Orchestras are going bankrupt, the gigging world has become fierce and there is no money in recording – so, how do you have a career in classical music? Eastman alumni came together this past weekend to discuss these issues to current students.The Office of Career Services at Eastman arranged two professional development panels of alumni, part of the Alumni Weekend. Panel I included guests Jeff Beal, B.M. 1985; John Parks IV, D.M.A. 2001; Margaret Quackenbush, D.M.A. 1982 and Robert Smith Jr., M.M. 1998. Panel II brought together Joan Beal, B.M. 1984; Robert Sneider, B.A. 1995; Steven Smith, D.M.A. 1978; Robert Thompson, D.M.A. 1992. Each had unique stories on their career tracks, and how Eastman helped them get there.Margaret Quackenbush, the President and Executive Director of the Hochstein Music School since 1992, spoke of her start as a clarinetist at the University of Minnesota in Morris. After earning both a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Music degree from smaller music schools and performing in small, local orchestras, she knew that she needed to raise the bar and apply to Eastman, where she earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree and studied with the infamous Stanley Hasty. During her time at Eastman, she became a private clarinet teacher at Hochstein, and eventually moved onto an administrative post after forming a quintet, of which three original members still remain at Hochsteinafter 20 years.Quackenbush shared her insight about the future of music education. Music education is a growing need in our country and she sees a trend in the increase of adult music students in Hochstein. “It satisfies a need to find a community,” she said.Parks stepped into his perfect job right out of Eastman – assistant professor of percussion at Florida State University. A percussionist who taught everything from ear training to private percussion lessons at a small college in Birmingham before pursuing his Doctorate, he attributes much of his luck to being a part of the Eastman network. “People look at you in a different way,” he said about earning a degree from Eastman. “You forget what a special place Eastman is when you’re here.”He stepped into a job specifically teaching percussion right out of Eastman. Sharing his knowledge with young aspiring musicians was his top choice, and at FSU, he didn’t have ear training or theory classes as part of his teaching load. Eastman students seem to be a top choice for teachers of schools like FSU, which has 14 faculty members with Eastman degrees. Beal, an Emmy award-winning composer with scores from movies such as “Pollock” and “No Good Deed” says that a career is about “finding the fit.” Graduating with a degree in trumpet, he studied jazz and composition as non-degree electives at Eastman. He tried the freelance scene in New York City and finally went out west to San Francisco with his wife, Joan Beal, who landed an opera job there and eventually they found themselves in Los Angeles. Through Eastman connections, he was offered to do a film score in the mid ’80s. Now, after around 30 scores, he says that his extra classes at Eastman remain valuable. “I’m usually able to solve the problem,” he said, when other people do not have the same grasp on music theory and composition. Jeff shared that many of his experiences forced him, as a composer, to be “in sales” and learn how to communicate with people. Personal connections are important and have secured multiple composition opportunities for him. Though musicians, people who express themselves through sound, are not necessarily the best with words, learning to communicate effectively and make personal connections will be an important part of having a successful career. Robert Smith, the current director of the Graduate Program in Orchestral Performance and Community Outreach at the Manhattan School of Music, earned a Master of Music degree at Eastman and additionally won a university fellowship in accompanying. His abilities to be a collaborative musician proved to be important in his participation of many chamber music concerts in New York City as well as collaborating with famous musicians such as the renowned tenor George Shirley, violist George Taylor and members of the New York Philharmonic. In addition, he’s an accomplished dancer, being both a company member and assistant director of the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble in past years. He mentions that he was very “fortunate to have had an educational path at Eastman.” The contacts are especially useful in New York City, which annually has an “Eastman in New York” concert. His advice was to not have your heart set on one career path. Students should take advantage of all their interests and in the end, you can combine everything.The panel also discussed the importance of a perspective on financial matters. There is a reality, and the answer is to come up with new solutions that have value instead of giving in to problems along the way. Beal mentioned that we live in a visual culture and we must learn how to “integrate the visual component” and “to attract newer audiences.” Other comments, especially from John Parks, mentioned how “de-snobifying music” would help increase the future of music, especially for the younger generation. Music education is a “challenge … and with the lack of music education in schools, we are losing opportunities to draw people in at a young age,” Quackenbush said.They all concurred on most issues, but most strongly, they unanimously agreed that graduating from Eastman opened up a slew of opportunities. Want a career in music? Become an Eastman alumnus.Reguero can be reached email@example.com.
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