Episode 34: Reena Esmail, Composer

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In this episode, I had the great fortune to sit down with Reena Esmail—a composer who bridges the gap between Indian and Western classical music—for an inspiring talk around her goals, struggles, and current projects.

We dig into…

  • What it means to pour one’s identity into one’s art (and how terrifying that can be)
  • How making meaningful connections with the people around us can become our greatest support network
  • And a simple way we can find encouragement from within when we start doubting ourselves.

I’m also studying with Reena now so I’m SUPER excited to introduce her to all of you!

Indian-American composer Reena Esmail works between the worlds of Indian and Western classical music, and brings communities together through the creation of equitable musical spaces. In recent seasons, Esmail has worked with the Kronos Quartet, Albany Symphony, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, Salastina Music Society, SOLI, and American Composers Orchestra. Her work is performed regularly throughout the US and abroad, and has been programmed at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre in London, Schloss Esterhazy in Hungary, and throughout India. She has served as Composer in Residence for Albany Symphony (2016-17), Street Symphony (2016-present) in downtown Los Angeles, Concerts on the Slope (2015-16) in Brooklyn, NY and the Pasadena Master Chorale (2014-16) in Pasadena, CA. Learn more about Reena at www.reenaesmail.com.

Episode 33: Jenny Bilfield, President & CEO of Washington Performing Arts

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Today’s guest, Jenny Bilfield, is a classically trained composer and pianist whose administrative career has taken her around the world. She is currently serving as the fourth President and CEO of Washington Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and her story of how she got there is a wonderful mix of risk-taking, hard work, and determination.

Throughout her career she’s built new programs and initiatives—not to mention an actual concert hall—to better serve her audience.

Some key takeaways from this episode:

  • Why collaborations are vital to the success of an organization (and you!)
  • The one thing you must keep in mind if you want to be more effective
  • Tips on how to identify the level of responsibility at which you’re most comfortable in your career

The music in this episode features the third movement, “Stretch: Snap Back”, and the second movement, “Pure Happenchance”, from a New Orchestra of Washington (NOW) commission, Elastic Band, for Chamber Orchestra by Joel Phillip Friedman.


Jenny Bilfield was appointed Washington Performing Arts’ fourth President and CEO in April 2013. Based in Washington, D.C., with performances and programs spanning the Capital region, Washington Performing Arts was founded in 1965. It thrives today as one of the nation’s preeminent multi-disciplinary arts presenters, especially notable for launching and nurturing innumerable performing artists, and sustaining high-impact arts education partnerships with the D.C. public schools and diplomatic community. In 2013, Washington Performing Arts was the first organization of its kind to receive the coveted National Medal of Arts (conferred by President Obama at the White House), as well as a Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Service to the Arts, and most recently the Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education.

Early in her tenure she was recognized among the “30 Key Influencers in the Arts: Movers and Shakers” by Musical Americahonored by the Washington Chorus at its 2015 gala, and has twice been recognized (2013 and 2015) by Washingtonian Magazine as one of the “Most Powerful Women in Washington.”

Episode 32: Susan Lape, Executive Director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras

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Today I had the opportunity to sit down with an old friend of mine from Stanford, Susan Lape.

Susan has gone on to do such amazing things in the field of arts administration and is currently the Executive Director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras.

The way she built her career and the advice she gives to new arts administrators make this episode valuable to anyone looking to broaden their “behind-the-scenes” skills.

We talk at length about the importance of solid mentor-mentee relationships, including how to set them up and how to be a good mentee.

Susan also shares stories that illuminate the importance of transparency and communication, especially when it comes to job interviews.

Don’t miss it!

This episode features Dvorak’s Carnival Overture and Conga del fuego by Arturo Marquez, both performed by the CYSO Symphony Orchestra.

Susan Lape is Executive Director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. She has built her career in arts management through positions with the Lake Forest Symphony, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Opera, and the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts.

In 2016-2017, Susan was one of nine participants in the League of American Orchestra’s Emerging Leaders Program. ELP Participants are selected from a competitive national pool and demonstrate the potential to make significant contributions to their orchestra and to the field as a whole.

Episode 31: Jason Heath, Host of Contrabass Conversations

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This episode inspired us to rethink how we make and promote our art—and we hope it does the same for you!

Meet Jason Heath, longtime podcaster about all things bass.

During our conversation, we cover it all, including:

  • The pros and cons for starting your own podcast
  • A surprisingly simple way to make yourself more interesting
  • Effective ways to improve your interviewing skills
  • How to overcome the fear of negative feedback (and the brilliant way Jason handles it when it happens)

We also talk holistically about careers, balancing business goals with creative ones, and much, much more!

This episode features Valse Miniature by Serge Koussevitzky performed by Jason Heath and Benny’s Gig by Morton Gould featuring Jason Heath.

Jason Heath is the host of Contrabass Conversations, a podcast devoted to exploring music and ideas associated with the double bass. His blog and podcast are highly regarded in the music world and have been featured as top offerings in the world of arts and culture for the past decade.

Learn more at http://doublebassblog.org/

Episode 30: Christopher Tin, Composer

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Christopher Tin, a Grammy Award-winning American composer of concert and media music, shares his personal insights into some of the biggest questions facing developing musicians, including: 
How do I break into my niche? (Even ones as tough as the studio scene in L.A.!) How do I hold to my own artistic sensibilities while in school? 
Should my music be artistic or entertaining? 
Can it be both?   

Discover how Chris traces his big successes to choices he made early in his career, and get tips on how you can engineer your own successes, starting today. Hint: It won’t happen if you stay in the practice room all day! 

Plus, hear an illustrative story about networking that landed him a mention on Twitter by Taylor Swift and got his name in publications like People Magazine. This episode features “Baba Yetu” from Christopher’s album entitled Calling All Dawns, originally written as the theme for the video game Civilization IV and “Temen Oblak” from Christopher Tin’s album The Drop That Contained the Sea.

Episode 29: David Taylor, Founder of the Yorkshire Young Sinfonia

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This episode features the story of a conservatory-trained cellist who discovered a passion for filling a need in his community and becoming an entrepreneurial musician.  

Get to know David Taylor, who shares his journey starting the Yorkshire Young Sinfonia, a youth orchestra in Northern England with the purpose of "creating the musicians of tomorrow, providing a springboard to a career in the arts, and stimulating the arts in Yorkshire.”   David shares about how he got the idea to start this program, the challenges of being an entrepreneur, and how new ideas and technology can build audiences for classical music.

Creative Careers Episode 28: Alex Blake, Conductor

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What does it take to start a professional performing ensemble? How does an individual artist develop an organization that profoundly impacts their community?

In this episode, Jennifer speaks with Alex Blake, conductor and founder of Tonality, a professional choir in Los Angeles that aspires to “bring arts and culture to all members of the human family in the spirit of forging unity and compassion through song.”

Alex shares his journey, describing how he started Tonality, why this work is so important to him, and how crucial his community has been in the development of Tonality. You will learn how Alex overcame the financial challenges of starting a professional ensemble, find out how Alex learned to delegate, and discover Alex’s method for finding the support he needs.

This episode features Tonality performing “True Colors” arranged by Saunder Choi and “Silence My Soul” by Francisco Feliciano.


Creative Careers Episode 27: Daniel Ho, Recording Artist, Producer, and Instrument Designer

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Have you ever wanted to teach yourself a new instrument or musical skill but you’re not sure if it’s worth the effort?

In this episode, Jennifer is joined by Daniel Ho, a Grammy Award winning recording artist, producer, and instrument designer. As a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Daniel discovered that by learning new skills, he could control the music creation and production process from beginning to end. He shares why he thinks that’s so valuable and what it’s like to work in a wide range of genres.

You will discover how Daniel “learned how to learn”, his unique approach to composition and the production process, and why he chose to become a generalist with numerous skills instead of a virtuoso specialist. Plus, Daniel shares his top advice for creating a thriving career in the arts.

This episode features “Na Pana Elua” from Daniel’s album entitled Aukahi and “Soaring on Dreams” from Daniel Ho and Tak Matsumoto’s recent album Electric Island, Acoustic Sea.

Creative Careers Episode 26: Julia Adolphe, Composer

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What does it look like to be a professional composer?

Today on the show Kelly has an in-depth conversation with composer Julia Adolphe on her journey to becoming a full time composer. Julia did not study classical music until college, but quickly realized that classical music was her destiny. Now she lives in Los Angeles and is completing a DMA degree at USC.

You will learn about how to set up a website for composers, how a student in the Cornell Prison Education Program left an impact that still affects her mindset today, and what it’s like to work with the New York Philharmonic.

This episode features "Veil of Leaves" by the Serafin String Quartet and "Unearth, Release," premiered by the NY Philharmonic, Jaap Van Zweden conducting and Cynthia Phelps on viola.


Creative Careers Episode 25: Steve Hackman, Conductor, Composer, Arranger, Producer, and Songwriter

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Do you love both pop and classical music but have always thought about the two genres as totally separate worlds?

Today’s guest has found a way to combine pop and classical music in a mashup format and has a fulfilling career swimming between both worlds. Steve Hackman is a conductor, composer, arranger, producer, and songwriter. After being on track to becoming one of the world’s next great conductors, Steve decided to leave the classical world for a short period to discover his true self.

You’ll hear about how Steve's experiences with The Other Guys college acapella group influenced his career, how to accept your journey’s twists and turns, and ideas for a new concert format.

This episode features “Artist’s Life (Part Two)” by Stereo Hideout.


Creative Careers Episode 24: Beth Morrison, Producer

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How do you take an idea and turn it into an opera and how long will it take?

Today on the show Beth Morrison gives us an overview of producing an opera starting with the original concept to opening night.

Beth Morrison is the founder and creative director of Beth Morrison Projects (BMP), an organization that identifies and supports the work of emerging and established composers and their multi-media collaborators through the commission, development, production and touring of their works, which take the form of music-theatre, opera-theatre, multi-media concert works and new forms waiting to be discovered.

Beth shares three thoughts a young producer should keep in mind, how she started BMP in her bedroom after moving to NYC and knowing no one, and her beliefs about partnerships.

You can learn more about Beth Morrison Projects at www.bethmorrisonprojects.org/

This episode features excerpts from:

“Tell the Way” 
Presented by St. Ann's Warehouse & the Brooklyn Youth Chorus | Co-produced by BMP

“Anatomy Theater”
music by DAVID LANG | libretto by MARK DION AND DAVID LANG
directed by BOB McGRATH | conducted by CHRISTOPHER ROUNTREE
scenic design by MARK DION | production by RIDGE THEATER
lighting design by CHRIS KUHL | costumes by ALIXA GAGE ENGLUND
video design by BILL MORRISON | projection design by LAURIE OLINDER


Creative Careers Episode 23: Elaine Martone, Recording Producer

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Have you been thinking about making your first record?

Kelly travelled to Ojai, CA to have a conversation with 5-time Grammy-Award winning producer and 2017 Ojai Music Festival Producer Elaine Martone.

At Telarc as Executive Vice President of Production, Elaine built the finest audio production team in the industry, garnering praise for excellence in all major audio publications.

In recent years she has transitioned to freelance life under her own company, Sonarc Music, producing live events including the Ojai Music Festival, eighth blackbird’s Creative Lab, and Spring for Music.

You will learn what it means to be a record producer, how she serves and establishes trust with an artist to get the best possible recording, and what she looks for in an artist.

Elaine shares her story about loosing Telarc Records after the rise of free sharing and the 2008 economic crash and how she handled the biggest career transition of her life.

This episode features "Great Day!" by The Tierney Sutton Band and "Requiem, Op. 5: Lacrymosa" by Hector Berlioz featuring Robert Spano, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and Frank Lopardo.


Creative Careers Episode 22: Chad Goodman, Conductor and Trumpeter

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“It wasn’t in the plan!” Have you ever had this moment in your career?

At the age of 13 Chad Goodman had a clear vision for becoming a professional trumpet player. After attending the Eastman School of Music for trumpet performance and moving to San Francisco to continue his education, he bumped into an old colleague in the hallway that threw a wrench in his life’s plan.

The acquaintance was wind ensemble conductor Martin Seggelke, who offered to teach him conducting lessons and the position as assistant conductor. Chad was naturally drawn to conducting and went on to found the San Francisco based Elevate Ensemble.

In this episode you’ll learn what you should not include in a teaching biography, how Elevate Ensemble came to be featured in Forbes, and why talking to EVERYBODY is so important.

Chad Goodman - www.chadgoodmanmusic.com
Elevate Ensemble - elevateensemble.com

This episode features “bethlehem” written by Danny Clay and performed by Elevate Ensemble.


Creative Careers Episode 21: International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)

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Have you been dreaming about a crazy concert idea and are wondering what it takes to make it possible?

Today on the show Kelly is joined by three members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, universally known as ICE, in this two part interview.

Ross Karre, Joshua Rubin, and Dan Lippel give us insight on ICE’s growth, especially in the last five years, from presenting 40 concerts a year to 150 events a year. You’ll get tips on collaborating, hear about how a simple idea to record concerts has become one of the largest digital libraries of contemporary music, and learn the core value of all of ICE’s projects.

You can find out more about International Contemporary Ensemble at iceorg.org/

This episode features "Shadowgraph, 5 (Live)" written by George E. Lewis and "Ad Cor: No. 4, Wound - Joy - I Laugh at You" by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen and performed by Ross Karre, The Crossing, International Contemporary Ensemble & Donald Nally.


Creative Careers Episode 20: Hila Plitmann, Soprano

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If you feel like you don’t fit the “traditional” mold of a singer or instrumentalist, this episode is for you.

Soprano Hila Plitmann fell in love with musical theater as a young girl. She attended Juilliard and did all the things that young opera singers do like taking auditions and writing letters, but something didn't feel right about the traditional path. It wasn’t until she stripped the expectations of what an “opera singer” is supposed to be that she was able to take opportunities like premiering new works and singing on film sound tracks. Taking those risks led to a Grammy win and working with some of the world’s leading living composers and conductors.

You’ll hear a very personal account of what it felt like to work through the decision to take a risky opportunity and how Hila feels now about sharing her own songs with the world.

You can find out more about Hila at hilaplitmann.com.

This episode features "The Reckoning" written and performed by Hila Plitmann and "Goodnight Moon" written by Eric Whitacre.

Creative Careers Episode 19: Astrid Baumgardner, Career Coach

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Meet New York City-based career coach, Astrid Baumgardner. You’ll hear about how she uses research on happiness and emotional intelligence with her clients, as well as her duties as a board member and the trends she sees working with many 22- to 30-year-old freelancers.

As president of Astrid Baumgardner Coaching + Training, she coaches musicians, lawyers, and creatives on professional and personal development.

In addition, Astrid brings her experience as a lawyer, nonprofit executive and consultant, orchestra board chair, and career and life coach to her work at the Yale School of Music, where she teaches career entrepreneurship and serves as Coordinator of Career Strategies. She proudly serves on the boards of So Percussion, the American Composers Orchestra, and the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum Advisory Board.

You can find out more about Astrid and her career coaching services at www.astridbaumgardner.com.

This episode features Sō Percussion performing "Threads I. Prelude, X. Chorale Prelude" by Paul Lansky.

Creative Careers Episode 18: Bruce Adolphe, Composer

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Are you a multi-passionate musician? Have you ever wondered how you can incorporate passions outside of music into your work?

Bruce Adolphe is an accomplished composer, educator, performer, and author who has built relationships with neuroscientists, major presenting institutions, and a well-known radio network to share his own findings and insights on music with a broad audience. You’ll hear about what he learned working with Vincent Persichetti and Milton Babbitt during his time at Juilliard, and what he learned audiences want to hear after giving hundreds of pre-concert lectures for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Bruce repeatedly comes back to one piece of advice that he has found to be universal for all artists at any stage of their career. Listen to find out what he has to say!

Bruce Adolphe - bruceadolphe.com/ 
USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute - dornsife.usc.edu/bci/
Piano Puzzlers - www.yourclassical.org/programs/perfo…/piano-puzzler

This episode features “Chopin Dreams: I. New York Nocturne” written by Bruce Adolphe and performed by Carlo Grante and “Einstein’s Light: Theme” written by Bruce Adolphe for the Nickolas Barris film Einstein’s Light performed by Marija Stroke and Joshua Bell.

Creative Careers Episode 17: Jean Davidson, President & CEO, Los Angeles Master Chorale

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What does it take to become the CEO of a major arts organization?

Just like becoming a successful performer, there is no one path to becoming a CEO. Jean Davidson, the President and CEO of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, joins Kelly to talk about a few of her big breaks early in her career. Her major achievements include helping Yo-Yo Ma run the Silk Road Ensemble in the early 2000s, leading the development of New York Live Arts with Bill T. Jones, and overseeing the rebranding of the LA Master Chorale.

Jean is extremely in-tune with happenings in the performing arts industry and in this episode you'll hear about projects and trends she is following, conversations with her mentors at turning points in her career, and advice on being a good leader.

This episode features “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morten Lauridsen and “The National Anthems: Our Land with Peace” by David Lang performed by the LA Master Chorale, Calder Quartet & Grant Gershon.

Creative Careers Episode 16: Kris Bowers, Jazz Pianist and Film Composer

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Have you ever wondered how young superstars achieve such fast success -- and how it will affect their career down the road?

Today on the show, Kelly talks with 28-year-old jazz pianist and film composer Kris Bowers. Kris has thrived at a very high level in both the jazz and film worlds, winning the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition in 2011 and writing the score for the upcoming Netflix series “Dear White People.” 

They discuss the differences in the New York and LA music scenes and how Kris has stayed honest and true to himself when writing music and picking projects. You’ll hear stories of being a fly on the wall in recording sessions with Kanye West and Jay Z, plus advice from Kobe Bryant that he takes to heart. 

The music on today’s show features Kris Bowers: “No Regrets” from the film “I AM GIANT: Victor Cruz."

Creative Careers Episode 15: Nicole Paiement, Conductor

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Women are beginning to take charge of the opera and orchestra worlds one podium at a time. Today’s guest is one of the incredible women who has made a name for herself in opera. 

Nicole Paiement has her own opera company, Opera Parallèle, and she is the first female to be appointed a Principal Guest Conductor of a major opera company. She teaches and leads at the Institute for Women Conductors and guest conducts all over the world. 

In today’s episode you'll hear about each of her big projects and find out how she manages to balance her busy schedule.