Entrepreneurial Projects: Expanding the Reach of Classical Music in Today’s World


Alogoes part of my class at Yale, my students create a project in order to experience entrepreneurship in action.  I am thrilled at how my students delved into the unknown and created a wide variety of creative and innovative projects that opened up new vistas for them.

My ground rules were as follows:

  • Do something you never done before; and
  • Go outside your comfort zone.

  The project assignment also had two underlying conceptual underpinnings:

1. The Growth Mindset

Many music students have been trained to go for perfection, which often makes it hard for them to take risks and make mistakes.  The projects are a way for my students to experience the “growth mindset” and focus on the learning experience, rather than worrying about achieving “perfect” results.

This growth mindset is the brainchild of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck; it is the belief that you can cultivate your talent and intelligence through hard work, experimentation and growth, with talent as the mere starting point.  Those with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, believe that talent and intelligence are finite and that mistakes and failure confirm that they are not up to the task. Dweck’s research, summarized in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, demonstrates that those with a growth mindset are more resilient, work harder, embrace collaboration with others and as a result achieve greater success than those with a fixed mindset because they are motivated by the desire to grow and learn.

Through their projects, my students focused on the learning and not the outcome, often finding that their original ideas did not work and that they had to adapt to new circumstances.  Happily, the results of these projects confirmed Dr. Dweck’s findings that without the constraints of perfectionism, the students were able to achieve marvelous results.

2. Artistic Purpose

Another fascinating aspect of the project was how it tied into the artistic purpose of my students. Through our branding work, my students learned how to articulate the greater purpose underlying WHY they make music, teach and perform and then communicate that purpose to the audience on whom they want to have an impact. The projects became an avenue for exploring how to manifest their artistic purpose. Again, the results were most inspiring!

Finally, I would like to thank my colleague, entrepreneurial arts consultant and Yale Drama School Faculty Member Greg Kandel who provided invaluable insights to our budding entrepreneurs on how to position, pitch, fund and develop their projects.

Here, then, are the results of this semester’s projects:

Performance-based Projects

Entrepreneurial musicians today know that in order to get their music out into the public, they often need to take the initiative to create their own musical experiences and perform for new audiences. This year’s performance-based projects including creating a new ensemble, presenting a flashmob, showcasing the guitar music of children in a local community, performing for residents of a low income housing development and patrons of a local soup kitchen and organizing a concert to raise awareness of violence against women. Our students learned a host of skills since these concerts involved recruiting and collaborating with fellow musicians and other colleagues, selecting, composing and arranging repertoire, creating partnerships with members of the local community, securing suitable venues and figuring out the logistics of rehearsing for, presenting and marketing a concert.

1. Creating a New Ensemble

Double-bassist Sam Bobinski
was able to realize his dream of creating his own jazz-style big band. Sam recruited 15 fellow Yale School of Music students and put on a performance in a casual environment so that the audience could sit back and enjoy music. Sam also wrote and arranged music for his band, commissioned a number of fellow students to write some arrangements and enlisted the help of faculty to provide other arrangements. In addition, Sam learned how to conduct efficient rehearsals, produce a concert and market the event to attract the right audience. The concert took place at GPSCY, Yale’s graduate and professional students’ bar and Sam succeeded in providing the audience with a great time, as well as creating a memorable experience for his fellow ensemble members.

2. Christmas Flashmob in Union Station

Flutist Jonathan (Jonty) Slade staged a flashmob in New Haven’s Union Station at Christmastime, with a view to setting up a larger ensemble in the future in order to find a new way to present classical music without compromising the quality of the music. Jonty recruited fellow students and settled on appropriate repertoire of the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg, as well as a few of festive holiday favorites. Jonty acquired the music from friends and the university library, as well as created his own arrangement of one of the works. He secured the venue at the railroad station, finding that staff was enthusiastic about the project and enlisting the help of the station’s operations manager of the station to find a suitable performance location. The players used the shoe shine stall as a makeshift stage and the bassoonist proceeded to play the introduction to Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King, to the surprise of some of the people nearby. The players joined him one by one to finish the piece. A small but enthusiastic audience listened and the players were so encouraged by the experience that they are eager to do it again.

3. Local Community Concert

Guitarist Ian Tuski is also a passionate teaching artist who is committed to forging community partnerships so that his students can share their music with other community members on a regular basis. For his project, Ian produced a house concert for members of the Fair Haven community neighborhood, featuring his students from the local middle school. Ian reached out to different members of the community, including the public library, the community garden and the neighborhood association and was thrilled when one of his new contacts offered to host a concert in her home. Ian feels strongly that his students deserve to experience a nice environment, perform good music on good instruments, have high-level instruction and meet new people through music. He also discovered how fulfilling it is to bring music to a new location where the residents probably have not heard the music before. Ian is already planning his next series of community-based concerts.

4. Concert in a Low-income Housing Development

Bassoonist Marissa Olegario produced a 60-minute concert for the residents of a local assisted-living community in order to provide a high-quality live and accessible musical experience to people who do not have easy access to such events, as well as to overcome the elitist perception of classical music. Marissa recruited four versatile chamber groups of different instrumentation and sizes and featured music that she thought that the residents would enjoy, even if the works were not immediately recognizable tunes. Moreover, Marissa added a personal touch by introducing concert in order to make it more inviting, welcoming and inclusive to the residents who thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Marissa discovered that music transcends all barriers and creates a positive way to connect and she is interested in producing similar concerts in the future.

5. Concert to Raise Awareness of Violence Against Women

Mezzo-soprano Mindy Chu is passionate about the subject of violence against women and used her project to carry out her mission of using classical music to raise awareness of this issue. Mindy was inspired by the legendary story of the rape of Lucretia, an early Roman noblewoman, whose rape and suicide gave rise to the founding of the Roman Republic. The story is featured in Handel’s Cantata #39, as well as in the painting, The Death of Lucretia by Gavin Hamilton in Yale’s Center for British Art. Mindy produced a concert at the Yale Divinity School and performed the Handel work in front of a projection of the painting, advertising the event as a “classical musical experience into the psychology of a rape victim”. In addition to mastering the logistics of securing a venue and producing a concert, Mindy used her public speaking skills to give an impassioned introduction about the crisis of rape and violence against women. Mindy invited the audience to enter into Lucretia’s thought process and to begin thinking critically about the injustices that are brought upon women in our society and in the world today. Her powerful speech and performance captured the audience’s attention and hopefully influenced the way they think about an important social issue. Inspired by her success, Mindy plans on doing more of these concerts.

6. Christmas Concert in a Soup Kitchen

Choral Conductor Max Holman is always on the lookout for the opportunity to share his art form with his audiences. For his project, he wanted to provide New Haven residents beyond Yale with high-quality music that comes from the heart. Max originally intended to put on a Christmas concert at a local homeless shelter featuring both singers and instrumentalists. Unfortunately, the date fell through but thanks to the many friends that Max has made through his conducting and singing engagements, he was able to put together a small a cappella choir to sing a collection of holiday carols at a local soup kitchen. Max was delighted at the reaction of his audience, who clearly appreciated his passion for choral music, clapping between songs, and smiling as they walked by the semi-circle of joyous carolers. Max will continue his project next semester and bring a larger group of singers, together with a jazz ensemble, to the residents of a local homeless shelter, in order to spread the joy that music brings.

Community-based Projects
A number of other students demonstrated their commitment to both local and international community-based work. Two of these projects imaginatively took advantage of the internet while a third project raised awareness for a student-founded non-profit organization.

1. Uniting the Community Through Sound

Violinist Jessica Oddie is deeply committed to fostering stronger connections within the community and has chosen sound as her vehicle for accomplishing her goal. Together with an American Studies Ph.D candidate at Yale, Jessica has created the “Hear Here Project”. Jessica believes that “the soundscape of New Haven is not a dissonant collection of disparate noises, but rather a beautiful and fascinating aspect of city life that we can best engage with and explore through an online sound map.”

This semester, Jessica and her collaborator created an online sound map of New Haven. In this phase, Jessica designed the map, with helpful input from the Digital Humanities Project at Yale and then worked with a developer to create a rough draft of the website. Once the website is live, members of the community-including children, long-time residents, students and newcomers- can record and submit a sound that is integral to the place. The sound will then be added to the on-line map with a tagging system. The website will be live in a few weeks and I will publish the link so that New Haven residents can contribute their sounds. In addition, Jessica will be working hard to market the website through social media and other vehicles that will encourage a wide range of audiences to contribute their sounds.

The project includes two additional components:

  • A series of community workshops inspired by the works of Yalie and New Havenite Charles Ives during which time members of the New Haven community will be invited to engage in a similar process of composition, using the sounds of today’s world, as generated by the sound map.
  • The “Hear, Here” Concert Series featuring music that is rooted in the concept of place, featuring the music of New Haven composers.

Stay tuned for the ongoing development of the Hear Here project!

2. Instagram Promotion of New Haven Events and Venues

Operatic baritone Brian Vu knows the loneliness of the traveling musician who is far from home and does not feel a part of the community. He therefore decided to use social media as a way of reliving these feelings of loneliness. Brian explored and discovered new places of interest and escape in New Haven and shared them on Instagram to document the things he loves about Yale, life in New Haven, and his travels.

Brian’s original mission was to help musicians traveling through New Haven to find a sense of belonging and find fun things to do in the palm of their hand. However, through the project, he learned that by sharing about his personal experiences, he was able to forge a stronger connection to others because they were able to see him as a “tangible and human artist off-stage”. Through this project, Brian also learned that “living fully always reaps good emotional and physical fruit”.

3. Creating Awareness of International Music Non-Profit

Clarinetist Kevin Schaffter is the founder of MusAid, an international non-profit organization that provides musical institutions in under-resourced parts of the world with volunteer music teachers and donated instruments and materials. MusAid also has a teaching fellowship program offering musicians from around the world an opportunity to teach and perform at several music programs in Belize and El Salvador in partnership with the Youth Orchestra of Central America (OJCA).

For his project, Kevin originally had planned to work on a fundraising concert for MusAid but the concert had to be rescheduled. Kevin quickly turned his project around and instead, created and led an information session for Yale students to recruit applicants for the fellowship and raise awareness for MusAid. In order to be ready for the information session, Kevin finalized the agreements with the local schools and confirmed the guest faculty. He also created a beautiful new website. Kevin actively marketed the information session, using posters, social media and direct communication. He found a suitable venue and provided pizza, with the result that 13 busy Yale students attended the session at the tail end of the semester. Let’s wish Kevin continued success with his wonderful program!

State Department Concert Tour Project
Four students, members of the East Rock Brass Quintet, collaborated on their project: an application to the American Music Abroad program, the U.S. Department of State’s initiative for sending small music ensembles around the world in support of U.S. foreign relations. The mission of their project was to “enrich lives through music both at home and abroad, as well as to travel and gain international touring experiences, to perform for international audiences, to educate and partner with children and communities overseas and serve our nation as representatives of American culture.”

The students learned valuable team and collaborative skills by breaking down the 10 segments of the projects and dividing them among the foursome on the basis of strengths, skills and aptitude.

Trumpeter Patrick Durbin designed the repertoire, consisting of two 40 minute American-themed programs showcasing the wide variety of American music from different time periods and in different styles including early American marches, Dixieland, jazz, blues, music from American composers such as Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, standard brass quintet repertoire, Broadway musical arrangements, American folk music, music from famous American movies, and a few Pop selections. Patrick also assembled the recordings and developed the talking points for a music business presentation.

Trumpeter Carl Stanley created the new East Rock website, collaborated with another classmate to set up the photo shoot, and developed the publicity package. An added benefit of the beautiful new website is that East Rock has been hired for some additional professional engagements!

Trombonist Daniel Fears designed two educational programs program for middle-school children, including a one-page write-up of pedagogical concepts, curriculum and repertoire, and produced the educational concert which took place in December.

French horn player Thomas Park wrote the press release, secured video equipment for live performances and created the promotional video to document the group’s work.

The application will soon be filed and we are crossing our fingers for these wonderful brass players in the next phases of the project. However, no matter what the outcome, they all felt that the project provided an invaluable experience in project management, collaboration, joint leadership and problem-solving. as well as teaching and solidifying the specific skills that each musician undertook.

Educational Projects
Two of our students focused on educating fellow musicians through two different avenues: a curriculum for an undergraduate career entrepreneurship class and a method book for learning orchestral repertoire.

1. Undergraduate career entrepreneurship curriculum

Oboist Fiona Last designed a 13-week one-semester curriculum for an undergraduate career entrepreneurship class. Fiona feels that undergraduate musicians need much more guidance and information in order to make wise career choices. Her mission was to introduce students to the array of career options open to them, as well as provide useful career and educational tools, focusing on personal development, time management, practice techniques, attitudes and etiquette, mental and physical health, preparation of application materials, and writing and speaking skills.  To test out her curriculum, Fiona  ran a focus group comprised of fellow YSM students who reviewed her syllabus and provided feedback on her objectives, materials, content, structure and target audience. Fiona will continue working on this project by conducting a second focus group next semester with Yale undergraduate music students so that she can receive feedback from her target audience.

2. Trombone Melody Book

Trombonist Elisabeth Shafer put together a book containing the melodic lines from the first movement of Brahms’ Symphony No.2 to help trombonists learn the context within which they play the standard trombone excerpts, as well as establish a stronger connection between listening and music making. Elisabeth used Sibelius to create the book and added her own notes to help her fellow trombonists. She then presented her work to her trombone studio class and solicited their feedback. Elisabeth particularly appreciated the feedback of her fellow trombonists that the information should be accessible on-line. As a result, Elisabeth will create an on-line pdf of her work, instead of publishing the information in book form. She will also provide more information about the structure and form of the work so that trombonists can also learn how to develop, relate and repeat the material.

Website Project

French horn player Patrick Jankowski created a professional musician website in order to present and market himself as a multi-dimensional musician. Patrick describes himself as “an adventurous artist, musician and scholar who helps others to form a meaningful, rewarding and uplifting relationship with music.  In addition to performing and teaching, Patrick enjoys writing concert program notes in a way that speaks to his audiences because he believes that communicating about music is as important as communicating through music. He therefore uploaded his vast collection of program notes so that they are now easily accessible both to audiences and to potential employers. Patrick enjoyed the process of posting headshots as well as casual photos to showcase himself in a more informal light. Patrick also created business cards using his website headshots, thus creating a seamless and integrated brand.

Congratulations to my students on your hard work and creativity! I am excited to see how the projects continue to unfold and how the lessons of these projects will impact your development as artistic and cultural leaders of the 21st Century.