/failures, and what about the Eureka mission speaks to them.

Here is the main guideline each member followed: “This is the story of you — your background and history, your successes and failures, your dreams and aspirations, and special memories along the way.”

The Result:

Read below the resulting personal bios from the original core team members, in order:

  1. Alan Toda Ambaras (Executive Director & Cellist)
  2. Lee Ann Song (Development Chair)
  3. Reina Murooka (Social Chair & Violinist)
  4. Kristo Kondakci (Artistic Director & Conductor)

Alan Toda-Ambaras

As an exercise, I find writing to be very uncomfortable. Voicing my ideas, ruminating out loud on philosophical subjects around close friends . . . such means of expression come naturally. But the prospect of leaving something for posterity — whether it be a bio, an essay, or a speech — makes the act of even beginning to write a difficult one.

None of this is to say I believe myself to be a bad writer — there are some pieces out there that I’m actually proud of. But my reluctance to put pen to paper (so to speak) stems from an ever-present fear of my thoughts coming across as arbitrary, irrelevant, or rife with contradiction. That same fear accounts for why, as an art history major (a.k.a. “concentrator”) studying modernist painting at Harvard, my concerns over interpretive methodology led to late submissions of over half my papers; why professor and pianist Robert Levin’s compelling but self-reflexive discourse on tonal music practice precipitated my first existential crisis as an artist (how could music be inherently or intrinsically meaningful?!); and why, after finishing my performance degree at NEC, I ultimately couldn’t bring myself to pursue a traditional path as a soloist or chamber musician, given what struck me as the smallness of the classical music world, alongside the magnitude of the systemic problems racking our society.

In spite of how it might sound, I’m not nihilistic about the value of art or music, and I’m incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had — and continue to have — to cultivate my artistry. Being a prize-winner in the Rostropovich Competition, attending festivals in Europe, meeting amazing teachers and musical peers (classical and otherwise), and concertizing have grounded me as a cellist; my frustrating, humbling, but also wonderful experiences at Harvard (which included a trip to Peru fully funded by the art history department!) have enabled me to think critically about the world (or at the very least, more so than before); and working with Project LENS, Kristo, and other great colleagues have expanded my notions about what musical innovation can do.

But the passion with which I now throw myself into my work wouldn’t be possible without my family’s love and struggle with mental illness, both of which continue to teach me what it means to care for people in ways simultaneously real and abstract. My engagement with politics also keeps a certain fire burning in my belly, one that bears directly on my interest in Eureka’s mission. And I’d be remiss not to mention how my job as an educational ‘trip leader’ for Japanese high school students visiting Boston has reinforced my appreciation for the value of cross-cultural dialogue and a strong humanities education (something sorely lacking in Japan).

As a result of these and other experiences, I’m now convinced that there needs to be a more fundamental transformation in how the classical music community imagines its role in modern society and in relation to other non-traditionally ‘classical’ communities and genres. This is not an original sentiment, of course; people ranging from Yo-Yo Ma to Jose Antonio Abreu to Neil DeGrasse Tyson have all been advocating for such a paradigm shift in their own way, through concepts like citizen artistry, social action, and “STEAM” (Science-Technology-Engineering-ARTS-Mathematics).

But I have faith that Eureka can — and will — play a key role in ushering in that new paradigm. Through the various exciting, interdisciplinary programs Eureka has in store, I hope not only to make a difference in the lives of underserved people, but to broaden my horizons and learn some important lessons about how to better myself as a musician, a community advocate, and overall human being.

To the Eureka team: thanks for reading this embarrassingly free-form bio, and I can’t wait to work with you this season and beyond!

Kristo KondakciComment