Posts filed under:  Careers in Music

Original Vistas, A Conversation with Ingrid Arauco

Composer Ingrid Arauco

In celebration of her new CD of original compositions, I sat down to talk with my colleague Ingrid Arauco, who is a professor of music theory and composition at Haverford College, and whose work I often perform. Vistas is one of those albums that invites repeated listenings: the mix of styles and moods played by multihued, and sometimes unusual combinations of instruments, compels the ear. The CD is beautifully recorded, and the performances (by clarinetists Ricardo Morales and Paul Demers, cellists John Koen and Yumi Kendall, pianist Charles Abramovic, flutist Jeffrey Khaner, violist Burchard Tang, trumpeter Frank Ferraro, and violinists Barbara Govatos and Hirono Oka) are stellar.

I asked Ingrid about her concept for the album, her background, and about being a woman composer in today’s world. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

 DLH: The textures and sonic quality, particularly in your writing for ensembles that include winds, is quite startlingly beautiful. I especially love the poetic quality of the eponymous “Vistas” for flute and piano, in which three of the four movements are inspired by a work of art. Tell me a little about the interplay between visual arts and music in this piece.

IA: PCMS (Philadelphia Chamber Music Society) asked me to write a suite for flute and piano, and in thinking about the ways I might characterize the different movements of the suite, I found myself looking at a little card on my desk that a colleague of mine sent me years ago.  I had always loved the picture reproduced on this card:  Kawase Hasui’s woodblock print Snow at Shiba Park.  Perhaps because I had spent so long in the company of this image, I found that a musical complement came very quickly to me.  As I mention in my program notes, there is a quality to this picture, a wonderful balance between energy and tranquility, that I found captivating.  The second movement was inspired by another familiar image, that of Monet’s Landscape: The Parc Monceau, which is such a joyful work.  The choice of Josef Albers’s Park was also an easy one to make– I had just finished reading a book about his glass pictures; this image was on the book cover, and I was fascinated by the pink rectangle in the midst of all the blue and green, how it centered the work and imbued it with spirit.  In each case, I had strong feelings about the style I would use to render each image musically, and these musical styles are as different as the styles of the images themselves.  The most interesting decision compositionally, however, was including the “Bagatelle” movement; it does not refer to any visual image, but I simply felt I needed a quick, tonally more spiky movement after the tonal warmth of the Monet movement, as a refreshment of sorts, and to set up the particular tonal mix of the Albers (fourth and final) movement.  I would love to write another piece which directly relates to visual art or architecture.

DLH: Another piece on the album, your String Quartet Nr. 2, written in 1998, was performed just a few weeks ago at Haverford College by the Amernet Quartet. How did that live performance differ, in your ear, from the ensemble that performs it on the CD?  Is hearing a live performance of your work, in which a performer brings his or her own interpretation to the piece, and which might be affected by many factors “in the moment,” a satisfying or disconcerting experience? Or both?

IA: I’ve been fortunate to hear this piece performed live a number of times by different quartets. In each performance, there are fascinating differences in detail– it’s always interesting to me, for instance, to hear how the musicians interpret a few passages which I mark “gruffly” in the score — I’ve discovered there is quite a range of “gruff” in terms of bow stroke and tone quality!  But what matters is that the detail works within the larger interpretive concept of the piece.  I also think that if the overall structure of a piece is strong, it not only withstands, but embraces variation in performance detail– by which I mean the sort of personal voice and creative response that I’d hope a performer would bring to music in any case, and which makes live performance endlessly interesting.  The only time a performance of my work is “disconcerting,” as you put it, is if there is a major disruption, such as might happen if someone totally loses their place in the music.  But even then, there is something for me to learn– I always have to ask, could I have notated something more clearly, or simply?  You learn what is difficult to put together, and why, and maybe keep that in mind for next time.

DLH: We’ve spoken a little about the phenomenon of giftedness in music, and how surprising it is that certain individuals can contribute so much to the world of music while coming from a “non-musical” family background (at least professionally non-musical.) Chopin, Tschaikowsky, and Artur Rubinstein spring to mind. Were there professional musicians in your family? When did you start learning to play the violin, and at what point did you know you wanted to become a composer?

IA: There were no professional musicians in my family, though my parents were avid listeners of classical music.  I began piano at around six, and violin about a year later, in school.  I was so incredibly fortunate to have a piano teacher who included the Bartok Mikrokosmos and selections from contemporary piano literature in my early musical “diet”– I was so captivated by the Bartok in particular; it opened up a whole new world for me.  I spent way too much of my practice time sight-reading those pieces rather than practicing my other assigned pieces!  My teacher also had me write a short piece each week; sometimes style studies, usually whatever I wished.  Every week I began my lesson by showing her this piece.  I was surprised to learn, many years later, that other piano students had not had a similar experience at their lessons! So just to say that writing music came as a natural form of self-expression. Through my teens I had many wonderful opportunities as a violinist, playing in chamber ensembles and in orchestras, where I was able to experience being inside the music in a powerful way.  During college I encountered the music of Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stravinsky, more Bartok– which together made a profound, life-changing impression.  Nevertheless, I did not make the move to composition until after graduation.  I asked my theory professor, composer Robert Hall Lewis, if he would teach me, with a view to continuing my studies in composition.  Thankfully, he accepted and after working with him for an intense two years, I had prepared a portfolio and was accepted into the composition program at Penn.  So, I think I was preparing to be a composer from an early age, even though I did not consciously make the decision until years later.

DLH: When you studied for your doctorate in composition, at the University of Pennsylvania, you mentioned that your training under George Rochberg, Richard Wernick, and George Crumb was very rigorous. Tell me a little about each composer’s teaching style, and how their teaching might now affect your own teaching style today.

IA: The composition program at Penn was indeed rigorous, but I’m so grateful for that, and for the opportunity to have worked with these great composers and mentors!  As for teaching style, perhaps a story will convey something of the quality of Rochberg’s teaching:  I played for him on the violin one of a set of variations I was writing, which was very free and cadenza-like in nature.  Afterwards he was silent a while, and then simply made a few cuts in my music, sometimes from mid-phrase straight into another phrase further on.  As I played this new version, I felt the structure tighten…it was a great feeling, and a marvelous lesson.  Dick Wernick worked in the trenches with me, so to speak, on things like harmonic progression, rhythmic shaping, and structure too.  He had, and has, a critical stance which is unflinchingly honest, which I admire and respect so much.  I worked with George Crumb on orchestration, and on a piece for orchestra.  What can I say about that ear for timbre and texture?  I remember once he suggested adding a harp harmonic to a particular chord so that the sound would not be “leaden.”  What a difference– with the addition of that touch the sound rose and bloomed!  But I’d be amiss if I did not also mention an inspirational teacher, wonderful composer, and friend, Jane Wilkinson, who helped me out tremendously and gave me much invaluable practical advice, not only about composing but about teaching, that I continue to benefit from to this day.

From these teachers I learned to set high standards and to teach with integrity.  And particularly from Jane, to do this with some measure of compassion for the student; just plain kindness, really.

DLH:  Historically, women have been severely underrepresented in the world of classical music, in both composition and performance. Do you feel that’s improving? Are there any roadblocks you’ve encountered in your career as a result of your gender, and how did you overcome them? Do you have any advice for any young female composers who might be following your path?

IA: I think the situation is vastly different and better for women composers than it was in the mid-80′s, when I was a graduate student.  As for roadblocks, well, I prefer to think of these as opportunities in disguise, or opportunities to grow stronger and more confident.  As for advice, I would simply say, be the artist you are, and be that absolutely as well as you can.  And keep challenging yourself– that’s the only way to move forward artistically, and probably in other aspects of life as well.

 

To hear Vistas and other works by Ingrid Arauco, please visit her Albany Records webpage.

 

 

How To Succeed in Classical Music — Three Women Show How: Part I: Kristin Lee

 

 

Violinist and generous young visionary, Kristin Lee

My friend Charlie recently asked the head of the Curtis Institute how he’s advising their incredibly gifted students about the job market for classical music, which, as everyone knows, is a thinning slice of a shrinking pie.

Roberto Diaz’ answer:  ”We tell our graduates they need to be entrepreneurial and creative. They need to take charge of their own careers.”

In the short span of 3 evenings, Tom and I have witnessed three women classical musicians who are doing just that. My series of posts about these remarkable evenings will begin with the youngest artist, whose work is magnanimous and daring in spirit.

Four years ago, I first heard Kristin Lee in several concerts for Astral Artists. She played virtuosic violin works from the concert repertoire with brilliance and heart, and a gutsy, rich sound. A little while later, I heard her play some rhythmically tricky contemporary recital music that was equally impressive for her precise and seamless collaborative work with two different pianists.

Later, we both appeared in a promotional film for Astral; I was a talking head, while Kristin was shown in several scenes, one in which she wears headphones in a recording booth, playing the crossover music for the film.

So I was curious to hear what she would do for LiveConnections at World Cafe, the performance space/bar/restaurant of WXPN at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the past two years, Kristin had raised the money to a.) commission five composers to write new work for her and b.) pay fellow musicians to premier these works with her onstage.

The bistro space in the basement of World Cafe is spacious, with a balcony and a main floor filled with long, communal tables. Waiters pad around bringing food and drink to patrons who wait in semi-darkness for the show to begin. The non-traditional, open atmosphere increased the audience’s anticipation for something new, and for who-knew-what?

Kristin put together a program (what she called a “Playlist”) that could not have been more global or colorful. It began with Patrick Castillo sitting beside her, speaking the words, “Last night I dreamed I was in Paris…” Kristin began to play over computer sound loops he’d created, that repeated along with his recorded and live speaking voice, in overlapping layers. This was followed by Kristin and percussionist John Hadfield accompanying Shobana Raghavan’s haunting, clear South Indian Carnatic singing.

Jason Vieaux*, renowned classical guitarist, joined Kristin in Vivan Fung’s “Twist,” in which they both mimicked the sounds of classical Chinese instruments.

Most unbelievable was the virtuosic steelpan work of Ian Rosenbaum, who played Andy Akiho’s “Deciduous” (we learned later in the Q and A that Ian, a percussionist, learned the piece AND the instrument in the past month.)

Most novel, hard-to-describe, and entertaining? Jakub Ciupinski, who “played” the theramin, not as an instrument for a horror movie soundtrack, but as an input device for the computer-generated sounds he’d created. Jakub’s flowing hair and hand motions, as he took visual cues from Kristin, displayed an arresting and energetic choreography.

Most beautiful moment? For me, this was a piece from the traditional repertoire. Kristin performed Camille Saint Saens’ “Fantaisie,” Opus 124, with Bridget Kibbey*, a harpist of astounding musicality and freedom, who can imbue a seemingly simple chord progression with urgency and meaning.

In keeping with the “breaking down barriers” nature of the evening, LiveConnections’ classical curator Mary Wheelock Javian led a Q and A with the audience. After answering a question from a concerned lady who wanted to know how much her promising 15 year-old nephew ought to be practicing (“he’s not going to want to hear this, but four to five hours a day,”) Kristin answered the question “Why this project?”

She talked about being trained in the classical tradition, which she loves. She talked about  being introduced to indie rock by an enthusiastic young relative. She talked about wanting to change the mindset that divides audiences into camps: contemporary music in one camp, traditional classical music in another. She wanted to bring divided audiences together.

“It’s all music, right?” she said. “And there’s nothing better than music.”

The joy and generosity she’s brought to this project shows that she’s succeeded.  I know we will see and hear many more cutting-edge collaborative projects from Kristin in years to come.

 

*Jason Vieaux and Bridget Kibbey are both Astral Artists alumni.

 

Interview with Michal Schmidt, pianist and cellist extraordinaire

 

Michal Schmidt, cellist and pianist

A few years ago, I was astonished by an amazing feat of musicianship. At a piano trio recital program for Tri-County Concerts, I saw and heard the cellist, Michal Schmidt, lay down her cello and move to the piano to perform Ravel’s Violin Sonata with violinist Min-Young Kim, so that Matt Bengston, who had just performed Ravel’s solo piano masterpiece Gaspard de la nuit, could take a much-deserved break.

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m picky when it comes to piano playing. It’s not a small thing and also not an exaggeration when I say that Michal’s tone, phrasing, fluency at the keyboard, and sensitivity to the violinist, were exquisite examples of finesse, artistry, and beauty. So it was an honor and a pleasure when she asked me to collaborate with her on a number of interesting recitals this season — two of which are coming up next month.

Rarely is an instrumentalist so exacting and vocal about the piano part — my part. In rehearsal with Michal, I submerge my ego and keep an open mind, knowing that she can play the piano part perfectly well herself. It’s been ear-opening and a lot of fun.

Today I’d like to interview this superb cellist, pianist, wife, mother, and colleague, and share with you her insights into her unique career and life.

DLH: Tell me a little about your growing-up years, and if anybody in your family was a professional musician.

MS: I grew up in a little town in the northern Galilee in Israel. As a teen we moved to Haifa, the port city more to the south.  I have 5 siblings. Everyone played an instrument at some point in their lives. My mom played piano very well (she still does at age 84) but in her professional life she is a world-renowned sociologist, and was a professor at the Haifa University for over 30 years. My dad was a teacher at a vocational school. He played the cello and the flute as an amateur for many years.

DLH: How old were you when you began music lessons, and which instrument came first?

MS: I started piano lessons with my mom when I was about 5 years old. Piano was my passion from age three or so. My mom says I would cry and ask for my “la” and my “mi” and my “do.”

Cello came later, when I was about 10.

DLH: You came to study at the Curtis Institute as a young woman. Were you admitted to study both instruments? Did any one instrument begin to take precedence?

 I came to Curtis in September of 1978, after a year at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I did get accepted on both instruments, which was rare. Later I found that maybe it was an unspoken “no-no” at the school. They were not too tolerant of the fact that I was playing and practicing both and doing the course load of the two departments.  At the time I felt my cello playing needed a push, so I decided to study piano privately outside the school and I got plenty of push in cello at Curtis. Now both instruments are pretty much on equal footing, and I practice them both, as much as I possibly can.

DLH: You subsequently earned your doctorate at Temple University, in which discipline?

MS: My doctorate at Temple U was in cello performance. I studied there with Jeffrey Solow.

DLH: What appeals to you about playing each instrument, and what does each bring out in you as an artist? You are clearly a “people-person” and both instruments allow you to collaborate with other musicians. Do you feel the cello brings out the soloistic side of you?

MS: I love the richness of repertoire for the piano, the unlimited possibilities of the instrument and the chance to accompany, which is my favorite thing to do as a pianist.

The cello, at times, has been more of a soloistic instrument for me, but also with it, I am thrilled to collaborate with colleagues.

DLH: You’ve raised three healthy, well-adjusted kids, and we all know that juggling work-life balance can be difficult with a family and a demanding music career. Does any one incident as a working musician and mother stand out?

MS: The mix of motherhood and artistic work has been just that, a mix for many years.  I did what I could, and remember being exhausted all the time!  One incident that comes to mind- I organized a big concert in memory of a loved teacher. I was the organizer, producer, accompanist for seven singers and cello soloist for one piece as well. I got home late after the concert, and went right to my baby, Abby, who was then less than a year old (she is now 19).  The abrupt switch from “stage glamour” to changing diapers struck me very strongly – to this day I remember the precise date of that concert in 1995!

DLH: Now that you’ve recently become an empty-nester, do you have new goals for your life or career?

MS: Now with less worry about young kids, I would love to do more of what I have been doing, knowing that I CAN do more, because no one pulls at my arm to go make dinner NOW.

DLH: Do you have any advice for young musicians who are talented in two instruments and who would like to make music their profession?

MS: The advice is to keep practicing, and if you love both, do both. The main point is, that in our time, a music career may be such a difficult path, so diversifying may be important. Think of not only the one passion — maybe you have another passion that can help you with real life’s demands.

With that in mind — this week I learned in French the idiom “violon d’Ingres” — “the violin of Ingres” (the 18th century painter). This is an idiom that describes one’s passion, or a very loved hobby. It sounded so cool, I went searching for the source of this idiom.

So the story goes that when people came to Ingres’ studio to see his paintings, he preferred to play the violin for them, as he was a decent player. So his music passion went beyond and along with his passion for painting, for which he was famous.

 

A precious key to the past — Marston Records

Ward Marston, jazz pianist and re-masterer extraordinaire

One of the joys of bopping around the music world is meeting extraordinary people who tend to wander into your life, quite by accident. Last week, I attended a surprise party for Vera Wilson, the dynamic founder and president of Astral Artists, to celebrate her 70th birthday. During the preliminary half-hour that guests milled and chatted, waiting for the guest of honor to appear, my ear was drawn to the music emanating from the far end of the room. A tall man in a powder blue blazer sat at a small old grand piano and played lush, full, and complex solo jazz. Without the benefit of a bass player or drummer, this pianist made his arrangements sound complete. It was a glorious way to start the party.

When Vera arrived, she was happily surprised, and a chamber music concert (trios performed to honor her, played by Alex Moutouzkine, piano, Benjamin Beilman, violin, and Clancy Newman, cello) was sublime. Afterward, I sought out the pianist in powder blue, who, I now noticed, lacked the faculty of eyesight.

“That was super playing,” I said. “How did you learn to play jazz like that?”

“I never took a jazz lesson in my life,” he said, smiling and turning toward me. “I listened to records of all the greats -– Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson. That’s how I learned.”

When I inquired if he played in clubs anywhere in the area, hoping I could hear him sometime, he said that his career for the past several years had taken a new direction.

“I’ve collected about 30,000 historical 78 rp.m vinyl records and I remaster them – mostly operatic singers and pianists.”

He added, matter-of-factly, “I won a Grammy for re-mastering the complete Rachmaninov recordings, for BMG.”

I was floored. “That recording is like my Bible.”

It turned out this was Ward Marston of Marston Records, whose mission it is to digitally re-master rare recordings of great musicians, long dead, in order to preserve their interpretation, the details of their technique, their sound, their timing, their voice. Being able to listen and study recordings like these is like having a link to an era of pianists who may have known or worked with the legendary composers themselves. It is like having a key to the door of a past, precious world.

At home, I perused the Marston Record catalog online and have decided that my first purchase will be a 2-CD set of a pianist called Raoul von Koczalski. I had never heard of Koczalski, but he was a student of Karl Mikuli, who was himself a student of Chopin’s. Mikuli’s edition of the complete piano works of Chopin is still published by G. Schirmer, and was the edition that my own teacher, Earl Wild, preferred.

Will hearing Koczalski give me insight into the way Chopin himself may have played or taught? I’m sure it will. I’m sure it will inspire me. I can’t wait to be happily surprised.

 

 

The Instrument Makers

Oboe maker Mary Kirkpatrick makes her instruments by hand -- and foot.

Last month, my husband Tom and I traveled to the quiet hills outside Ithaca, New York, curious to see the guitar our friend Gerhard has been making. He’d been working all summer under the tutelage of luthier Dick Cogger, and we were invited to view Cogger’s remarkable home workshop, which sits in an ordinary-looking suburban subdivision about twenty minutes north of Cornell University.

Stepping into the house’s lower level, we came upon jigs, table saws, lathes, forms, pieces of drying spruce, cedar, rosewood, snakewood, and ebony. There were sanders, gigantic hoses to suction up wood shavings, shelves of varnishes and glues, and a computer or two. All this looked impressive enough, but Cogger informed us, “There’s an even more interesting operation just down the hall.” He was referring to the workshop run by his wife Mary Kirkpatrick, who is renowned for her Baroque and Classical-era oboes. Astonishingly, Kirkpatrick makes her instruments without the use of electricity.

She had some time that afternoon to show us around. “Let’s start with the raw material,” she said, turning to a stack of logs in a corner of the room. The logs were the color of bisque, and about the length and thickness of my forearm.

“This is boxwood from England,” she said. “Boxwood in America does not grow this large.”

A log of boxwood and future oboe

She grabbed a log and demonstrated how she makes the first rough cuts with quick chops of a hand axe. Then she moved to the treadle lathe, an antique machine nearly five feet tall and seven feet long, also from England. The powerful, large machinery moved into action, driven not by electrical current, but by Kirkpatrick’s pumping the treadle with her foot.

Without breaking the smooth rhythm of her leg and footwork, Mary brought the log of boxwood against the whirring blade of the lathe.

“Yes, theoretically I should be wearing safety goggles,” she said. “But they’re cumbersome. I’d rather just shut my eyes and do it all by feel.”

Once she turns the wood into an acceptable shape, she bores, or hollows out the instrument, and further refines it with saws, drills, and files. For the instrument’s keys, which must move up and down rapidly with only a few millimeters’ play, she cuts and hammers tiny pieces from a solid sheet of brass. The joints of the instrument are made of Corian, which she believes mimics the density and malleability of ivory. The finished oboes are a gleaming dark brown, and beautiful.

Nearly finished


Kirkpatrick has been selling her oboes to period-instrument performers and orchestras around the world. She met Cogger over two decades ago at an instrument-maker’s conference. She discussed with him the need to find an extra piece of metal for one of her antique lathes — a part that she simply couldn’t pick up at the local True Value.

“I might be able to make you something that would do the job,” Cogger offered, and that was how their life together started.

Along one wall in the living room of the Cogger/Kirkpatrick home sits a Steinway grand, which belonged to Kirkpatrick’s father, who was a keyboard professor at Cornell and Charles Ives scholar. Opposite the piano sits a full-sized Martin harpsichord, made in Pennyslvania in the 1980′s, and hand-painted with decorative flowers. I sat down at the harpsichord to play Bach’s B-flat Partita; the clarity and purity of the sound moved me, as this must have been the sound that Bach had heard and intended for this music.

After the final B-flat sounded, Cogger told me, “We used to have a pipe organ, too, up there on the second floor landing. One of our friends would perform all three instruments in one evening – an hour of harpsichord music with wine and hors d’oeuvres, a piano recital after dinner, and an organ concert with dessert.”

Now, fall is upon us, the school year has begun, and after 240 hours of summer labor, Gerhard’s guitar, having received its final varnishing and polishing, is finished. His reward is an instrument that is lovely to look at, and lovely to hear, with its rich, clear, bell-like tone.

Reflecting on all these different instruments, I wonder what first compelled human beings to cut, bore, file, and shape pieces of wood, then fasten them together and fit them with keys, strings, felt, quills, and metal. What compels us, even now, to painstakingly create objects whose sole function is to make sounds in a meaningful way? It’s proof to me that music must fulfill a deep-seated need in us to communicate our feelings and our wordless ideas into sound — that music is essential to being human.

Portrait of the Musician as a Young Man

Pianist Isaac Harlan with drummer Cory Daniels

Pianist Isaac Harlan with drummer Cory Daniels

Students often ask me what it takes to enjoy a successful life in music. Well, talent is a must, of course. Beyond that, I think you have to be both 1. single-minded and 2. open-minded.

One young man who possesses all these qualities is Isaac Harlan. Right after graduating from Penn State University with a major in classical piano performance, Isaac won a national search and landed a full-time position as assistant musical director of Penn State’s Musical Theater program, one of the top-ranked such programs in the country.

I caught up with Isaac while he was on tour with the theater program, after a performance at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. With drummer Cory Daniels, Isaac skillfully drove the hour-long show, which ranged from sensitive ballads like “It Might as Well be Spring” to high-powered ensemble dance numbers such as “Michael Jordan’s Ball” from The Full Monty.

A glance at Isaac’s music score revealed sketched-out charts but no detailed notation. “And here’s a 32-bar dance break,” he said, showing me a few bold scribbles on manuscript paper.

Isaac began piano lessons at the age of twelve at home in Mount Lebanon, PA. Twelve is fairly late for a professional artist to begin training, and even then, he was not an enthusiastic practitioner until high school, when he began studying at Duquesne University’s City Music Center, where he learned jazz theory and improvisation from pianist Ron Bickel.

Also crucial at this time was his grandmother’s influence. Grandma gave him a recording of jazz pianist Gene Harris. After one hearing, Isaac said, he became “obsessed.” Suddenly, he was determined to make music his life, and at 18, he enrolled in the University of Michigan’s undergraduate jazz piano program.

When family economics forced Isaac to switch from an out-of-state university to a public one without a jazz major, he immersed himself in classical music, and became grounded in piano technique under the guidance of his Penn State University teacher Stephen Smith. He also worked in the university music library, took organ lessons and harpsichord lessons, and became equally obsessed with the classical record collection of his father Christoph (a business executive and former professional classical guitarist.) Adept and curious about every era of music, Isaac played with the Baroque Ensemble but served as official accompanist of the University Choir and Gospel Choir as well.

When a notice appeared on the music school bulletin board asking for a pianist to play for a production of the PSU Thespians, Isaac showed up. Even though he had never played a show before (this one was Footloose,) his background in jazz improv and his newly solidified classical technique proved indispensable -– especially when the musical director of the show suddenly quit, and Isaac found himself in charge.

Soon he became deluged with requests from vocal students to accompany and coach them. At the end of his senior year, the assistant musical director position at the university became open, and, despite his youth, Isaac decided to apply. I can only imagine the search committee’s five-second conversation: “An application from Isaac Harlan? Chuck the others.”

What’s ahead for Isaac?

Ever open-minded, and not content to drum along in a full-time job with full benefits, Isaac wants to continue to develop as a musician -– either in a top collaborative piano masters degree program, or in the professional music world of the Big Apple. With his talent, single-minded focus and love for music, and his open-minded ability to see and enjoy opportunity, I have no doubt he’ll succeed.