Panel discusses careers in music

At a Tuesday morning panel discussion, alumni of the School of Music advised current students to take risks and pursue innovative projects.

Roughly 20 students attended the panel, which was held as part of a School of Music course on sustainable careers in the field of music but was open to the entire Yale community. The discussion was moderated by Astrid Baumgardner, the class instructor, who said she organized the panel to show students the different ways one can succeed in the music field.

The speakers, Missy Mazzoli MUS ’06, Mellissa Hughes MUS ’06, James Moore MUS ’06, and Owen Dalby ’06 MUS ’07, discussed their experiences as performers trained in classical music who are now pursuing projects involving contemporary music. The speakers highlighted the way their Yale education has influenced their growth as musicians, providing them with a network of performers with whom they could cooperate after graduation.

The musicians emphasized the importance of taking on many projects — even ones that do not immediately earn a profit — to gain recognition in the music world. Mazzoli told students that in order to overcome the intial difficulty of entering a field for which funding may not always be available, they should strive to start projects from scratch. Mazzoli, who started an ensemble called Victoire, said going off on her own allowed her to escape the anxiety of finding work in a shifting economic climate.

“I needed to have a project not dependent on trends,” Mazzoli said. “I preferred the atmosphere in New York, [which allowed me to] build things from the ground up.”

Three of the four panelists have started their own music groups. Mazzoli, trained as a composer, writes music and plays the keyboard for her group. Dalby co-founded the DeCoda Ensemble, a group of musicians that plays for communities rarely exposed to contemporary music, performing in locations such as prisons, hospitals and shelters. Moore started Dither, an electric guitar quartet. Hughes is a trained vocalist who works with musicians performing contemporary music.

The panelists advised students to make the most of their contacts at Yale and to start as many projects as possible while they are in New Haven. In New York, Mazzoli said, the stakes are much higher than they are at Yale. Baumgardner’s students have already had to start their own entrepreneurial music projects for the class.

“[It’s important to have] lots of projects going on — projects that feed you financially, spiritually and creatively, projects that make you wake up with a purpose,” Hughes said.

Dalby said he considers ambition, creativity and versatility common features of all the panelists, adding that these are values important for any musician trying to build a freelance career to have. He said that certain restrictions at the School of Music made it difficult for him to start spontaneous projects while he was a student. An important aspect of being an innovative musician, he said, is “not asking permission, but begging forgiveness instead.”

Jean Laurenz MUS ’14, a member of the class, said she enjoyed hearing from individuals who are still in the process of gaining recognition in the music field, because she more often hears of musicians who have reached the peak of their careers already.

The School of Music course that hosted the panel is entitled “Careers in Music: Creating Sustainable Careers in the Arts.”

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