Lisa Nickels

May 15, 2016

Congratulations on receiving an ALP grant to shadow and observe the Houston Symphony’s Community-Embedded Musicians Program. How would you describe your experience with this program?

Visiting Houston and observing the Community-Embedded Musician Program was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had as an Eastman student. The program sends four musicians out into the Houston community 80% of the time and then they are on stage with the symphony 20% of the time. I observed the four musicians at both elementary and high schools, attended assessment meetings, met with the Education and Community Programs administrators, and sat in on community outreach performances given by Houston Symphony musicians. I was also able to attend a Houston Symphony concert, a city festival, and a few Rice University performances.

It is very easy for me to understand why many young artists are moving to the Houston area. Arts education is being enhanced in every school through additional funding, as well as a strong connection between arts organizations and the school district. There are many resources being used to focus on bridging the gap between below-poverty communities and limited access to arts education. Houston was not exactly on my radar as a place to live before this experience, but I would definitely move there for the chance to be immersed in this positive and growing atmosphere.

In many ways, my expectations were exceeded largely thanks to my contact person at the symphony, Emily Nelson. Her efficiency with email and willingness to show me around enabled me to leave Houston with new connections, ideas, resources, and observations. . When it comes to the CEMP program itself, I am glad that I got to see it during its pilot year, because it connected perfectly with my KEY project and the courses I have taken through ALP and Simon.

How have you found ways as a student to enhance your leadership?

Management skills make up a large part of leadership, and I have been able to improve those skills both at River Campus and Eastman through courses, employment positions, exploring non-musical interests, volunteering at campus wide events, and putting together solo and chamber recitals.

The other component of leadership, and probably the most important part, is the ability to inspire, motivate, and turn a vision into reality. I will be working on this my whole life, but I believe my time here has pointed me in the right direction. By realizing my strengths and weaknesses, I found that I am able to best motivate my peers by always being there for them when they are putting on a recital or writing a job application, and constantly encouraging them to join me when I go to random events in Rochester or take classes that have nothing to do with music. I have yet to walk away having learned nothing!

How did your internships through the ALP program enhance your musical career?

Through ALP, I interned at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and at the Hochstein School of Music & Dance here in Rochester. These internships both happened at the perfect time for me. I have always known that I wanted to do more than just performance, but during my junior year I was not entirely sure which direction to take. My internship at the Kennedy Center showed me all of the roles an arts manager can fill, and how important it is for arts organizations to have employees who are both artists and managers. I am now connected to a network of people who realize that same insight, and met numerous artists who balance performance and management.

I enjoyed my internship at the Kennedy Center immensely, but by the end, I was feeling the effects of being in an office and not completely immersed in the art. My internship at Hochstein started soon after, and I was reminded of my own ability to work hands-on out in communities, and most importantly, how much I love working with the generous and positive people who often become music therapists and community educators. Thanks to these internships, I realized that a career as an arts manager working on community outreach projects like those at the Houston Symphony and State Department initiatives would be ideal for me. I may have come to this conclusion through courses and a few years in the work force, but I am extremely grateful that ALP allowed me to see it sooner!

What advice do you have for students who are not sure how to begin to engage in leadership?

Ever since I was in middle school, there has been one piece of advice that keeps coming back to me: find a mentor. I have come across many people who share opinions I value and guide me today, but the mentors I am closest to and most often seek advice from are the ones I had to reach out to myself. Because leadership is more than just management skills and participating in clubs and sports, students can become better leaders by looking up to someone who knows what skills and techniques are needed after graduation.

Music teachers have fulfilled that mentorship role for me when it comes to music and how to be the best person I can be, but I would strongly suggest that Eastman students also look outside of music for a mentor. I have learned the most from ones who do their job well, and not necessarily the same job I am looking to do. With the right advice, it will be easy to get involved both on and off campus.

How has your diversity of study and experiences helped you to achieve goals?

My list of goals consists of mostly long-term ones, and I anticipate that the classes and experiences I have had outside of my performance degree will be beneficial in my future as I get closer to achieving those goals. The skills I gained in my ALP, German, Arabic, linguistics, business, international relations, etc. courses will all come in handy as I do more community outreach work and continue getting exposed to new people and ideas.

An important lesson I learned over the last few years is that I will not always be able to balance everything. The semester that I took numerous classes outside of my performance major did not bring out the best in my abilities, because I felt like I did not have the time or energy to give 100% in everything. When I was able to see beyond the grades and focus on what I wanted to know by the end of each year, I was able to prioritize the courses and experiences that would lead to my long term goals.

What are some non-musical skills that your internship experiences have allowed you to develop?

There are so many! Communication, listening, and adaptability skills are the major ones that have carried over into everything I do. All of my internships started with me observing sessions, meetings, and events, so I was able to quickly see who could engage people as soon as they started to speak, and the ones who would quickly embrace new ideas and changes. This period of observation and notetaking set me up well for developing these skills on my own throughout the internships.

When applying for those internships, I was putting together what I did know onto my résumé, but the positions mostly involved realizing what I did not know. There are many technology programs, business methods, and marketing strategies that arts organizations use, or would greatly benefit from using, that I had no idea existed. After those internships, I have continued using those tools in classes, volunteer work, and my every day performance schedule.

Do you have any advice for your fellow peers?

Do as many informational interviews as possible! I have come to learn that the tight network of artists is what will help you find work and will save you in a time of need. As an Eastman student, build relationships, attend as many workshops and masterclasses as possible, and do not hesitate to reach out to faculty, staff, and older students about their experiences. The curriculum and performance opportunities are amazing here, so take every opportunity to explore an independent project or initiative; you never know who will be paying attention to your work and will keep you in mind when a job posting comes across their desk.