Chris Van HofSeptember 7, 2009
Eastman alumni and Arts Leadership Program Certificate recipient, Chris Van Hof received a Master’s Degree in Trombone performance and a Certificate in Arts Leadership from the Eastman School of Music in 2008. He held a Graduate Assistantship in the Institute for Music Leadership, and as an Arts Leadership Program Student, served as an Intern with WXXI Radio. Chris now serves on the faculty of Nazareth College, hosts a show on WXXI, and performs as a freelance trombonist.
Since graduating from Eastman with your Master’s degree, you have put together a career compromised of many different musical activities. Do you enjoy having many facets to your career?
I’ve been engaged in a myriad of musical activities since well before I was at Eastman for the Master’s Degree. So in a sense I don’t notice much of a difference in how I behave now compared to my teenage years except that now the activities pay, whereas before they were just things I did. So in that regard, teaching some trombone lessons in the morning, hosting classical music on the radio in the afternoon, and writing jazz ensemble arrangements when I get home is somewhat ingrained into who I am and how I operate. The real blessing is that I get to make a living doing these things, so in a word, “yes,” I do enjoy having many different facets to my career as a musician, in spite of the many challenges this facet-juggling poses.
How do you balance the time requirements for the various responsibilities you have?
I constantly keep track of appointments and deadlines on my iPhone. As soon as I walk in the door of my house I sync with the calendars on my desktop and laptop. I stay sane by making sure to engage in completely non-musical things when I do have free time: running, cooking, watching shows about cars. I also am married to a very supportive and lovely woman (with an iPhone) who is a fantastic musician, loves to run, is a great cook, and tolerates shows about cars–I cannot stress how important that person is to helping me achieve balance.”
You were an ALP intern at WXXI and now you are the Afternoon Host for the station. How important is it for young and emerging musicians to build their network and stay connected to professional contacts for future opportunities?
It is incredibly important to build and maintain a network of contacts and associations. My internship and subsequent part-time employment at WXXI was a big factor–I presume–in my ultimately getting the chance to get the job. My yearly brass quintet Easter gig introduced me to my future boss at Nazareth College. Playing in a band with other well-connected musicians has led to countless other gigs. Here’s a wordy case-in-point: I played in an orchestra in Spring 2007 and got called back to sub over two years later. That performance resulted in meeting a great composer and having him send me both a brass quintet piece (being taken on tour to Germany) as well as a new piece of his for trombone and piano that I’m taking on tour to some colleges and schools in Michigan. I’ve been able to cobble together that tour with connections I made ranging from taking one lesson with a professional trombonist to my old college professor to my former high school band director. The tour is financed by the very teaching job I have at Nazareth which was partially a result of connections I made at Eastman.
No network or connection you make, though, is worth anything if you aren’t all of the following things: flexible, easygoing, thorough, polite, accurate, on time, helpful, and talented. Otherwise, no amount of connections will get you the final interview, the callback for the next gig, or the invitation to come back.
What skills that you honed in the ALP program are most valuable to you now?
High levels of organization are key, and I think the ALP encourages that. The ALP also really encouraged me to think of myself as a commodity, and to not feel that that is a bad thing. As an ALP student, I learned that my passion for music is not enough to get me work–I have to create a brand for myself that highlights my strengths, and continually strive to improve those strengths and add new ones when the opportunity arises. To use a generic cliché that actually sums up quite well what I got most from the ALP, I would say that the program encouraged me to “think outside the box.”
What advice would you give current ALP students?
Please don’t take yourselves too seriously. You “play” your instrument, and you “play” music. That guy walking to the bus down East Ave? He doesn’t care what chair you were in youth orchestra or if you can play Giant Steps changes in all 12 keys or if you were Cherubino in the Moose Chute Idaho Summer Stock Theater. But he will care about what you do if you make it interesting and accessible and available to him without being preachy.
Also: Being a musician is great. Being a musician who can eat–and still make a living in the arts–that’s even better.