Case Studies of 4 Yale Music Entrepreneurs: Achieving The Impossible

As I sit in my warm, light-filled apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River, I am filled with enormous gratitude that I was spared the wrath of the hurricane, especially when I look across the river to New Jersey or downtown to Lower Manhattan where so much devastation took place.

I couldn’t get to New Haven last week since the highways were closed and the trains were cancelled.  But I had the most wonderful class to teach:  a career panel with 4 amazing alumni of the Yale School of Music:

Nicholas DiEugenio, Assistant Professor of Violin and Chamber Music at Ithaca College, with an active performance career as a soloist and chamber musician.

Adrian Morejon, a freelance bassoonist with an active career as a soloist and chamber music player, founder of Sospiro Winds, faculty member at the Boston Conservatory

Paul Murphy: freelance trumpeter and teaching artist with the New York Philharmonic, as well as a founding member of The Declassifed, the alumni group of the Academy.

Julian Pellicano:   a conductor with  masters degrees  in both percussion and conducting and Principal Conductor of the Longy Conservatory Orchestra and Artistic Director of the large ensembles program at the Longy School of Music.

I was excited to share this knowledge with my class, the panelists (3 of whom were also stranded) were equally committed to the project and my students were eager to learn.   So we went ahead anyway and conducted the class by teleconference.

Here are the pearls of wisdom from these four inspiring musicians.

Forge Your Own Path to Achieve the “Impossible”

Our panelists exmplify the qualities of the music entrepreneur, with a mindset of possibility and creating one’s own opportunities to make things happen.   They all stressed the importance of forging a path that feels right to you, as opposed to doing what you are “supposed” to do.  Moreover, our panelists each discovered their passions at different times in their training and two of our panelists followed somewhat non-traditional routes to music.

Here are their stories.

Adrian Morejon

Adrian began studying the bassoon in middle school and then went to Curtis. At the time, he felt pressured to pursue an orchestral career since traditionally, the bassoon is not thought of as a chamber or solo instrument. While at Yale, he discovered his passion for chamber music and playing recitals.  He was most inspired by his teachers and mentors at Yale and saw that it was indeed possible to pursue a chamber music career.  As such, he found Yale to be “transformative”. With his great people skills and gregarious nature, he enjoys meeting people and cultivating relationships, which enabled him to found the Sospiro Winds with 4 other Yale students and pursue freelance opportunities in New York.  Moreover, new music is a passion for him and he actively commissions new work for the bassoon.  As a result, he has been able to create a new body of repertoire for his instrument and as I write this, he is in Europe on tour as a soloist!

Paul Murphy: 

Paul did not discover his calling as a musician until he was in college, where he was began as a pre-med student.   Like Adrian, he initially thought that the only path for a trumpet player was the orchestra and while at Yale, he discovered his love of chamber music.  Not only was he encouraged by his teachers and mentors but he was also inspired by his peers at Yale to improve his technique and become a better musician. He entered the first class of The Academy where he discovered his mission: to draw people deeply into the art of music.  With his training as a performer and teaching artist and through the many extraordinary people whom he met at The Academy, he was able to create a career as a freelance orchestral and chamber musician, as well as join the teaching artist faculty at the New York Philharmonic.  He is currently devoting a lot of time to being an artist entrepreneur with the founding of The Declassified.

Nicholas DiEugenio

Nick began playing the violin at age 4 and spent 7 years at the Cleveland Institute of Music getting his BM and MM.  There, he discovered his love of chamber and was also inspired by fantastic teachers and mentors to become a teacher.  The next “logical” step was to continue his training and he came to Yale for his Artist Diploma degree.  Yet he was somewhat unclear of his path since he was not sure why he was still in school.  As a result, he took a year off from Yale to join a quartet that was doing a residency at SUNY Purchase.  After leading the life of a freelancer for a year, it became clear why he had gone to Yale: to teach at the university level.  He then returned to Yale, reinvigorated and able to take advantage of the incredible resources of the university and entered the rigorous MMA/DMA program at Yale.  After applying for multiple teaching jobs as well as a Fulbright Grant, his decision came down to teaching violin and chamber music at Ithaca College or studying in Germany on the Fulbright grant.   He opted for the teaching position and has never looked back since heis passionate about his teaching, as well as his incredibly varied performance career where “he leads a versatile musical life as a multi-faceted performer of composers from Buxtehude to Carter.”

Julian Pellicano

Describing himself as an autodidact with no formal music training from ages 10-18, Julian started playing the piano at age 5 and spent his free time composing and transposing pieces from jazz recordings. He also began playing percussion in his high school band.  Encouraged by his high school teacher, he applied to conservatories and he went to Peabody to study percussion, where he also tried his hand at conducting.  At the same time, he got a BA in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University.   While at Peabody, he met Robert van Sice, the extraordinary percussionist who also teaches at Yale.  Julian secretly wanted to go to Yale to study with Bob but decided that he needed more training both in percussion and conducting.  In addition, he also wanted to go to Europe so he landed up in Sweden where he was able to study both percussion and conducting.  He returned to Yale and obtained his MM in percussion and then did a second MM in conducting.  Through one of his teachers at Yale, he was introduced to the Dean of the Longy School and was appointed to a new position heading up the ensemble program and conducting the orchestra at Longy.

So what are some of the lessons to be drawn from these fascinating stories?

Be on the Lookout for Opportunities

Not surprisingly, in the tradition of 21st Century music entrepreneurship and echoing advice from the career panel that I hosted at Yale last semester, all four of our panelists stressed the importance of seeking out opportunities, rather than waiting for things to fall in your lap.

Paul told us tha although he was won an orchestra job out of Yale, that job fell through.  Paul had a tough year trying to figure out what to do and then read an article in the New York Times about The Academy, which was just being founded.  He resonated powerfully with the Academy’s mission of drawing people into music.  And that is what opened the door to his path as a freelancer, teaching artist and arts entrepreneur. 

In addition, the fact that he was not a student in New York (which for some people might be seen as a deterrent to having a freelance career in NY), his experience at the Academy meant that he entered the New York freelance scene as a professional and not as a student.  This helped him to present himself confidently and build his career up.

Adrian, who was committed to making a career as a chamber musician and soloist, met 3 other Yale School of Music students at a summer music festival who were interested in forming a woodwind quintet.  Upon returning to Yale, they found the fifth member for the quintet and thereby founded Sospiro Winds, thereby enabling Adrian to create his dream of playing chamber music as a bassoonist. 

When he graduated from Yale and moved to New York, Adrian supplemented his income by working in the marketing department of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.   He met a lot of people through that job and was always ready when asked to substitute for other perfomers in the last minute.  This too helped to kick off his freelance career.

Moreover, he is passionate about new music and in addition to performing with new music ensembles, he has actively commissioned work for the bassoon, thus enabling him to perform as a soloist.  And, because of his knowledge of new music, the Boston Conservatory approached him to join their faculty.

Julian too was constantly on the lookout for opportunities.  At Peabody, he took up conducting and organized a few concerts on his own in order to get more conducting experience.  He found a way to study both percussion and conducting in Sweden.  When he arrived at Yale, there were no conducting students so he became the assistant conductor to Yale’s conductor, Shinik Hahm, not only getting great experience but also forging a wonderful relationship.

Networking and Relationships

All of our panelists emphasized the importance of networking and of cultivating relationships with teachers, mentors, peers and other people whom they have met in the course of their work.

As a gregarious person with good people skills, Adrian told us that networking is key to a music career and that he is where he is today because of networking.  And Julian mentioned that even if you are not especially social, you can learn the skills by being yourself and showing a sincere interest in other people.

Our panelists emphasized that it is important to be open-minded and to share ideas with other people. Nick said was initially reluctant to network for fear that it as insincere but he later discovered that networking was about being involved in something bigger than you. Julian stressed that creating a successful career is not simply a matter of showing up and being good at what you do.  You have to be a person that people want to work with.  You also have to have ideas and a vision for the future that you communicate with other people and you must know how to collaborate. Similarly. Adrian indicated that he loved reaching out to others because he believes that we can all work together, as is evident from collaborations and commissions.

Moreover, it is essential to be yourself when you network. It is about maintaining excellent relationships by showing up and meeting people or speaking to them on the phone without expecting anything in return.   The rewards come down the road when you do not expect them.

For example, Julian was invited to audition with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra because of his work with a fellow student at Yale, which led to bringing John Adams to campus; years later, John Adams recommended Julian to audition with the Seattle Symphony.  Similarly, Julian was invited to apply to when a new position was created at the Longy School through the recommendation of one of his beloved teachers at Yale, Joan Pannetti.

Paul shared that he attends concerts of ensembles that he admires and then goes out with the performers afterwards, just to get to know them as people.  The result shows up later when these ensembles hire him for gigs because they enjoy working with him.

Nick related that one of his latest projects was initiated by his professor at Yale who put him in touch with a Yale-trained composer.  As a result, he is going to St. Petersburg to perform the work.

Learn From Failure and Hone Non-Musical Skills

In answer to the question of “What do you wish you had known when you were a student?”, our panelists offered wonderful insights.

Paul felt that while at school, he was very far behind his peers due to his late start in music and commented that it is okay to experience “failure” because it teaches you to persevere. For Paul, his early failures inspired him to tap into to his strengths and passions to find something personally motivating. This enabled him to find his own spot in the field, which was chamber music because it aligned with his strengths.

Adrian wished he had learned non-musical skills that are essential to running an ensemble.  These include grant writing, negotiating contracts, approaching presenters and organizations for performance opportunities, creating concert programs, and acquiring general organizational and logistic skills.

Nick emphasized the importance for his development as a chamber musician of attending great concerts, especially piano recitals.  He also mentioned non-musical skills like developing and maintaining a web presence, grant-writing and different methods of fundraising.

Julian wished he had known how to handle rejection and not getting discouraged because most of the time it’s not about you.  He reiterated that he wished he known more about the importance of networking and being an outgoing person.  He also stressed that whether you perform for 5-year olds or 85-year old board members, you need to know how to relate to people.

Music in the 21st Century

It was also interesting to hear the panelists’ observations on the music scene in the 21st Century.

Nick sees resurgence of the composer/performer/virtuoso and away from the specialization of the 20th century, plus a much wider and more eclectic range of performances styles and projects.

Julian feels that orchestras will focus more on local priorities and figure out their individual identities, rather than emulating models of other orchestras.  He also believes that the barriers between musicians and management will start to dissolve.

Paul believes that teaching artists will become increasingly important.  This too may cause arts institutions to change since teaching artists have different skills sets than traditional performers.  And while the economic model of arts institutions may no longer work, Paul see new models rising because of all the exciting opportunities that exist today.

Adrian also feels that we are living in an exciting time because the preconceived notions of what you should do as a musician are changing.  Musicians today need to be multi-faceted.  There is more new music, more chamber music, a different mentality and different goals.  Musicians are redefining their goals and “we are no longer limiting ourselves.”

And all four of our panelists emphasized that today’s musicians should blend the old with the new.

Career Paths Evolve

The panelists all mentioned that their career paths are works in progress.  Nick flat-out stated, “I have not arrived.”
Paul, who participated on my career panel last January told us that his career has evolved since then! Paul used to say that his career was in two parts:  half trumpeter and half teaching artist.  Now it is in 3 parts: one-third trumpeter, one-third teaching artist and one-thirdarts entrepreneur. And it is still evolving.

It is possible to do the impossible

In closing, these four role models show us that it is indeed possible to create a career that might have seemed impossible while at school.

Adrian thought it was impossible to have a bassoon career in chamber music and as a recitalist and that is exactly what he is doing.

Julian thought it was impossible to have a career as a conductor.  And he is living his dream as well.

Paul never imagined that today, he would be able to be a chamber musician as a trumpeter, perform with the best orchestras and teach at leading conservatories like Yale, Juilliard and Colburn.

And Nick passionately devotes himself to his students and his musical life after regrouping and taking the year off to figure out exactly what it was that he was meant to do.

So thank you, Adrian, Julian, Paul and Nick, for inspiring me, our students and the other musicians out there who need to know that it is possible to create the impossible.