Building Bridges with Music from Main Street to Sesame Street: Judith Clurman

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Judith Clurman, Emmy and Grammy-Nominated Conductor

“Becoming a musician is a life-long process” says Emmy and Grammy-nominated conductor, vocal educator and choral specialist, Judith Clurman. Ms. Clurman has conducted symphonies, ballets and choral ensembles worldwide, She has premiered over fifty works by America’s most revered composers. She is the former Director of Choral Activities at The Julliard School and has been a guest teacher and conductor at Harvard University and Cambridge University in the UK. She created and for nine years served as Artistic Director of the Lincoln Center Tree Lighting, where she collaborated with leading artists of popular, jazz, and classical music. She also served as the Associate Music Director for Season 39 of Sesame Street.

Ms. Clurman is currently the Music Director and Conductor of Essential Voices USA (EVUSA) that promotes the love of music and the art of ensemble singing. The group mixes professional and auditioned volunteer singers. Under her direction, they have performed on National Public Radio, at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting ceremony, and as part of the New York Pops series at Carnegie Hall,   Clurman conducted select students in a performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  EVUSA’s most recent recording, Celebrating The American Spirit, features guest Broadway starts Kelli O’Hara and Ron Raines.  This CD is a perfect example of Clurman’s eclectic approach to music. Ms. Clurman is known for building bridges and putting together unique collaborations in music.

Clurman is also tuned in to recent changes in the music industry. She says, “People learn a lot from what they can find online, so we need to be imaginative and listen to our audiences. Musicians – all performers – are faced with a whole new set of challenges in what Clurman refers to as a ‘YouTube world.’  If we the want the public to come hear and experience live music in concert halls we must teach them how to distinguish levels of quality.  Remember that an mp3 is not the same as a finely engineered recording and live music is not perfect and edited!”

Ms. Clurman points out, “Arts education in this country is increasingly at risk. In the past, learning music in schools taught socialization and community building as well as introducing students to how to sing in choruses and/or play in bands and orchestras. Young people were not scared to have fun together and experience all different types of music. Learning music also taught children discipline and fine study habits. They even learned about healthy competition with their fellow students. “

“To pursue a career in music requires discipline, as I found when I was a young child and then as a student at The Julliard School. You cannot become an artist over night. You must realize that you are going to have ups and downs and face many challenges. You need to learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. You need to learn how to use your imagination. You must be willing to take chances, take risks, and not copy someone else’s performance that you hear on a recording. You must learn how to be you.”

“In the ideal world, a young artist would find a mentor who would support them emotionally and teach them. They must learn that success will take time. They must learn that they cannot be afraid of failure.  They must learn that success is about being true to yourself. They must learn that they need to find their own special passions!”

Judith Clurman’s devotion to supporting American music, to uniting and nurturing seasoned and young professionals in her ensembles, to championing young composers, and to creating imaginative programming have made her an inspirational and greatly admired figure in the international music community. Her current and former students can be found in major opera companies, musical theater productions, and conducting positions worldwide.

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YOLANDA KONDONASSIS: ON MUSICIANSHIP AND EVOLVING AN AUTHENTIC BRAND

World-Renowned Solo Harpist

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In pursuing a career as a musician, the common thread – both now and twenty years ago – is the need to sustain high quality in as many areas of your field as you can. Of course, the most important thing is always what you bring to the table artistically – and while luck may be on your side, you can’t depend on it. That is why you need to be educated in a variety of ways about the business that supports your work. No longer can an artist afford be remote and detached from all but their art.

It’s important to understand your particular audience and the market you serve. You should know how to read a contract and write a proposal. You also need to know how to present yourself and your work in a way that will resonate with both your colleagues and your audience. Know that you can’t afford to be complacent, even when you reach the level where you have arts managers and support systems in place.

I believe you should be in a position to know how you want to brand yourself, rather than having it done by someone who is an expert in marketing, but doesn’t know what you’re trying to do with your art, who you want to be, or what you’re looking to create.  If you leave it to others, you can get into trouble and find yourself promoting a version of yourself and your art that isn’t really you.

Artistry tends to be an evolution and it’s a long process. I tell my students that if they continue to evolve as they should, they will be very different artists at age forty than they are when they graduate from conservatory. The real education begins when school ends, I have found. The bottom line is that you can only be true to yourself at any given moment, but do recognize that your vision is going to change over time. No real artist decides who they are in their youth and stays that way for the duration of their career. That’s why it’s important for you to be in the driver’s seat and to know how you want to present yourself and your music. You have to think about how your music will make the leap from your studio to the eyes and ears of others and how you can be actively involved in that process.

There’s a difference between knowing your audience and pandering to it. On one hand, you can’t ever take your audience for granted and you must respect them, even when they may not know where you’re headed. But at the same time, it’s up to you to take them on your journey –  and if they trust you, they’ll go along for the ride. Ears and eyes move in new directions slowly, but they do move, and it’s an artist’s responsibility to persuade them to stretch and evolve.

With regard to marketing, there are so many effective things you can do, and the Internet is at the heart of most of it these days.I don’t think email blasts are that effective, but I do have a website, which serves me very well, though it does have to be updated regularly. With social media, I feel there is a certain disconnect between trying to focus on your art and checking your social presence constantly. You do need to engage, but not just to put out unformed thoughts or post random activities. While the immediacy of social media is wonderful, people can easily get into trouble with it, so my advice would be to think carefully about what you want to say, or skip it altogether.

Resources are enormously important and you need to know what the people in your particular field are reading, doing, buying, and joining. Read your instrument’s trade journal, join the musician’s union, and talk to people in your business and in other related fields. Stay up on what is going on in your arts area and ask yourself where they might gaps that could be filled with something you offer. Think about attending a conference, take a seminar, or give one. The Internet is a great tool, but face-to-face contact still matters.  It’s easy to get caught up in cyber-hype, but resist the urge to let it substitute for real relationships. The best and most valuable assets in my career have always been one-on-one relationships with trusted managers, producers, colleagues, and mentors.

As a final thought, I would say that while a good marketing system goes a long way in helping to get your art out to the world, make sure you stay grounded and avoid getting addicted to the hype and affirmation that will inevitably begin to follow you. Know your own nature and surround yourself with quality people whenever possible. At the end of the day, you will always go home with yourself, so you better be someone you know and respect.

Yolanda Kondonassis is celebrated as one of the world’s premiere solo harpists and is widely regarded as today’s most recorded classical harpist. Hailed as “an extraordinary virtuosa” and “sheer luminescence at the harp,” she has performed around the globe as a concerto soloist and in recital, appearing with numerous major orchestras such as The New York Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic, to name a few. With fifteen albums and well over 100,000 recordings sold worldwide, Ms. Kondonassis’ extensive discography includes her recent Grammy-nominated release of music by Takemitsu and Debussy entitled Air, as well as the world-premiere recording of Bright Sheng’s Harp Concerto, written for Ms. Kondonassis. In addition to her active performing and recording schedule, Ms. Kondonassis heads the harp departments at The Cleveland Institute of Music and Oberlin Conservatory and has presented master classes around the world. Visit www.YolandaHarp.com.

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Orchestrating Jazz, Classical and Career Success: Josh Rzepka

Josh Rzepka, Jazz and Classical Trumpeter

Recording:  “Liam’s Leaving” Into the Night

Josh Rzepka, is a twenty-eight year old trumpeter and composer who’s exemplary of what it takes to be a working performer these days and, not only is he managing his own career, but he’s recently begun consulting with other musicians on how to make their arts business work.

“I have a lot of things going on right now,” Rzepka explains. “I book jazz and classical gigs, do my own composing and producing of my music, play in musicals, shows, and big bands. I also teach 30-35 students three days a week.

“I began to realize how much of a need there was to help other musicians with their careers, so last year I started a consulting business for jazz and classical musicians to help with everything extramusical. I have people who I work with for specialized services like graphic design and photography, and I also do consulting. I recently even helped one client get a Kickstarter campaign off the ground.”

Rzepka’s idea for doing the marketing came from seeing a lot of great musicians who he believed could be doing more with their careers, but then got discouraged because of all that’s expected of them in running their own businesses.

“These days it’s more and more common for musicians to go solo because there are fewer labels out there, and those that are there expect you to absorb the bulk of the cost. So a lot of musicians are working on their own which, because of the web is more viable, but it also requires a lot of extra work.

“As a musician, you need to get bookings, work with venues, and do outreach to the press on a regular basis. You need to be at the top of your game in all these areas because, for example with the guys in the press, they get 1000 releases a day. They’re all being inundated by inquiries from musicians, so you need to stand out and you need to know how to provide them with turn-key material – great copy, appealing photos, images and blurbs, and you need to know what their interests are, so they’ll pay attention to you.

“I’m definitely a great believer in people hiring professionals when they can to help promote and support their work, so that the experts can do what they do best, and you can focus on doing your music. For example, I hired a radio marketing group to help me with contacts and prepitching my recent releases – and it was very helpful. But it’s also true that you need to know what to do yourself for the times when you don’t have help and do have to be your own promoter.”

Josh Rzepka, whose most recent jazz CD, Into the Night, made it to the Top 10 on the Jazz chart, has been described as “a musician who doesn’t believe in limits” by the Tribune Chronicle, and as being “gifted” by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  He has been heralded not only for his jazz playing and composing, but also for his classical trumpet playing.

With his second jazz album Into the Night, he follows up his debut classical CD, Josh Rzepka: Baroque Music for Trumpet (2010) and his critically acclaimed debut jazz CD Midwest Coast (2009).

Quickly establishing himself as one of the most versatile upcoming performers in classical and jazz music, Josh has performed across the country at famed venues including Severance Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Cleveland’s NightTown, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,  and the Knitting Factory in NYC.  As a soloist Josh has presented recitals and concerts ranging from the baroque, to modern, to original jazz. In 2011 Josh was recognized by the Akron Area Arts Alliance with their 2011 Arts Alive! Rising Young Star award.

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