Rachel Roberts

June 27, 2018


1. Congratulations on your recent appointment as the Inaugural Director of the Master of Arts in Music Leadership degree program! As you look towards the upcoming school year, which aspects of directing the program especially excite you?

Thank you! There are SO MANY parts of this program that excite me, but the greatest excitement comes from having the opportunity to work with the first cohort of students in this program! They are each incredibly passionate, smart, and driven. I’m excited to see how this program and course of study allows each student to develop personally and professionally.

2. You have a background in both music administration and education. Can you describe the ways in which these two focuses intersect?

In my professional roles within administration and education, I’ve found myself developing communities of learning. This approach has fostered the development of individual leadership and organizational growth, both inside and outside of the classroom.

I have held two newly-created positions at two major cultural institutions. (Eastman will be the third time I have had the opportunity to help define a new role!) Most recently, as the first Director of the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at New England Conservatory, I created a strategic initiative focused on equipping young musicians with the leadership skills they need to be competitive in the 21st century. This department offered curricular and co-curricular experiential learning opportunities, integrating arts entrepreneurship training into the traditional conservatory education. Prior to NEC, I was the first Director of Strategic Planning Engagement with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In this role, I facilitated strategic planning processes that brought together administrative staff, musicians, and trustees to evolve and implement a new vision for the organization. I worked closely with the President, senior leadership, and board leadership to involve all constituencies in achieving new organizational goals, and served as the project manager for the three-day grand opening events for the ASO’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at Encore Park.

My approach in both of these positions was to first listen and gain a clear understanding of the organization’s culture, values and needs. From this, I was able to challenge norms and collaboratively explore creative solutions, building a broad base of support for new systems, programs, and organizational goals. Building that broad base of support – whether it be among professional musicians, administration, faculty, students, or alumni – was firmly rooted in educational practices of effective communication (both speaking AND listening), peer-to-peer engagement, and exploration.

3. How did your education at Eastman help you to develop your professional skills and impact your career decisions?

I continually draw inspiration from my Eastman education to help others think creatively about effective communication, team-building, and problem-solving. Musicians inherently learn so many skills that transfer into other parts of our daily life. For me, this has centered largely around communications. When we sit in a rehearsal, we are clued in to so many verbal and non-verbal cues that inform and guide the music we make. These same skills (especially non-verbal cues) transfer directly to most other situations.

Additionally, Eastman (and ALP!) fostered and encouraged a mindset of curiosity. This mindset has contributed to my professional work, and it has most directly led to my career decisions. Had someone told me the day I graduated Eastman that I’d help open a major amphitheater, develop an arts entrepreneurship program from scratch, travel across the US / Europe / Southeast Asia teaching and sharing learning, only to arrive back at Eastman to join the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Music Leadership, I truly would have not believed a single word. I am, and always will be, grateful for all of these experiences, especially as I write this today (my first official week at ESM). All of this stems directly from keeping an open mind and always being curious. That curiosity has led to new connections, new pathways, and new opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered.

4. How do you envision the role of leaders in the Arts evolving over the next ten years?

This is the million dollar question!

I’d like to offer a bit broader of a view to start – in the next 32 years, or by the year 2050, futurists are projecting that:
(1) the global population is projected to increase by over 2 billion, up to 9.8 billion people (this roughly equates to adding on the populations of another China and India)
(2) with the increase in population, we will see a decrease / depletion of the globe’s natural resources
(3) with the depletion of natural resources, we’ll experience a lack of and inequitable access to food and water (we’re already seeing the first major city – Cape Town – with a countdown to Day Zero when they’ll run out of water)
(4) from this, we will experience greater disparities between economic classes
(5) from the economic disparities, we will experience a tremendous lack of equitable access to educational opportunities

This is a very heavy topic to consider, yet it reflects some of the biggest challenges that will impact us all in the not-too-distant future. The good news is that there are many people working towards improving every one of these aspects (and many more!) which will positively contribute towards global health.

As leaders, however, we must recognize how music and the arts can be sustained and thrive within the world in which we live. I would envision that the next 10 years will see leaders having an increased focused on the world around us. While the above suggests an unknown reality that we all collectively face (we can also add to that social movements and political discourse), the arts have the proven ability to bring communities together. There are so many great examples of music and the arts providing tremendous value for the communities that they serve. We can use these examples as a beginning understanding of how to effectively lead forward with the arts, regardless of the size of organization or project that we create, all in an effort to achieve positive impact.

5. Do you have any advice for Eastman students who find themselves embarking on the beginning stages of an administrative career?

Always listen, and completely take in what’s around you.

Believe in yourself, and believe in the ideas you have. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with someone. Sharing often makes your ideas come alive! Don’t be afraid to test that idea out, one step at a time.

Stay true to pursuing what matters to you, and what you enjoy doing. Find ways to make your impact. If it doesn’t exist, pave the way forward!

Stay curious. Never stop learning.

Above all else, remember that Eastman (including the alumni network) is a warm and incredibly welcoming community that you can turn to with questions along the way. You’re never alone!