Luciana Varkevisser, Contributing Photographer

Musician Kathy Sommer ’79 shared her knowledge gained from decades of experience in the music industry with up-and-coming musicians at the GRAMMY U Conference in New York City.

Sommers was one of about a dozen panelists at the GRAMMY U Conference that took place on April 20. GRAMMY U is an organization that seeks to empower and educate young aspiring musicians. Their annual conference this year was hosted at the Times Center in New York City. Sommer hosted a Q&A session with fellow Broadway producers and musicians Kurt Deutsch and David Lai.

“GRAMMY U aims to build up the next generation of music industry creatives and professionals,” said Pierson Livingston, the Texas representative of GRAMMY U. “With this year’s conference being themed around Broadway and live TV, we were able to learn more about different career paths in the industry we might not have known much about.”

The conference was brimming with artistic resources including, but not limited to, a speed networking event with industry professionals, a headshot booth and a resume review center. Attendees were also able to attend various panels with Broadway actors, Coachella-performing singers, music producers and music agents.

The keystone panel featured the Tony Award-winning actor Ben Platt and Golden Globe nominated actress — and Platt’s best friend — Beanie Feldstein. 

The pair spoke about Platt’s new album and his transition from Broadway to the pop music industry. Audience members were able to ask questions and learn more about Platt and Feldstein’s performance routine and the role that their friendship has played in navigating the entertainment industry.

Other panels included a performance workshop with Billy Porter, a live TV workshop with singer Remi Wolf and music coordinator Yeji Cha-Beach, a behind-the-Broadway-curtain talk with Broadway producer Erich Bergen and a sounds of the stage panel with Broadway producers including Kathy Sommer.

The event was “inspiring,” said attendee Grace Wong, a student at New York University.

Sommer was able to share with the audience her eclectic and versatile career as a Broadway and rock music producer. 

In addition to her talk at the panel, the News was able to meet one-on-one with Sommer to learn more about her career and time at Yale.

“Everyone has their own story and I am just a person who is kind of fascinated by what makes people tick,” Sommer said. “I’m just fascinated by who people are and where they come from. I think it does infuse my writing and how I approach people. That’s why I love writing, because you’re telling the story of who people are, and who the characters are — whatever that is.”

Her time at Yale was filled with a great appreciation for the opportunities and resources that the University offers. 

She reminisced on studying classical piano, the tutelage of the esteemed Arlene Portney and listening to the orchestra practice at Woolsey Hall. A proud member of Pierson College, Sommer was most grateful for the friends and long-lasting relationships she made during her time at Yale, she said.

As a Broadway musician, Sommer has worked on shows like “Beauty and the Beast” and “City of Angels,” where she was the associate conductor. She was the music director, conductor, pianist and vocal and dance arranger for the musical “Romance/Romance,” which she felt was a highlight of her career.

In addition to a resplendent career on Broadway, Sommer boasts a wealth of experience as a producer for rock artists such as Theory of a Deadman and Halestorm. 

Her experience as a woman pursuing a career in the predominantly male genre of rock music and field of conducting has given her a deeper appreciation and desire to work with female artists. 

“When we wrote with Lizzy of Halestorm, there was that connection which was so great,” Sommer said. “I wrote with a band called Courage, My Love for a while and they’re fabulous. There was just this great exchange of information.”

She encouraged up-and-coming writers to make sure their writing is fueled by intimate and truthful emotions. 

In her work, life experiences guide the writing in hopes of fostering a connection between the artist and the listener. Her producing and songwriting take on a kind of storytelling method, which she has found great success with.

“I think one of the most important things is persistence,” Sommer said on her advice for writers. “Be true to that voice, learn how to stand up for yourself and of course write from the heart.”

GRAMMY U contains student representatives from twelve regions and recently launched the app GRAMMY GO to give artists opportunities to take courses from industry experts like Janelle Monáe and Victoria Monét.

Luciana Varkevisser covers theater and performances. She is a freshman in Saybrook College planning on majoring in history and psychology.