Katherine CiesinkiNovember 17, 2009
An accomplished mezzo-soprano and teacher, Eastman faculty member, Katherine Ciesinski has achieved much in her career in the realm of performance, leadership, education and entrepreneurship.
The following interview reflects and emphasizes the spirit of exploration, the importance of collaboration and the development of skills that will help launch the artist’s career.
Your career encompasses a wide range of activities beyond vocal performance. Have you found it fulfilling and beneficial to maintain this diversified artistic career?
“Creative people tend to look at new possibilities in existing situations,” Katherine Ciesinski stated. Whether that be “learning new repertoire for a recital format, developing a program that parallels an existing program or coming up with something brand new, these “layers of entrepreneurial activities” have been a significant part of Ciesinski’s artistic career.
The aspect of professional performance in Ciesinski’s career was largely self-motivated. “I had no role model for becoming a professional singer,” Ciesinski said. “My exploration allowed me to pave my own trail. I had a great interest in many different kinds of classical music, particularly early music.”
In addition, her interest in contemporary music afforded exceptional experiences. “It’s led me to so many new contexts. My sister also sings, which provided me with a “third career” when we linked up as duet team. We had the privilege of collaborating with Ned Rorem and Lee Hoiby, premiering works written for us and performing with the composers at the piano,” Ciesinski recalled. “The opportunity to work with living composers is very stimulating and important work. Composers need performers willing to explore and develop their music.”
In addition to performance, entrepreneurship has had significant influence on Ciesinski’s career achievements. “I designed a contemporary music workshop for composers and singers at the Abbaye de Royaumont, a music research and performance center in France.” With her love of chamber music, Ciesinski created a way for students to learn the repertoire as a supplemental attribute to their required curriculum. At the University of Houston, “I created small, supplemental modules of coursework with topics including baroque ornamentation, recitative, etc,” Ciesinski explained. “This is just an example of seeing a need and trying to fill it.”
Ciesinski’s advice for a diversified artistic career: “Collaborate with other creative people who have their own identity and niche.”
In what ways have leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation impacted your career and how important is it for young musicians to develop these skills?
Ciesinski said the leadership and entrepreneurship skills are “essential, even quintessential” to the business. “Regardless of our training, we still have to launch our own careers. It’s about opening ourselves up to the business and seeing where those most fertile first opportunities lie. Only a few people succeed by just taking the traditional track – everyone else does something different than that.”
“Leadership and entrepreneurial thinking are the only ways to have a career,” Ciesinski added. “Helping others, contacting people at the source of creativity (such as composers and producers), associating and collaborating with other artists, focusing on a particular content or area of repertoire – these become your profile as an artist.”
In the last year, you have taken the opportunity to visit several Arts Leadership Program (ALP) classes. What did you observe and do you think the skills being taught will be useful and valuable in the professional world?
“The flexibility of the ALP program in designing a year-to-year set of courses that speak to exactly what’s going on in the business is both refreshing and helpful to young artists,” Ciesinski stated. “It is of the utmost usefulness in our world.”
Last year, Ciesinski observed the “Leadership Issues in Music” course taught be Dr. Jamal Rossi. “The Leadership Issues class tackled the problems facing organizations that, in turn, affect artists. In other circumstances, you would never be able to learn that much about presenting organizations.”
This semester, she is taking “Introduction Digital Portfolio Creation” taught by Helen Smith. “The Digital Portfolio class introduces web skills, which are vital.” The content taught in this class is “important in the profession as a whole and for meeting individual career objectives,” said Ciesinski. With the acquisition of these valuable skills, “You could even earn money as a side enterprise by helping other people build websites,” she added. “These skills are just as important as typing, at this point. It’s really fantastic that we’re teaching this at Eastman.”
Through involvement in ALP, “My students have developed a different mode of thinking about themselves,” Ciesinski stated. “It’s a broadening of perspective. They have a different sense of where they interface with the profession at large.”
The ALP courses develop a skill level that offers students “that entry into the performance world as well as other enterprising opportunities (whether for an organization or for themselves),” Ciesinski said.
Ask yourself these questions: “Where does the opportunity happen? How does the business function? What are the useful skills? This is the new model for success.” Interest and expertise is not limited to “what you’re good at; very few of us will be measured on just performance,” Ciesinski advised. It is entrepreneurial thinking, “the “other” perspective that informs and balances our artistic careers.”
What advice do you have for current Eastman students?
Ciesinski said, “The mind is always actively seeking ways to amplify what we are currently studying. Whatever project you do (for instance, repertoire you are currently studying), seek multiple contexts where it can be performed or can spin off into something else.”
Katherine Ciesinski – Biography
Mezzo-Soprano Katherine Ciesinski has sung leading roles at the Metropolitan, Covent Garden, Paris, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Houston Grand Operas. A soloist with the Berlin, Vienna, London, Staatskapelle Dresden, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, among many others, she has served as artist-in-residence at major festivals in the United States, France, Taiwan, Austria, Finland and Italy. She was a Grammy Nominee in 1992 and has recordings on the Decca, Erato, BMG, Music Masters, RCA, Columbia, Nonesuch and CRI labels. Her television appearances have included four PBS Great Performances programs, as well as numerous National Public Radio World of Opera broadcasts. Among these are nationwide broadcasts of the world premiere production of Little Women. Ms. Ciesinski has stage-directed full productions of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw and Handel’s Flavio for the Moores Opera Center. After serving the Moores School of Music in Houston for fourteen years, Ms. Ciesinski is now in her second year as Professor of Voice at Eastman.