Music with Integrity by Christiana Reader

Chipotle, you have my burrito-lovin’ musician’s heart.

Anyone that knows me could easily report that I rarely touch fast food as I try to be a generally healthy person. I identify as a Michael Pollan groupie, and a lover of a delicious meal. I was therefore mortified to understand that my favorite little burrito-haven that receives the bulk of my lunch money qualifies as fast food. I recently was in a business presentation with the CFO of Chipotle, Jack Hartung, where I was woefully out of place among so many numbers-oriented suits and fast talkers. But I remained curious enough to listen, leaving the lecture feeling like we as musicians could learn a lesson or two. 

Please indulge me while I explain. 

Chipotle is currently valued at $12 million per restaurant, a number that is calculated by taking the current stock price divided by the number of restaurants. This leaves its next fast food competitors in the dust: McDonalds is valued at $2.6 million/restaurant, Panera at $2.2 million/restaurant. The lowest example on the graph was Jack in the Box at $800,000/restaurant. 

The presenter, Hartung made the point that Chipotle has been out-performing all other fast-food businesses for the following reason: food with integrity.

Their food culture: the willingness to invest a large portion of the budget into high quality ingredients without additives developed into something extraordinary through excellent cooking technique, considering the sustainability of where that food comes from their people culture: hiring people with character who demonstrate success and leadership by doing their own job well and making the people around them better their strong business model: creating value, getting more out of what you invest by being efficient.

As I was trying to follow along in a field that I know nothing about, I could relate best to these elements that are similar in our preparations to become professional musicians. 

Musician culture: We have to commit to high quality ingredients, becoming willing to practice well, to hone our technique and artistry, and to expand our musical horizons. This requires a huge commitment to our own personal and musical development at an inevitable sacrifice. This can happen in the smallest details such as striving for ever better intonation, more clarity, or a more beautiful tone. It means showing up prepared and friendly (see Kayleigh’s post). It means being informed about the broader contexts of what we are working on (see Sergio’s post). It means giving up free weekends, late nights with friends, or plentiful excuses in exchange for quality time with the instrument or our aural development through concert attendance.

Or it can happen in the big picture: deciding to go to that particular school because the teacher and the school were the best fit to push you as a musician (see Professor Taylor’s post). Investing our best quality selves at either the micro- or the macro-level happens daily.

People culture: Our own individual integrity and character coupled with a supportive network of people carry us through inevitable rough patches when things do not go our way. Our disciplined commitment to our individual development influences the way we relate to our teachers, students, peers, and mentors. The high-quality work we put in shapes us to become leaders in our fields whether as performance, composition, music education, or musicology majors; whether at small conservatories, liberal arts colleges, or big state schools. We are given the opportunity to inspire those around us–doing our part to contribute to a rising tide that lifts all boats. 

Business Model: Because we have invested ourselves into this difficult field, we have to consider how to be the most efficient to service our growth in the best way, with our best quality. This means striving to live with a healthy, balanced perspective as we generate value for our development and our career-path. Nothing can replace savvy time management and a growth mindset, guts and sheer grit, hard-work and doggedness (check out the fascinating recent psychological research on these TED talks on success by Carol Dweck and Angela Lee Duckworth). It is a circus act figuring out how to structure daily schedules and obligations, practice time and mental practice, audition or recital preparation (see Professor Rodland’s post), potential injury-related sidelining and body awareness (see Angela’s post), or performance anxiety management (see Emily’s post), among other obstacles. 

I am more and more convinced that thoughtful, intelligent, and directed consistency is one of the most valuable character traits I could learn in music. Real commitment changes and informs every one of us to become stronger, more convincing musicians in all areas to set us apart. It gives us something authentic and real to offer our audiences and the world around us. 

Happy practicing (and burrito-eating) my friends! 

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