By Eva Heinstein
This fall marked the start of the second year of programming in the EM Department, and with it a remarkable uptick in student activity and engagement. We’ve been delighted to watch the EM office transform into a busy hub for student inquiry and experimentation. There are many projects and initiatives that have taken flight over the last 15 months, and we’d like to share just the briefest snapshot of what our students have been so busy creating. There’s also the slightly less tangible element that we have started to see take root in our students—a shift in mindset, and an honest and thoughtful engagement with the concept of entrepreneurial musicianship. The story of our work wouldn’t be complete without offering a sense of this crucial, albeit subtle, development.We’ll start with the concrete and ease into the subtle. We have just completed the fifth cycle of our Entrepreneurial Grant program and with it, welcome seven new creative projects to a roster of twenty five (you can read about all 32 projects here). These projects are as wide ranging as the musical interests of the students who dreamed them up. This fall, for example, there is Vanessa Wheeler’s venture Nonce, a nine member new music collective that brings together musicians and composers.
On the other end of the spectrum, we find a student-run production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods led by vocalist Laura Soto-Bayomi. Jason Belcher, now a two-time E-Grant recipient, has engaged a formative set of collaborators—New World Records and the American Composers Association—to produce a concert and recording of the music of Burr Van Nostrand. Social entrepreneurship and community engagement also figure heavily in this grant cohort. Music for Food, a joint project of viola faculty member Kim Kashkashian and students Debbie Pae and Joseph Kromholz , is an outstanding chamber series that benefits the Greater Boston Food Bank. Abreu Fellows Jennifer Kessler and Aisha Bowden, and NEC student Charles Burchell have teamed up to produce an Inside Out Group Action Project (part of the 2011 TED prize wish of the Artist JR) that explores the theme ‘Music Can Change the World’ through large format photographs hung in public spaces.
In conjunction with NEC’s Mahler Festival, the EM department recently took on its own entrepreneurial endeavor with Mahler Remixed, a 100% student produced concert that brought Mahler into the 21st century with a mix of improvisation, electronics, arrangements and new interpretations. The concert program included pieces that traversed centuries and continents—from traditional Mahler art songs to a piece for Sitar, Tabla and electronics inspired by Symphony No. 4. The concert itself was also quite theatrical; ensembles were set up around the audience and “program notes” were delivered through audio and video statements. We were thrilled to see students apply their creative minds to all aspects of the production and think critically about how to create a unique experience for their audience. All told, we involved just shy of 60 students, representing every musical discipline and program throughout the school. Of the 60, 10 were part of a core creative team that looked after everything from artistic and curatorial decisions, to rehearsal schedules, to the marketing and production. Mahler Remixed was performed for a full house, a testament to the strength and creativity of our student’s marketing efforts.These project-based initiatives allow students to understand the concept of Entrepreneurial Musicianship with their feet. It’s an experiential approach that encourages students to experiment and take risks in an environment that, at the end of the day, is supportive and safe. Innovation and risk are central to any entrepreneurial project and one might argue that providing a safety net is counter to the spirit of new enterprise. We would argue, however, that helping students build confidence and tangible skills will enable them to take even greater leaps when they step outside the walls of this institution.
The experience of executing these projects allows students to build skills and networks so that the next time they have a great idea (and there certainly will be a next time), they will also have the toolkit to realize it.
Our students may first engage with the concept of Entrepreneurial Musicianship through project-based work, but with that comes a subtle but important shift in mindset. For example, as part of the grant application we ask students to share their understanding of entrepreneurial musicianship and how it relates to the fabric and mission of each project. Here are just a few definitions that students have articulated:
- “I feel the most productive way that students can approach EM is to think of it not as an educational program, but as an incubator for their careers. EM is really about providing support, guidance, and resources to students who want to take quantifiable steps towards developing a unique professional and artistic identity that goes beyond expectations and precedents.” –Nell Shaw Cohen (BM Composition, ’12)
- “The idea of Entrepreneurial Musicianship invokes to me a sense of responsibility of the artist in the world to create opportunities to share their skills and knowledge.” –Dave Cordes (MM Contemporary Improvisation, ’11)
- “Entrepreneurship and innovation are nearly synonymous. Innovation for the sake of itself is nothing more than invention. On the contrary, entrepreneurship connotes re-imagination of a possibility to the mutual benefit of the entrepreneur and consumer. Bringing a piece to performance is akin to a company bringing a new product to market. It takes prototypes, test designs, among other things, to ensure that the product adequately meets the needs of the market.” — Vanessa Wheeler (MM, Composition, ’13)
- “Entrepreneurs, to me, see possibility in what is in front of them and use their personal resources and relationships to bring vision to life. They find commonality among the passions of their collaborators and channel them into a unified goal.” –Michael Dahlberg (BM Cello Performance, ’11)
From the start, we have been less concerned with mandating a specific definition of EM, and more interested in creating an environment where students, faculty, and staff can come to the concept on their own terms. And they have. We have seen so many shades of understanding emerge, and suspect that these and other definitions will continue to evolve as our students do. We look forward to sharing more student-driven creative work with you in the New Year. Until then, we wish you a happy and restorative holiday break.