“We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Maggie Cocco a few weeks ago” …I don’t know about all that, but I do know that I’m deeply grateful to Canvas Rebel for yet another opportunity to wax rhapsodic about what meaningful creativity and alignment looks like through this lens!
Full text below. Click the link here for the magaine and pretty pictures!
Q: Maggie, appreciate you joining us today. What’s been the most meaningful project you’ve worked on?
A: I started life with something valuable. It drew people of all natures and almost immediately became the crux of my identity. It afforded me a platform that I did nothing of substance to earn. It is simultaneously the source of all the best and worst things I’ve experienced. Or rather, all the best things that I have ever pursued and all the worst things that have ever pursued me… Music. Talent. A beautiful voice especially is a beacon for those who admire and covet its strange power. As I age and the pleas of “don’t forget me when you’re famous” die down, I see for the first time in retrospect a progression of fraudsters, charlatans, snake oil salesmen, and well-meaning every day people who wouldn’t have given two shits about influencing me were it not for my voice. And probably wouldn’t have bothered if I weren’t also vulnerable…Therefore, I see also the personal circumstances and socio-cultural expectations that made me susceptible to their moth-like persistence. Over the first two decades of my career I’ve had songs stolen, my voice, image, and likeness used without my permission – sometimes for nefarious purposes such as catfishing – work held for ransom or royalties, assaults, and more.
As I get older and wiser, I find myself less susceptible to the dangers of my peculiar youth, and part of my journey has become teaching the next generation of musicians how to navigate and mitigate those dangers whilst working toward eradicating them altogether.
…Art imitates life imitates art.
My life is balanced, my art is balanced. The most meaningful projects are those with the potential to do the most good. I don’t believe that the “tortured artist” stereotype does anyone any favors. I don’t need to be perpetually traumatized to create. A negative emotion may be easier to write a song with because it has few other outlets while a positive emotion, easy shared, has ample accessible outlets. I take care to write, perform, and work with projects that address the troubles I see in the world AND celebrate the good. Move the needle one conversation, one performance, one workshop, one song at a time.
Q: As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
A: I am an American musician, composer and educator based in New Zealand. I had a rocky start to my career, signing an exploitative contract at 16 and experiencing much of the worst of the industry before 23. During some of that time I studied opera performance and music education at University, after which I worked in contemporary popular musics performing as vocalist for many corporate cover bands from Detroit to San Francisco, backing vocals for legacy artists and tribute bands, and touring original projects including Science for Sociopaths (art pop/adult contemporary), Maggie Cocco Band (blues fusion), Social Graces (transatlantic folk).
As an independent musician whose services are proudly community centered, I offer Pay What You Can music services and work with various arts and social justice organizations, including Girls Rock Detroit where I serve as Board Chair and director of digital programming. I am equally passionate about composition, performance, and education. Under the tutelage of Deborah Blair – co-creator of Exceptional Pedagogy For Children With Exceptionalities: International Perspectives – and Jackie Wiggins – Teaching for Musical Understanding – I developed a philosophy of education and pedagogical practice to match my love for the unique function of music in society. I have taught adult choirs, youth choirs, youth orchestras, general music, guitar and piano accompaniment for singers, songwriting, creative civic engagement, and more. I believe whole heartedly in the power of the arts and my work is dedicated to making the world a more beautiful and just place.
Q: For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
A: On my best days as an artist, I make things infinitely better for someone. I make them dance, forget their problems, facilitate a rush of dopamine. I make complex emotions accessible so tears can flow and facilitate healing. I raise awareness for the best and worst of the human condition.
…On my worst day as an artist, I didn’t make things worse!
Q: How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
A: Pivoting is the name of the game! I wouldn’t have lasted this long in the performing arts were I not an expert pivot-or!
A pivot of which I’m particularly fond happened on a recent Science for Sociopaths Interactive Multimedia tour. I was traveling from the north island to the south island of New Zealand, and my free ferry (in exchange for on board entertainment) was now out of service. Over night my partner and I used the tour emergency fund to secure storage for the tour van and gear, purchase flights, rent gear across the way, secure accommodation (the van we had to leave behind had been our accommodation as well) & transportation. Upon landing we discovered that one of the central props with which we were traveling had been battered in the plane’s cargo bay. A mannequin that was to be hand painted by the audience and a stationary partner for a featured dancer had had it’s neck ripped off in jagged fashion. Also, the featured dancer now had an injury and pulled out of the show. As sometimes happens on tours, this was a series of unfortunate events. Between the time that it took for everything to fall apart and the time of the show a day later, my partner and I reconfigured the aforementioned logistics and the show itself with him as substitute guest artist. While I played Like A Moth – a song cycle about a deteriorating relationship – the taped together mannequin was symbolically painted by the audience and manipulated till broken apart by my partner. The jaggedly broken neck piece (with the help of a dear handy friend) was fashioned into a crown that I removed from the mannequin and assumed just as the protagonist of the story becomes empowered. It was not a flawlessly executed performance, but it was inspired and inspiring, and I am endlessly proud of how it came to be.
Full disclosure, this was a written interview. My thoughts are never this collected on the spot. Thankful for the thought friendly format 🙏
Tony has a strong baritone and natural musicianship. He has studied piano for many years and is learning to sing like his father and grandfather before him. Tony is differently abled and has limited funds. Tony studies with Maggie Cocco Music for two hours each week. His goal is to sing with the bands at the local music clubs, but also to sing for fun and his health. Subsidizing needs for Tony are $60/week.
Christian is a Detroit native and was recently adopted into a big loving family of 7. Mom noticed right away that Christian is a naturally gifted singer, and enlisted Maggie Cocco Music to help prepare Christian for her audition with the prestigious Detroit Youth Chorus. She got in – Congratulations Christian! And now takes weekly lessons in music theory and singing with Maggie Cocco Music. Subsidizing needs for Christian are $220/month.
Finances should not be a barrier to living your best life! Maggie Cocco Music services are Pay What You Can so that persons who mightn’t otherwise be able to afford them have access to quality music education and services. Support Maggie Cocco Music in this mission by giving a one-time gift (ask me how!) or becoming a sustainer on Patreon 🤍