Entrepreneurial Projects: How Today’s Musicians Are Expanding the Horizons of Classical Music

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Each semester, the students in my class at Yale learn how to apply their new entrepreneurial skills in a semester project that is subject to two rules:

1. Do something you never done before; and

2. Go outside your comfort zone.

5783321374 7f6b3e2b4d bThe goal is for students to feel free to experiment, focusing on the learning experience and not on achieving “perfect” results. I was inspired by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck whose book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success explores the benefits of having a “growth” mindset: the belief that you can cultivate your talent and intelligence through hard work, experimentation and growth, with talent as the mere starting point. Dweck’s research 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.

This year, my students had the benefit of an extra class with 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. More on this next week!

I was 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.

Here are the results of this semester’s projects:

Self-Produced Concerts

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 so 8 students explored different ways of producing a concert. This involved not only locating a suitable venue but also mastering the logistics of presenting a concert, marketing the event the appropriate audience and often collaborating with fellow musicians and other supporters to make the event happen.

The results were magnificent!

Engaging New Audiences

Music & Cocktails

Tubist Jens Peterson and trumpeter Jean Laurenz are eager to attract a new audience consisting of young and young-hearted professionals to music and to build the bridge from the concert hall to a social environment where listeners who are unfamiliar with traditional music would discover the versatility, fun and social side of classical music. They hosted a posh “social recital” held in downtown New Haven’s Salon Lulu a hair salon by day that becomes a classy event gallery by night, presenting an eclectic program including arrangements from traditional musical settings, pop radio, classic rock, and standard jazz, along with newly composed works. Moreover, in order to enhance the listening experience, each piece was paired with handcrafted cocktails designed to match the aesthetic of the music. Jens and Jean collaborated with two existing music groups, The Yale Jazz Department and The Gentlemen), and one new group came together for the project (Yale Brass Band, involving a total of 11 performers and composers. There was live music playing at all times that consisted of African drumming, jazz improvisations, and a sort of open-mike environment. Eleven people were involved in the performances of the night and everyone, from the audience to the performers had a great time.

Thanks to the success of the event, Music & Cocktails will continue to present concerts at Salon Lulu so watch for more events!

Martinis & Chamber Music

Clarinetist Josh Anderson also reached out to non-classically trained listeners to challenge the way in which people on both sides of the stage perceive classical music as overly formal and elite. He produced a concert with his woodwind quintet at GPSCY, the bar and events venue for Yale’s graduate and professional students, on “Martini Night” billed as the “classiest night at GPSCY.” His repertoire consisted of upbeat, flashy, short, jazzy pieces that would be easier to digest for his audience which consisted of a fun combination of students who came to hear the music, friends from Yale School of Music, and the casual bar goers who found themselves caught up in a chamber concert. Armed with the success of his event, Josh is excited to bring music to places where chamber music is not typically heard and is now inspired to produce concerts in venues ranging from bars and coffee shops to prisons.

Duo Chamber Recital in Chinese Church

Pianist Xuerong Zhao presented a duo chamber recital with a program consisting of Schumann, Brahms and Debussy with clarinetist Tianyu Zhang at a Chinese Church, the TianFu United Methodist Church in Brooklyn. Xuerong’s mission was to bring classical music to the local community and help young people who did not have much experience with classical music feel at home with the music. Xuerong did a magnificent job of convincing the pastor to host the event by showing her passion for music and her desire to serve the church, emphasizing that the music came from composers who were deeply religious and that God’s people should be exposed to heavenly beautiful music. The audience loved the recital and appreciated not only the performance but also Xuerong’s remarks about the music.

Guitar Recital in Yale Residential College

Guitarist Ray Zhou, along with his friend and fellow guitarist (and former student in my class) Katrin Endrikat has his first experience of producing a solo recital and through a networking encounter, was able to present the recital at Timothy Dwight, one of Yale’s residential colleges. Ray’s program was a nice mix of classical guitar music for an audience that consisted primarily of his friends and fellow students. In addition to learning how to produce his own concerts, Ray enjoyed marketing the event through Facebook and a series of posters. He now feels a lot more confident about producing his own concerts and plans to do more of these in the future.

Launching New Ensembles

Three students used the project as an opportunity to launch new ensembles.

arx duo

Percussionists Garrett Arney and Mari Yoshinaga love performing together and have formed a new percussion duo known as “arx duo”, born from their desire to forge new connections and artistic pathways – or “arcs” to expand the opportunities for percussion performance and perform both established masters as well as collaborate with today’s composers in order to bring percussion music to a wide variety of audiences.

Garrett’s focus was on the business side of the duo: coming up with the name, securing the sponsoring of Vic Firth to become Vic Firth Artists, finding residencies and commissions. Garrett is especially proud of the beautiful recordings of arx duo that now appear on the Vic Firth website.

Mari launched two self-produced concerts in her native Japan on December 26, and 27 to showcase herself as a soloist as well as a member of arx duo. Mari learned the challenges of producing a concert abroad and discovered the benefits of having collaborators to help her accomplish her ambitious goals!

Violin and Piano Duo

Jacob Ashworth, violinist and conductor, together with pianist Lee Dionne have formed a violin and piano duo. Jacob’s project was to perform at a house concert in the home of friends in New York City to test out a new way of reaching out to audiences and getting them engaged in violin and piano repertoire. The audience consisted of friends with the goal of creating a warm environment in which to make their debut. The concert was terrific and they had a great time speaking together to our audience before and after we played each piece

Other Performance Projects

Commissioning and Performance Project

Composer and guitarist Brendon Randall-Myers set out to develop team leadership and project management skills through a collaborative project with the San Francisco-based Friction Quartet and Chicago-based composer Ben Hjertmann. The project’s goal is the creation of two new large-scale string quartets, a free-release recording of the two pieces in May and concerts and community engagement activities in San Francisco, Chicago, New Haven, and New York City in June. Watch for more from this team through their Indiegogo campaign!

Artistic Proposition for French Conservatory
Harpist Antoine Malette-Chénierput together a program of new harp repertoire for admission to Lyon’s Conservatoire National Supérieur de musique et de danse.

Antoine’s dossier includes three works:

Antoine gave a run through of the recital at Yale in the fall and will present these works on his degree recital in February.

On-Line Projects

A number of students took advantage of the internet to created web-based projects.

Website to Connect Chamber Music Players

Oboist Tim Gocklin, a passionate chamber musicians, created a website called Rendezvous Around 2:00? to help musicians create their own chamber groups and find other musicians with whom they want to play, based on personality traits, gender, musical experience and other qualities that create one’s ideal chamber group. With an introductory page, open forum, and contact form, the websites also contains links to Chamber Music America and Classical Revolution websites, two very valuable resources for young, professional musicians interested in chamber music. Tim is excited about expanding the project by creating another website catering to all forms of music that could be played in a chamber-type setting (i.e. pop, jazz, classical) and helping musicians find rehearsal and performance spaces.

On-Line Teaching

Trombone player and educator Stephen Ivany has spent the last few summers with the Inuit people of Coastal Labrador and was on the faculty of the inaugural Nunatsiavut Brass Band Camp in Hopedale, Labrador in the summer of 2013. In order to continue the learning experience during the rest of the year when Stephen and his colleagues were not present, Stephen decided to create a comprehensive series of beginning level video lessons ranging from 20 to 30 minutes in length to be accessed for free by anyone in the community. Stephen was able to obtain funding for a website and designer for these videos and has expanded his project to include the history of the Moravian culture written by the elders and will be available in Inuktitut and English as well as a series of videos. These videos will include my instructional brass lessons, new string lessons, organ lessons, language lessons as well as full recordings of their music in parts and in ensembles. The website will be launched later this spring and promises to be an important milestone in on-line music education.

Organ Website

Organist Tripp Kennedy created a website with extensive audio and video footage, as well as a blog to promote his artistic abilities and advocate for the pipe organ and its repertoire. Working with trumpeter and web designer John Allen of Fermata Web Design (a former student who my class who launched Fermata as his class project), Tripp learned the art of collaboration and communication. He is excited about the possibilities of expanding the audience for his magnificent instrument and will be using his website as a platform to showcase the instrument, as well as market his concerts to audiences who may not be familiar with the instrument and its repertoire.

Business-Based Project

No music entrepreneurship class would be complete without an on-line business and double-bassist Sam Suggs has created his own self-publishing company called Mikroseismos whose mission is to offer fast transcriptions services, customized audition excerpt books, pedagogical tools, new compositions, fresh editions, and creative arrangements from popular, folk, classical and jazz traditions, along with musical and philosophical writings.

Sam seeks to cut costly rehearsal time with thoughtful, efficient parts and careful attention to detail because “beautiful music should look like it sounds.” With an aim of attracting a wide base of the market to avoid the traditional pigeon-hole approach to self-publishing, Sam is passionate about showcasing the breadth of possibilities of the double bass, with plans to arrange the double bass in the instrumentation of most major chamber ensembles, including Prokofiev Quintet, Pierrot Ensemble, Soldier’s Tale Ensemble, Woodwind Quintet. His goal is to become the musician’s guide to every other musician’s life to include excerpts of each instrument’s major repertoire, interviews with outstanding leaders of the various schools of teaching and performance and beautiful visuals. This is another way of attracting clientele from outside the double bass discipline. We will look forward to the launch of Sam’s website this spring!

Expanding an Existing Piano Competition

Pianist Zhenni Li has undertaken to upgrade the Concours Musical de France, an existing piano competition in France. Zhenni is working on a plan to upgrade the current competition for professional pianists, as well to encourage non-professional piano lovers at any age to prepare and perform in a competition-friendly environment. Watch for the future developments in this exciting project!

Bravo to this semester’s students for their hard work and ingenuity!

To read about projects from prior semesters, click here and here.

© Astrid Baumgardner 2014