Entrepreneurial Projects: How Today’s Musicians Are Changing Classical Music

One of the signature features of my class at the Yale School of Music is the entrepreneurial semester project where my students have an opportunity to create and experiment with something that they have not previously done in order to apply the skills that we learn in class.

The projects from my fall semester’s class were full of new ideas about how to deliver classical music and engage today’s audiences.  A number of students created or expanded businesses.  The projects enable the students to take risks safely, as well as use their ingenuity and creativity to produce something new and relevant. I was impressed at how my students tapped into their passions to generate projects that aligned with their values and long-term goals.  In fact, I am delighted that so many of these projects are the springboard for future activities. No wonder they were so motivated to work these projects!

Here’s a run-down of what these music entrepreneurs accomplished.

Performance-based Projects

A number of students devoted their efforts to performance-based initiatives, including creating new ensembles and seeking out unusual performance spaces.

  • Conductorless Chamber Orchestra 

Inspired by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, oboist Hsuan-Fong Chen  launched a conductorless chamber orchestra to explore how to apply chamber music techniques to orchestral music, as well as provide a platform where her well-educated colleagues could share their ideas. She also wanted to provide an opportunity for the orchestra members to read through and perform concertos.  For her project, Hsuan-Fong held a reading of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony with the principals of her chamber orchestra.  The reading was such a success that next semester, she plans to host a chamber orchestra concert party, where the full orchestra will play the Jupiter Symphony for friends, read through a few concertos and celebrate with an after-party. As an added benefit, Hsuan-Fong also feels that this format can attract more people to music making.

  • Stylish, Youthful Contemporary Violin Duo

Violinist Christian Kim  has formed a violin duo with a friend in order to deliver classical music to a younger audience and make the music more accessible to this audience. Christian’s vision is to play music they love-romantic and virtuosic music transcribed for two violins-performed in a variety of settings, from traditional concert venues to city streets to parks to more casual events.  Christian and his friend also sport a stylish, casual look that further accentuates the duo’s stylish, youthful and contemporary brand. Watch for the release of the DVD of their signature Carmen Duo later this spring!

  • High School Residency for Percussion Quartet

Victor Caccese, a percussionist and founding member of the new percussion quartet Sandbox Percussion, is passionate about bringing chamber music to high school students.  Victor had limited exposure to chamber music in high school and wished that he could have had the intimate experience of playing chamber music with close friends at a younger age.  Victor’s mission is to develop an after-school program where students can play and learn about chamber music, as well as develop their musicianship.  Victor has an afternoon concert and clinic coming up at John Jay High school in Lewisboro, NY with a goal to make residencies a signature part of Sandbox’s repertoire.

  • Live Music at a Yoga Studio

Violist Jane Mitchell, who also is an avid yoga practitioner, performed live music at her local yoga studio in New Haven with 3 other Yale School of Music students. Each of the 4 musicians took turns playing solo music, often improvising, while two teachers led an hour-long vinyasa flow class.  Jane felt that people who do yoga would appreciate long-form music to accompany their yoga practice. The concert enabled her to reach a new target audience of 20-30 year olds who would not normally attend classical music concerts and who were open-minded and good at focusing.   The event was a great success and Jane plans to replicate the experience again next semester.


  Business-Based Projects

In true entrepreneurial fashion, 3 students created and/or expanded their businesses. 

  • Reeds (and more) for sale

Oboist and reed maker Kristin Kall took the opportunity to expand, rebrand and professionalize her reed-making business in order to master the art of running a small business and generate a viable revenue source following graduation.  Kristin upgraded her website, featuring a new logo and new brand identity, with an end goal of having a full-service website for oboe students and professionals.  She is already working on a page for “Beginners” and plans to introduce an e-commerce site including a method book, a self-released CD, reed cases and arrangements of pieces.  Be sure to check out Kristin’s inventive holiday reeds, in addition to her high-quality products!

  • Performance-Anxiety Coaching Program

Cory Lee, an electric and acoustic violinist, has created a new performance anxiety program called Liberated Performer to help professional musicians express themselves freely when they perform and enter competitions and auditions.  For his project, Cory expanded his program and wrote an e-book setting forth the philosophy and methodology for overcoming performance anxiety. Cory’s program is action-based and he has created a series of activities that make it fun and safe to take risks, like playing in public restaurants and meeting places, sight reading in public, doing karaoke-anything that a performer might consider his or her worst nightmare and then turns out to be just another experience!

  • Chamber Music Camp

Horn Player Lauren Hunt has created the McLean Chamber Academy, a summer camp in her hometown of McLean, Virginia, for students of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn, ages 13 and up.  Lauren learned about her target market by taking a survey of high school band students to determine the best time and place for the program, as well as what potential students would be willing to pay for the camp. Creating the camp provided Lauren with a host of new skills, including how to secure a venue, recruit and hire faculty, work with a graphic designer for the publicity materials, create a website and generate a marketing presentation.

Projects Involving Teaching and Pedagogy

Teaching figured prominently in the projects, not only in creative classroom teaching but also in novel pedagogy.

  • Introduction to Band Instruments

Igal Levin, a clarinetist, strongly believes in the importance of music education and ensemble playing so that children can learn to love music, as well as develop their social skills. For his project, Igal and his woodwind quintet collaborated with a brass quintet to produce a concert that introduced all of the band instruments for young children who have not yet chosen their instruments.  Igal’s idea was that if the children were able to choose their own instruments, rather than being assigned to an instrument, they would be more engaged in music making and feel more connected to playing.  Igal also believes that by choosing their own instruments, the children will be more responsible in taking care of their instrument and will be more likely to practice regularly. Igal’s concert was a great success and he plans to do more such concerts as part of his career portfolio.

  • El Sistema Classroom Experience

John Ehrenberg, a trumpet player, teaching artist and aspiring El Sistema orchestra director, presented a 45-minute lesson to children in grades K-2 on the history of the trumpet as part of an existing El Sistema USA program. The goal was not only to showcase the variety of the trumpet family, but also to engage the young musicians by waking up their ears to different sounds, and allowing them to express themselves through movement exercises and sound recollection and recognition. John played 6 different trumpets, providing with a brief description of the instrument and showing a picture of a family member that the trumpet represented. John found that this type of presentation built on the underlying element of togetherness and connection that exists in the El Sistema programs. John’s lesson plan shows his delight and passion in working in this framework and he looks forward to continuing his work in the El Sistema model.

  • New Pedagogy for Wind Instruments

Inspired by his voice lessons this past semester and drawing on vocal technique and pedagogy, Ashley Smith, a clarinetist with a passion for opera, used his project to develop an innovative clarinet pedagogy.  To showcase his novel approach, Ashley has created a blog for clarinet performers, woodwind teachers and classical music enthusiasts exploring links between vocal and clarinet pedagogy. The blog provides links to YouTube videos and self-devised videos to provide practical demonstrations of these techniques. In the true spirit of experimentation, the blog also provides a narrative journal of the project’s evolution and findings.

Audience Development Projects

 Two students generated projects intended to develop a new audience for classical music.

  • TED-style Talk on Chamber Music

Inspired by Ben Zander’s inspirational TED Talk on the transformative power of classical music, violinist Cordelia Paw developed her own TED- style talk on conversation in chamber music for audiences who have not had much experience or education with classical music.  Working with 3 other chamber musicians, Cordelia prepared an interactive speech together with live musical examples that  “humanized” chamber music and drew parallels of intimate human interaction and conversation.  Her goal was to stimulate the excitement and curiosity of her audiences so that they would further explore and support classical music.  The audience loved the talk, actively participating and offering their own observations on the music. Cordelia intends to do more such presentations.

  • Interactive Performance for Elementary School Children in China

Hailing from China, cellist Qizhen Liu plans to give an interactive family concert for elementary school children in a concert hall in Chendu, China this May in order to bring exposure of classical music to communities who do not normally attend classical music concerts.

To practice for her upcoming concert, Qizhen, gave a trial run of her class to second and third graders in one of the New Haven public school where she has been working as part of the Yale School of Music Music in Schools program. Her focus was on getting the children to listen to the music and then speak about their feelings around the music and what images the music evoked, as opposed to giving them theoretical background.  The children loved her presentation and Qizhen is excited about her presentation in China.

  • Improvisatory Popular Music on the Viola

Violist Sara Rossi loves improvising and performing classical interpretations of popular songs on the viola so she decided to act as her own agent in booking concerts and collaborating with commercial artists.  She has a meeting with a representative from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and hopes to perform at fashion shows, as well as at corporate and commercial events.

  • House Concert

    Cellist Jia Cao learned the ins and outs of creating a new event by planning a house concert which she will give before her Master’s recital this spring.  Jia looks forward to performing her program in in the intimacy of a private home where she can also share her passion for music with audience members who may not be familiar with classical music.