Written by Alumni Advisory Council Vice-Chair Louis Alexander (MM ’79)
In the first article of this series on MSM alumni, what stood out most for me was not that ours is a highly creative network, but that this was not at all surprising. As musicians, creativity is so much a part of us that we do not think twice about it. Regardless of when we were at MSM, we were surrounded by similar people, all of us basking in the energy of a thousand such creatures filling the hallways with the sounds and rhythms bursting out of every pore of our bodies. Regardless of the career paths we have chosen, whether they be in music or in other professions, that creative impulse has been a major force in our lives that has impacted the ways in which we have engaged with the worlds around us.
In all musicians, there is a little bit of the Greek god Proteus at play. Water was his realm, and as master of it he had the ability to constantly change shape. Like him, we are constantly morphing into new forms. We change shape with every piece we enter – new rhythms, harmonies, tonalities, styles, and so on. In other professions, we often display an uncanny ability to translate this creative energy into our work. Our training is about giving shape to impulses, translating symbolic forms, shaping abstract forms, balancing numerous factors including time, and working in teams. No wonder that outside of music you often find us in professions such as coding, database management, management, law, medicine, and so many more. As I’ve wandered through the alumni directory, I’ve been amazed at the variety in the lives of our fellow alumni. I hope you will find these discoveries as interesting as I have.
Though I’ve never met most of the people I come across in these wanderings, sometimes old acquaintances pop up, as did George Rothman (BM ’78) and Anthony Korf (BM ’73, MM ’75). Shortly after graduating, George and Anthony did what at the time I thought would be impossible: they founded a symphony orchestra, and in New York of all places! It has been almost 40 years since George and Anthony began this enterprise and they and the Riverside Symphony have gained a distinguished reputation for performances of rarely heard works from all musical periods. With concerts at Alice Tully Hall and other notable venues, they have become a major platform for up-and-coming performers and composers. On top of this, the orchestra has produced seven critically acclaimed CDs.
While George’s focus has been primarily on the Riverside Symphony, he has also led orchestras across the U.S., Europe, South America, and Asia. George is also dedicated to music education. He has served on the faculties of Columbia, Yale, and since 2005, Brooklyn College, where he is currently the conductor of the Conservatory Orchestra as well as a Professor of Music. Anthony’s work has largely been dedicated to composing (visit his site here). In addition to two citations from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he has had commissions from the San Francisco Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, Koussevitsky Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts, among others. One of Anthony’s early achievements was the founding of the contemporary music ensemble Parnassus, which he conducted from 1975 to 2002. Through the Riverside Symphony, George and Anthony have maintained a powerful presence in New York. Outside of performance, the orchestra under their leadership has developed an impressive educational program, the Music Memory project, which culminates every spring in a “Name-that-Tune” event, Citywide Finals, in which the orchestra plays excerpts for student participants from the third to the sixth grades to identify. As classical musicians, all of us can appreciate the amount of educational work that needs to be done to keep our tradition alive and vibrant. I am sure you will find this brief video about the Music Memory project inspiring.
If you are in New York on June 6 this year, mark your calendars for the Riverside Symphony’s world premiere of Anthony’s new Violin Concerto, and yes, George will be conducting that performance. For more information about their efforts with the Riverside Symphony, click here.
Another highly talented and versatile musician is French horn player Jeffrey Scott (BM ’90), who I discovered in my surfing through the alumni directory. Jeff leads a very busy life as a performer, composer, and educator. A longtime member of the Grammy-nominated quintet Imani Winds, Jeff and the ensemble have gained critical acclaim for their musicianship. One of their signature qualities is their adventurous programming, premiering contemporary works, and bringing together the rich musical traditions of Europe, America, Africa, and Latin America. When he is not performing with Imani Winds, Jeff can be found in the Alvin Ailey and Dance Theatre of Harlem orchestras, where he has been a member for 20 years. On numerous occasions, he has performed under Wynton Marsalis in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. When not on a concert stage, Jeff leads a busy life as a studio musician, with many movie soundtracks and recordings with notable artists to his name. He is also no stranger to Broadway orchestras, having performed for The Lion King from 1997 to 2005 and Showboat from 1994 to 1997. Somehow Jeff manages to find time to wear the hat of a composer too. He has many original works to his credit as well as arrangements for various productions. If that were not enough to keep him busy, he is also on the faculty of Montclair State University. To get a better sense of Jeff’s accomplishments, check out his impressive bio here.
As it turns out, another alum who caught my eye also studied French horn, Ruth Ellen Yocum Hoag (BM ’67). For thirty years following graduation, Ruth played in orchestras in the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara areas. Then, in 1997, while living in Japan, she discovered that she could translate her feelings for rhythm, flow, and harmony into paint. Ever since she picked up the paintbrush, Ruth has been exploring how to express the emotional energy she felt in playing music, painting what something feels like, or sounds like, from quiet and lyrical to palpably vivid and cacophonous. Her paintings have earned many awards in both national and international exhibitions. Most recently, she earned the coveted Signature status from the American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including Watercolor Artist and Palette magazines. Ruth works out of her studio, Whistle Stop Art Studios, in downtown Santa Barbara, where visitors are welcome. If you are going to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, you can view a few of her paintings on display in its Main House. To sample her work and read more about Ruth, visit her website here.
Another ensemble musician who came to my attention is clarinetist Ixi Chen (BM ’96). Since 2001, Ixi has held the position of second clarinet in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Her professional activities, however, take her beyond the orchestral world and into the classroom, where she is a member of the clarinet faculty at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. As is typical of MSM alumni, Ixi is a doer as well as a dreamer. In 2007, she led a group of fellow CSO musicians to found a new chamber ensemble that set as its goal to transform hearts, minds, and communities through thought-provoking musical exploration. The ensemble, concert:nova, known for its fusion of traditional and contemporary elements, was recently inducted into the MacDowell Society. As a way of realizing its goal of building new audiences for art music, concert:nova blends art, music, dance, theatre, and technology to create fresh, kinetic, and powerful events, transforming the ordinary performance stage. To get a better sense of Ixi’s work, explore concert:nova here.
Serendipity plays an important role in my life, which is particularly true when I am delving into the activities of MSM alumni. Yet another discovery is voice major David Steinberger (MM ’96). After leaving MSM to pursue a singing career, he hit upon a novel idea, bringing comic books into the 21st century! Using content from the major comic book and graphic novel publishers, David created a digital platform that has now become one of the top grossing apps on mobile devices. The ingredient making it all possible is Guided View, which is a proprietary technology that is David’s creation. It was this innovation that made it possible to view comics and graphic novels on mobile devices one panel at a time. With this in hand, David and his partners established ComiXology and through it have transformed the comic book and graphic novel industry. As the CEO and co-founder, David had his entrepreneurial and creative skills put to yet another test a few years ago when the company became a subsidiary of Amazon. Under his guidance, the company has continued to prosper in the midst of a giant in such a way as to hold onto their own corporate identity. To get a sense of the impact that David and ComiXology have made, check out this video here.
Music pulses through us and affects everything we touch. It is in the air under a conductor’s hands, flowing through a composer’s pen, a pianist’s fingers, a horn player’s lips, or a singer’s vocal chords. It is in everything we do, whether we are making music or it is channeled into another form such as a paint brush or a corporate board room. It is always with us, constantly changing shape. As musicians, our protean natures are so much a part of us that we often lose sight of just how valuable a gift this is. As alumnus David Steinberger from ComiXology put it to me, “I credit performance training quite heavily for the success of the company – preparing for investment pitches, talking to large groups of employees and getting them to feel excited and aligned to achieve our vision for comics, etc. were all highly positively impacted from the music training.” As we continue exploring the lives of MSM alumni, there is no doubt in my mind that there will be no shortage of ways we will discover in which the magic and power of music shapes our lives.
Wherever in the world you are, become a part of the online MSM community. Take that first step by logging in and bringing your profile up to date. If you are not yet a member, go to the login page here and click “new user registration” to set up a profile. Once you are logged in, visit the “Update Profile” tab. Whether you are a new user or already registered, check out your profile and there you can decide on which pieces of information you want to be viewed publicly or not. Just click “make private” on any of the fields you want to be invisible. Now that’s magic!!