Eastman program helps find harmony between art and business
09:30 PM, Jul 16, 2013
Maria Kanakis developed an interest in the business side of music while a student at the Eastman School of Music and was helped in fine-tuning her skills by the school’s Institute for Music Leadership program. The IML program at Eastman, established in 2001, is part of a trend among top music schools including the Juilliard School in Manhattan to offer entrepreneurial programs to help their students deal with the ever-so-tight job market in the world of music. Now, with a new $1 million gift from Chicago-based philanthropist and businessman Paul R. Judy, Eastman is adding another dimension to IML that includes a focus on forming ensembles capable of playing a range of music in a variety of venues.
“We are trying to raise the awareness of the business component of the musical world,” said Douglas Lowry, dean of the Eastman School.
Eastman, which is part of the University of Rochester, has a total of about 900 students. About a third of Eastman’s juniors, seniors and graduate students take at least one course in the IML program each year, learning skills in everything from grant-writing and copyright law to leadership issues in music.
Kanakis, who also benefited from economics courses taken at UR and internships with organizations such as the Kennedy Center, landed a job in fundraising for the New York Philharmonic soon after graduating from Eastman in 2009. And with this experience, she recently was named director of individual giving for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York City.
The Paul R. Judy Center for Applied Research, which has been established as part of the IML program with the $1 million gift, will take some time to develop fully. An endowment is being created with the money, noted Lowry, who has been having ongoing discussions with Judy.
“We think this is the next step in the evolution of symphony orchestras,” Lowry said. “More and more, students, rather than focusing on places like a formal recital hall, are interested in taking it to a room, a space, a lobby or an art gallery.”
With the Judy gift, course offerings in the IML program will be broadened, beginning probably with an additional course second semester this coming school year about alternative ensembles.
Research will also be funded by the endowment, as will a conference and festival in 2015 to provide what Lowry described as “a living, breathing example of this movement in new ensembles.”
And Lowry hopes that an incubator could eventually be established to help launch the kind of versatile ensembles Judy wants to promote.
Unlike traditional orchestras, which have a home base, these ensembles play in a variety of venues and break out of the traditional mode of classical music.
Making a living as a musician has long been a difficult feat, but the trend toward downsizing and closing of orchestras has prompted musicians to look at alternatives to big orchestras in the face of shrinking opportunities.
Paid classical music attendance declined by 8 percent between 2002 and 2007 and, if the trend continues, the audience for classical performance is projected to drop another 14 percent by 2018, reports a 2009 Audience Demographic Research Revue by the League of American Orchestras.
One of the local groups that has taken to innovative music is Gibbs & Main, which consists of a core group of five classically trained musicians who put a priority on versatility and community outreach.
“It’s all about the intersection,” says the group’s website. “Concert halls and cocktail hours. Mozart and Mantecca. Highbrow and Lowenbrau.”
In addition to performing classical masterpieces, the group plays Latin, pop and contemporary music and as its website notes: “We venture well outside the traditional ‘chamber’ of chamber music, bringing our passion for performance into schools, churches, libraries and our favorite neighborhood bars, bistros and coffee hours.”
This past Saturday, the group teamed up with a local hip-hop artist, Glory, to perform “Kidsemble: Rap It Up” at The Harley School, with the songs including “Stay in School” and the anti-bullying “Up Outta Here.”
Karine Stone, who is a founder of the group, has a bachelor’s and master’s from Eastman. She not only plays the violin for the group but also serves as its executive and artistic director.
Stone tells how she was inspired to involve children in performances as a result of her travels to the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Mexico.
“Every street corner there were kids who were playing instruments that they had made. And they were so musical,” she said.
Gibbs & Main, Stone said, seeks “to bring the music up close to people.”
She noted that in some ways her group was returning to the days of Johann Sebastian Bach, the famed German composer and musician.
“He taught children, conducted a church choir, played the violin, played the organ, played in the local pub, wrote new music. And that’s essentially what we do,” Stone said.
Breaking with tradition
Judy, a former board chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, collaborated with Eastman student Emily Wozniak on a new study, “Alternative Ensembles: A Study of Emerging Arts Organization,” which provides a backdrop to what the center will promote.
One of the eight groups studied, Alarm Will Sound, has its roots at the Eastman School with the establishment of a student-run ensemble, Ossia, by a group of Eastman students in the mid-1990s.
The ensemble, which plays contemporary music, still exists at Eastman, but some of the students in the original group went on to form Alarm Will Sound, an ensemble of 20 members based in New York City and known for its innovative contemporary music. The group has recorded six albums.
“It’s more of a production than a traditional orchestra concert. They act. They speak. It’s a whole multimedia production,” said Wozniak. Her study describes the group as “musician-focused,” and one that “gravitates toward works that lend themselves to incorporating theatrical and multimedia elements.”
Alarm Will Sound’s production, simply called 1969, is a collage of songs and images featuring everything from the music of John Lennon to Leonard Bernstein and with photos and videos of events of that time show how their music reflected the turbulent 1960s.
Another of the ensembles in the study, A Far Cry, consists mostly of former students from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Established in 2007, the group evolved into 18 core members “criers.”
“Now the group is most likely one of the most democratic musical operations musical leadership and administrative work rotate and the goal is to make AFC (A Far Cry) a full-time job for all members,” says the study.
Playing traditional classical and contemporary music, the group performs in such venues as a church and museum, in addition to a concert hall, and has produced four recordings.
Wozniak, 26, who is working for a master’s in music with a focus on education at Eastman, was well suited to co-author the study because she established and serves as artistic director of a musical group, Sound ExChange, at Eastman.
The group, which plays classical and contemporary music, makes 10 to 12 appearances a year at such places as Artisan Works and Strong Memorial Hospital, with as few as two and as many as 55 students performing.
Wozniak has raised about $20,000 for the group and hopes that it stays intact after she completes her master’s next year.
Still, members of most non-traditional groups that she has studied can’t rely on the money generated by their performances to live on.
“The question is: How do we sustain these ensembles?” Wozniak said.