A Summer@Eastman Program Initiates a Master’s Degree Pursuit

November 15, 2019
The 2018 Summer@Eastman’s session initiated the first annual Eastman Leadership Academy (ELA), developed by the Institute for Music Leadership. A 3 ½ day college-level program, the ELA was designed for upperclassmen and graduate music students specifically focused on making an impact in the community and music field. While staying here at Eastman, the 20 participants were immersed in an interactive learning experience with Eastman musicians, faculty, and leaders. Together they explored innovation in the arts, assessed current non-profit challenges, developed entrepreneurial thinking and business skills, and crafted individual, personal missions.

One such participant was Melissa O’Hara, a flutist and music education major from Wright State University. Her positive interaction at the ELA encouraged her to apply, and be accepted into, the new Masters of Arts in Music Leadership at Eastman.

In an interview with the Eastman Career Advisor, Dr. Blaire Koerner, Melissa details her story about how this program inspired a potentially new career path.

How did you hear about the Eastman Leadership Academy and why did you apply?

I heard about it from my flute professor, who went to Eastman. He received an email and forwarded it to me and said, “This would be PERFECT for you.” So, I thought I should probably have a look and followed up with the website. After looking further into Eastman Leadership Academy, my immediate thought was that the program looked really cool!

I would also like to point out that I had no clue that any of this even existed or what “leadership” really meant in this context. Up to this point I only had done marching band leadership – having done the Yahama summer symposium – but this was completely different. I didn’t realize this was a thing and thought it was perfect for me. I gave it a shot, got in and the rest is history!

What was your experience like at the ELA?

First of all, I loved being at Eastman School of Music – that was the first time I’d been there and I really liked the area. In regards to the sessions, I gained a whole bunch of ideas and skills from the content. Obviously, a lot of this was due to the faculty teaching the sessions, but I also learned from the students that were attending! There were a wide variety of participants there, some of us that were in undergraduate, those in Masters programs, and those recently out of school who were working. I learned a great deal from these colleagues because they already had experience being leaders or being a part of a non-profit. I had no clue what to expect when I first got there and I ended up learning so much from both the faculty and the students.

Was there a particular speaker, presentation, or topic that stood out to you?

A couple, but the one that immediately stands out was the Public Speaking session by Jay Stetzer. I absolutely loved it! I had to take a public speaking class before, but I’m still pretty uncomfortable with presentations. But learning it from him was really encouraging. I’m currently student teaching, my undergraduate degree is Music Education, and although it’s not “presenting” per say, I’m using all the skills he mentioned every single day.

In another class we discussed resume, CV, and cover letters, which was immediately applicable since I needed to apply to graduate school shortly after. I also used that information for personal statements for grad applications, constantly going back to my notes to see what I could add to make it stronger. In addition, I used it when writing emails – thinking about things from a professional angle…how should I write this idea? How do I format it?

Were there any leadership skills or concepts that were new to you that you were then able to apply to anything you’ve been working on?

The main concept I’ve been thinking about is the advocating side of things. I’m a flutist and for my junior recital I performed only living women composers works. At the time, I didn’t think to look for non-profits or organizations that advocate for performances like these. While I was at ELA I had an “ah-hah” moment and thought, “You know what, I bet there are organizations that are supporting this.” I ended up looking up a bunch of organizations that support and advocate for women composers. Looking ahead, internship wise, these might be some really interesting and important places that I might be able to connect or work with.

Congratulations on recently applying for and being accepted into Eastman’s new Masters of Arts in Music Leadership! What contributed to you deciding to attend this particular program?

Interestingly, all the other places I applied for were for flute performance, so Eastman’s program was bit different. I got accepted into a flute performance program, but I started really thinking about the possibilities of both degrees and how they aligned with my long-term goals. Which degree program and school was really thinking about what I might do next and wanting to support my goals in advocating for women? That was a huge component in deciding which program was best suited for me.

In addition to that, the faculty played a huge role. My flute professor speaks very highly of Eastman’s faculty, which I already agreed with having attended the ELA and meeting some faculty then. In particular, the Director of the Master’s Program, Professor Rachel Roberts, blew me away with all of her experiences and stories she told at ELA. Everything she does is so inspiring and knowing that I will get to work with her closely in this program had a huge impact on my decision.

Lastly, the audition day was very influential in my decision making, specifically since Eastman as a school stood out more in a sense of trying to connect with me on that day. Surprisingly, their audition day was super comforting, which I cannot say for every audition I’ve taken. During Eastman’s audition, I was taken to coffee by some of the current M.A. students and they were fantastic to interact with and talk about the ins and outs of program. Meeting students that day, being able to browse the bookstore, getting a tour of the library, and overall seeing this community environment was great. During ELA we had the opportunity of being part of the active Jazz Festival downtown, but it was great to see what it was like actually during the school year and interacting with current students.

What are you most looking forward to going to Eastman and being part of the MA in Music Leadership cohort?

The first thing that comes to mind are all of the classes with Professor Roberts. She is very active in her own profession, knows so much about our field, and  is a very cool person. I’m looking forward to learning from her…and from other students in the degree program! I’m also really looking forward to being a part of the Eastman community. Being surrounded by this level of musicianship will be fantastic – learning how they practice, strategies for becoming a better musician, etc.

An interesting thing about this program is you can choose electives from Eastman and U of R. What type of classes are you thinking about taking?

I would love to continue to take lessons – I still want to continue playing flute. Because I’m a music educator I spent more time recently developing my teaching skills, so setting aside some lesson times to continue improving my performance will be fantastic. I’ve also talked to Professor Roberts about going to the University of Rochester to take some ASL courses, if my schedule permits. I’ve taken a course in my undergraduate and it inspired me to want to continue learning this language.

You seem to have quite a few musical focuses that interest you – from performance to music education to advocating for women composers. With this obvious passion for music and wide variety of interests, what are some of your career goals? 

Haha! My original career goal was being a high-school music teacher. However, that’s been shifting. I would still love to teach band, it’s what I’m currently doing as a student teacher and I enjoy it, but I feel like there is something more I can do, specifically for advocating for women. It would be absolutely incredible to be an Educational Director at an orchestra or music organization so I can still outreach and work with students. This way I could make an impact helping students learn things they didn’t know before while also diversifying programs and focuses.



Applications for the summer 2020 Eastman Leadership Academy are open until May 1st and scholarships are available. To learn more, please go to: musicleadership.org/academy


For questions, please contact the Academy Coordinator, Dr. Blaire Koerner, at bkoerner@ur.rochester.edu