What kinds of jobs and careers are available in music, and what does it take to be a music professional? Check out this resource to get the who, what, when, where, how, and why straight from Kentucky music professionals.
George Boulden: Professor and Band Director
As an associate professor of music and the associate director of bands at the University of Kentucky, George Boulden serves as the director of the Wildcat Marching Band and Basketball Pep Band. His other duties include conducting the university’s symphony and concert bands, supervising student internships, and teaching other courses in the School of Music. Previously, he taught in public schools in South Carolina and Florida. He holds a Bachelor of Music in music education from UK and a Master of Music Education degree from the University of South Carolina. George has performed with the Lexington Brass Band and plays on its CD Good Company: The Lexington Brass Band, Live 1992-1996. Under his direction, the Wildcat Marching Band and Basketball Pep Band have served as the musical ambassadors for UK and have performed at the Outback Bowl, two Music City Bowl games, a Bands of America Regional Championship, and three NCAA Final Four Basketball Championships.
“My childhood was spent in Louisiana, where some of my earliest memories include the music. It was everywhere! In early high school, I was heavily influenced by the intense jazz curriculum. The band director was a big proponent of jazz and encouraged us to participate in many competitions and festivals. At that point, I also became acquainted with classical music. When I moved to Kentucky during high school, my band director in Harrison County, Bob Gregg, was a big influence and encouraged me to continue pursuing music.
“At the University of Kentucky, I studied with some great musicians and music faculty, such as Harry Clarke, Vince DiMartino, and Gordon Henderson—these directors had a huge influence on the direction I would take after graduation. After graduation, I attended the University of South Carolina and served as a band graduate assistant for two years. Then I moved on to teach high school in South Carolina and central Florida. In 1995, I came back to UK to serve as the associate director of bands, utilizing what I learned as a teacher in the classroom as well as a band director on the field and in the concert hall.”
“My time mostly consists of preparing for classes and concerts. With any ensemble, there’s never a ‘typical’ approach. Something interesting is bound to happen when one instructor must communicate with up to 65 individuals, directing them to achieve a musically satisfying performance. Through mostly nonverbal communication, I have been as efficient as possible while getting each element of the group ready to play, all while performing in a full listening environment. The students relate to me, to each other, and to themselves via their instruments, while I communicate to them via my baton and verbal instruction. I often use analogies instead of technical instructions to describe what needs to happen at certain steps in the preparation of music. Being more expressive helps convey the direction of the music and motivates the students’ understanding, as opposed to just delivering information and expecting it to stick. In the classroom we strive to create a dialogue through this constant interaction—the students are able to express themselves while making unified musical decisions. It’s guided expression, avoiding cacophony and anarchy as each member brings his or her talents to the performing ensemble.
“We do a lot of listening in rehearsals, and I’m constantly looking at new scores and checking out new recordings to consider for future performances. I’m also constantly talking to colleagues in public schools, as well as other universities, about new music. I’ve been able to create a great network of past students and teachers who are involved at all levels of instruction.
“While it is great to learn from my own experience, I find that I learn even more from the experiences of others. As a result, I’m constantly working with my colleagues in the UK School of Music. And, since this is basically a student-driven organization, I also learn a great deal from my own students, especially about ways to communicate. Learning to follow is just as important as directing the ensemble.
“Time is the biggest challenge. I’m spinning many plates at once, so I have to stay organized and plan things far in advance. Everyone is busy and there’s always more to do, whether it’s preparing for a class, a concert, or an event. I work to keep the ‘assembly line’ moving, and I’m never really doing just one thing.”
“I’m usually working between 9:00 am and 10:30 pm, but that varies if there is a concert or an athletic event. Sometimes I don’t make it home until after midnight! While I look forward to classes and teaching very much, there’s still a lot of paperwork and other necessities required to keep the music machine going. I also find that beyond my work as a teacher and conductor, I may be called upon to serve as a psychologist, travel agent, and life coach. I enjoy the multifaceted nature of my job, and I’m glad there’s no ‘typical day’—it keeps things interesting.”
“I’ve always had to examine carefully how I do things and how to relate this process to my students, since everyone has a different learning style and brings a variety of experiences to the classroom. One facet of my teaching involves modeling various modes of communication used to instruct large music ensembles. In this case, in the music classroom and with the arts, the rules are definitely not in black and white—there’s not one ‘right way,’ so you have to learn several ways to convey information and guide students. Of course, I believe I learn as much from my students about teaching as they do from me about music. I also firmly believe that when that stops, it will be time for me to stop.
“It’s also very important to keep things vibrant and alive in the classroom. As a teacher, I encourage and support the talents of each member of the ensemble as well as a respect for new knowledge, such as learning more about music from other cultures and genres. The more we learn from each other, the easier it becomes to communicate as an ensemble. This carries over into my work with faculty in our department and around the campus—synthesizing different levels and areas of expertise to create an exciting and creative learning environment for everyone.”
“The best part about this job is the opportunity to play great music with great musicians. I love watching our students grow through rehearsals and performances. After they graduate, I stay in contact with many of them, and, along with my own teachers and mentors, I have created a wonderful network of friends and colleagues.”
“To prepare for a career in music education, especially as a conductor and teacher, you must be a great musician on your primary instrument. It’s crucial to understand your own music abilities in order to communicate knowledge to someone else. It’s also very difficult to teach without experience, and I really benefited from my time teaching in public schools—it’s learning to walk before you can run. You get a sense of the real world since you have to relate directly not only with students, but also with parents, administrators, and other teachers. For me, teaching at the public school level allowed me to enjoy many positive experiences and provided some insight into the craft of teaching that I now share with my students at the University of Kentucky.
“Aside from trying to become the best musician you can be and developing your listening skills, both of music and of people, I think it’s very important to find a good mentor. For anyone to survive in this profession, it’s beneficial to have someone to approach for advice and support.”
Nathan Cole: Violinist
Nathan Cole is a member of the first violin section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Before his CSO appointment in 2002, he served for two seasons as principal second violin of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. This Lexington, KY native’s solo debut came at the age of 10 with the Louisville Orchestra. He received a Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, where his love for chamber music flourished. In 1998 he became the founding first violinist of the Grancino String Quartet, which won the 2000 Barnett Competition in Chicago and participated in the 2000 Isaac Stern Chamber Music Encounters in Jerusalem. The quartet made its New York debut in Carnegie’s Weill Hall in 2002. In the summer of 2004, Nathan won second prize at the International Violin Competition of Sion-Valais, also capturing the special prize for best performance of the commissioned work by Ludovic Thirvaudey. As a result, he presented concerts in Sion and Geneva with the Prague Philharmonia and Maestro Shlomo Mintz. He has appeared as guest concertmaster with the symphonies of Oregon and Seattle and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and as a soloist with the Lexington Philharmonic, the symphonies of Bremerton and Haddonfield, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In addition to performing, Nathan teaches at a private studio and is a regular coach for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the DePaul Symphony Orchestra.
“My earliest musical memory is listening to our record player at home when I was 2 or 3 years old. Itzhak Perlman was most likely playing. Both my parents are flute teachers, so there was always music in the house. Through their influence as well as my first two teachers, Donna Wiehe and Daniel Mason, I decided at around 14 or 15 to become a professional performer.
“My main influences would really be my teachers, mentioned above. Mrs. Wiehe taught me from the beginning to age 10, laying the technical foundation and showing me that playing the violin should be fun and that steady work makes you better over time. Mr. Mason taught me through my teenage years, keeping me motivated without pushing too hard. During those years I expanded my knowledge and skills to a much more challenging repertoire and began to struggle with expressing myself on the instrument rather than just playing it.”
“There are 110 musicians in the Chicago Symphony and one conductor each week. Together we rehearse and perform works from the 17th to 21st centuries. My biggest challenge is staying afloat in the sea of repertoire that we learn and perform. Each season I play about 150 works. All those notes need practicing!”
“Most of my work takes place at the concert hall—the Symphony Center in Chicago. A typical day has me there for five hours or so, rehearsing with the orchestra, practicing by myself, and teaching or coaching students. Of course, everything revolves around the afternoon and evening performances. We perform three or four concerts a week, changing the repertoire each week.”
“The most important tools I use are my violin and bow. The violin was made by Vincenzo Postiglione in Italy in 1910, and my bow is from the J.B. Vuillaume shop from 19th-century France. The resources I draw from are my colleagues and the guest artists that collaborate with the symphony.”
“The truly great performances make the practice worthwhile. Sometimes the music is so powerful that the audience’s reaction is just the icing on the cake. Other times the audience is an essential partner, uplifting the orchestra and transforming the night into something extraordinary.”
“Patience is key. Both while learning your instrument and as a professional, things don’t always happen when and how you would like. Be patient with yourself and others so that you maximize your own potential and, at the same time, act as a good colleague.
“You can start different instruments at different times, but generally piano and violin are the two that benefit the most from an early start. You need a teacher familiar with children to motivate and instruct you on the technical issues for your instrument. You need a home environment that lets you work every day. And you need to be organized enough to do good work even when there are other things happening in your life. Other than that, people of all different physical and mental abilities make great musicians.
“The most important factor to consider if you want to become a professional musician is your own desire. That means doing whatever you need to improve yourself and your craft, including seeking help early and often. In fact, your private teachers are likely to be the most important people in your musical development. Then seek out inspiration in the art of others—great performers of course, but also people your own age and artists in other disciplines. Without motivation, it’s hard to achieve any goal. But with the right motivation and personal drive, you can go further than you thought possible.”
Lorinda Jones: Music Therapist
Lorinda Jones is a nationally recognized performing and recording artist, teacher, and board-certified music therapist. She specializes in Celtic and American traditional music, and her performances feature the Celtic harp, mountain dulcimer, and tin whistle along with a variety of other folk instruments. Her musical interests encompass the roots of American music, from the ancient harp tunes of Ireland and Scotland to American mountain music, bluegrass, ragtime, and gospel. Lorinda is also the artistic director of two community-based music groups, the Heartland Dulcimer Club and the Harps of Life Harp Ensemble. As a music therapist, she is the owner of Music Therapy Service of Central Kentucky, providing contract services for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Lorinda has produced numerous books and CD recordings, which are sold throughout the state and across the country.
“It’s difficult to recall my first musical memory because I grew up with music around me from birth. I do recall seeing and hearing my older sister play piano, both at home and church. I thought it sounded so great and that I wanted to do that some day. My dad was often the song leader at church, so I saw him as a director as well as simply enjoying making music at home on the piano, harmonica, or singing. My grandparents led sing-along at family gatherings, and it seemed everyone on that side of the family sang and played some kind of instrument.
“I was most fortunate to have had great music teachers in our small community. My piano teacher for ten years not only taught me how to read music, but also helped me with music theory and playing my own arrangements. My band teacher at school was also very influential, as she decided I should play the oboe in band. She made sure I had a teacher and also volunteered to take me to out-of-town opportunities and auditions.
“With my music background and my love for music, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to pursue as a career other than music. Initially I went to school as a music major to perform, but soon became interested in a career teaching music. It wasn’t until I had taught ten years in public schools that I learned about music therapy as a career. When I explored the career further, I knew that it was what I should be doing.
“After beginning my teaching career, I became interested in folk music. I have been strongly influenced by the musicians I have met at the folk festivals. I love the pure enjoyment they get out of their music and their willingness to share that love. I am drawn to those musicians who are not in it for fame or fortune, but for the pure love of what they do.”
“I work with children and adults who have mental, emotional, and/or physical disabilities. My work with young students is in a public school setting. While some of my adult clients still live at home, many live in group homes designed for individuals with disabilities.
“The biggest challenge is probably working with individuals who cannot communicate with you through speech, so you must look for other clues to know what they need and how best to help them. Each individual has different needs, so it is important to be well educated on the different types of disabilities and how to effectively work with each one. Sometimes progress is very slow, so a therapist may have to try many different approaches before finding one that yields results.”
“I have worked in a variety of settings with my music therapy degree, but the most recent has been contracting with schools. When the school calendar starts, I set up a schedule to see the students or individuals with whom I have been contracted to work. I work through the special education department, so most of my students are in self-contained classrooms and have moderate to severe disabilities. I move around from school to school, carrying my instruments and supplies with me and generally working during the school hours. I also do some private teaching after school hours at a music store and some performing on the weekends, so between the three areas, I stay very busy.”
“I own a variety of stringed and percussion instruments, and some school districts also supply other manipulatives, or hands-on instructional tools such as bean bags, parachutes, xylophones, scarves, and specialty instruments. I have also made some of my own instruments from gourds, and I especially like using these with my clients. Over the years I have accumulated a lot of song material and books to help me with my planning and song ideas.”
“When a person makes a connection for the first time, there is a special bond that forms and is very rewarding. Watching a group transform from mad, angry, and/or upset to happy, smiling, and getting along with each other is a great feeling. Using music in a way that helps other people feel good, learn something about themselves, and open up communication is most rewarding.”
“The first step to becoming a music therapist is to audition with a school of music that has a degree program in music therapy. The audition consists of playing in front of music faculty on the instrument that is to become a major instrument of study, including woodwind, brass, keyboard, strings, or voice. Once admitted to the school of music, the degree program takes a minimum of four years’ college study. It is highly advisable that a person observe a professional music therapist in order to know if this particular course of study is comfortable for that individual.
“A music therapist needs to like working with people; feel comfortable initiating conversation with someone new; and be willing to help those who may be angry, hurting, or in denial. Of course, a music therapist needs to be a musician and to feel very comfortable with making music so that the focus of their work can be helping others. A therapist needs to be patient and allow progress to happen slowly over an undetermined amount of time.
“Be patient and set baby steps as your goals toward reaching your career choice. Prepare as much as possible by reading, observing, and making lots of music with family and friends.”
Ronald Pen: Professor and Musicologist
Ronald Pen received his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 1987, writing his dissertation on the biography and works of American balladeer and composer John Jacob Niles. Ron has continued his research in the area of American vernacular music with an emphasis on the music and culture of the Southern Appalachian region. He has written book reviews, articles, forewords, book chapters, encyclopedia entries, and documentary films focusing on topics such as shape note hymnody; early folk music collections; fiddle tunes; and traditional, country, and bluegrass musical styles. Ron was elected to the board of the Society for American Music and served as both program chair (Madison, WI) and local arrangements chair (Lexington, KY) for annual conferences. In addition, he serves as the book review editor for the journal American Music. He is an associate professor at the University of Kentucky and the director of its John Jacob Niles Center for American Music, which serves as a repository for research materials and actively supports the dissemination of scholarly research in American music. Ron’s own ongoing scholarship includes completion of a book on Niles for the University Press of Kentucky and research on the history of old-time music and early folk music collections. At UK, he has received both the Great Teacher Award and the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“My father played a Hohner Echo model harmonica, and I clearly remember taking it and playing the Beethoven ‘Ode to Joy’ theme on it. I had never touched a harmonica before, and I am not sure how I knew that melody—obviously my parents had played it on the record player. Somehow I just knew how to play it, though.
“A story on the exact moment at which I decided to become a musician and headed down that particular path:
“I was in an English literature class and had waited until the last moment to write a paper on T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland.’ I was in trouble, but so was a friend of mine who played electric guitar. So the two of us, in desperation, decided to make a musical ‘translation’ of ‘Wasteland.’ After an all-nighter, we submitted the tape cassette to our professor, who looked at the assignment oddly but reserved judgment until after he listened to it and played it for the composition teacher at school. I received an A. Pushed in that direction, I took a music course and found myself composing ‘Water Music’ for a large chamber group, several dancers, several narrators, a tape of the waterfall behind our hippie farmhouse that I had altered with a synthesizer, a light show, and several performers with squirt guns. A prestigious New York contemporary music performance ensemble was in residence at the school, and the leader of this group had just been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. This group, along with musicians and friends from the university, performed the ‘Water Music’ piece one evening at Lee Chapel. When ‘Water Music’ began, it started raining, and you could really hear it on the chapel’s roof. When the piece ended, the rain ceased. At that point I knew I was going to be a musician. It was later that I decided to become a musicologist.
“Various musicians and musical styles have influenced me at various stages of my life. As a child, I was influenced by Mrs. Mary Maj, whom I had for eight years of elementary music. I wrote my first piece of music for her—‘Für Mrs. Maj,’ patterned on ‘Für Elise’—at age 6. I had a piano teacher, Robert Metzler, who came to my home every week for 14 years to teach me piano lessons. He was a hard disciplinarian, and I did not always love piano, but he persevered and so did I. My high school music teacher, John Austin, was inspirational, and I patterned my aspirations on him in so many ways. A Harvard-educated lawyer, he was an imaginative composer with an open mind who taught glee club, music history to uninterested high school seniors, and composition to me in private sessions. His willingness to listen to Jefferson Airplane as a classical musician made me realize that it was possible to span different styles of music in an open-minded way. In college, I was privileged to be a large fish in a small pond. When I finally fell into music as a possible major, I took all the courses I could with the two faculty members who comprised the music faculty. Robert Stewart taught me composition and 20th-century music. He was a brilliant musician and like a father to me. Jim Cook was a wild-man-as-professor, a Juilliard-trained pianist who directed men’s glee club and piano and taught most of the music history. Jim opened my eyes to all the possibilities of music and was a close friend. He had a sense of the zany; he cultivated my sense of humor in music and made me appreciate Frank Zappa. In graduate school, composer Robert Lombardo taught me the appreciation of a sense of line—as only an Italian composer understands. Don Ivey was my mentor in all things, and he confirmed my musical and musicological instincts; following in his steps, I began specializing in Appalachian music and jazz rather than purely ‘art’ music. I became an Americanist. Along the way there were countless others who directed my path and influenced me: composer Russell Wood, remarkable church musician Robert Lodine, and then all those musicians from whom I learned to play informally—traditional musicians like Marion Sumner, Lee Sexton, Clyde Davenport, Rich Kirby, Jean and Edna Ritchie, Don Pedi, Bruce Greene, Homer Ledford, and on and on….
“How can I describe their influence? When one is ready for something—whether one knows it or not—there is often someone at hand with enough power to change your directions or make you recognize and admit what you only suspected. Those are the influences that slowly uncovered layers of my being until I became who I am.”
“I work closely with a community of traditional musicians spread throughout the Appalachian region. I also work closely with colleagues in the university, particularly the musicology division, the Appalachian Studies faculty, the staff of the Little Fine Arts Library, and the community surrounding the Gaines Center. Outside the university, I also collaborate closely with music and community organizations such as Appalshop in Whitesburg and the Hindman Settlement School.
“The hardest part for me is the disparity between what I want to do and what I am capable of doing. I find myself saying yes to so many things that seem wonderful, so many things that I would like to assist with, so many things that would make the world a better place—but then I don’t have enough time to complete the tasks that I have already consented to undertake. I have a substantial amount of writing and research as a senior editor of the new edition of the American Groves Encyclopedia, the book review editor of the Journal of the Society for American Music, president of the South-Central Chapter of the American Musicological Society, and co-editor of the Folk Music in North America series for Scarecrow Press. These are all outside commitments. In addition I have all my university-oriented commitments and teaching. I am also in the ‘un-writing’ or editing stage of a book that I have taken 20-some years to complete on John Jacob Niles, as well as the final production stage of an edition of the Kentucky Harmony and Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony—so there are two books dangling close to completion. The hardest sort of work for me is completion of grants, and I am in pursuit of a large NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] Challenge Grant that is in its third year now.
“As of last year, the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music is a formal part of my teaching/service/research assignment. The center was just an idea for many years, but it became a reality about eight years ago when we acquired the physical space in the Little Fine Arts Library and acquired the Wilcox Collection. Since that time, I have nurtured the center as a labor of love. The center is extraordinary as a collaboration between the College of Fine Arts and the university libraries; both the School of Music and the Little Fine Arts Library have been very supportive.
“I view the center’s mission as twofold: archival/preservation and programmatic. There is the public performance face of the center and there is the more internalized scholarly face. I have developed a very fine traditional music concert series called ‘Appalachia in the Bluegrass’ and have sponsored and hosted various symposia, colloquia, and concerts. The archival aspect has resulted in the acquisition of several wonderful collections, including the John L. Lair Research Collections, the Glenn and Helen Wilcox Collection, the Charles Faber Collection of Recorded Sound, the Temple Adath Israel Centennial Collection, and the WoodSongs Archives—a wonderful ongoing collaboration with the WoodSongs radio program.
“I have been involved with the Niles Center from its beginning to the present. I have been its only employee and its only staff member. I hope to leave it to a new director who will have the firm foundation of wonderful spaces, strong research collections, collection acquisition endowments, and endowed programmatic activities. The center is pretty close to this ideal at present, lacking one critical grant and one bequest to become somewhat self-sustaining. I want to leave the center behind as a testament to one of my favorite maxims: The power that rises from the soil closest to home has the most power to affect us. We need to preserve and celebrate our own music, the music that springs from our own cultural roots.”
“I see very little separation between my work and my life. I am working almost every waking hour, but it is hard to quantify all my activity as work. Even a recreational exercise like watching a film in the evening over dinner becomes work in the way that I observe the soundtrack, which can lead to teaching/research observations or can lead to thesis work by graduate students. Work and pleasure are not mutually exclusive terms, though there is certainly a job hidden in my work (meetings, reports, etc.). So, how many hours do I work a day? I am at school usually four to five days a week and arrive by 6:15 a.m. and leave usually about 5:00 p.m. But this is only a general schedule; I am frequently in town for concerts, jam sessions, and meetings, and many days are actually 16-hour days. My weekends are often flexible, but I do have many musical and work activities that occupy that time.
“A lot of my work time is in my office at the computer, whether at home or in the Library or in the School of Music Building. I am in the classroom very little in terms of actual teaching hours—but these hours are the focus of much work. I am working at the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music in the Fine Arts Library often…. My time spent playing fiddle or singing shape note music is likewise work, but this is more open-ended—out on porches, around bonfires, at square dances, in churches, etc.”
“I greatly rely on my computer. I do much of my work on Microsoft Word, classes are now augmented with PowerPoint, I use e-mail extensively, I use the web a great deal, I rely on print materials from the Little Fine Arts Library, I use a number of Mac products every day: iTunes, iPod, etc. My musical instruments are tools—my fiddle is the one most often out of the case. Homer Ledford once showed me his old pocketknife and said that ‘This is my workshop.’ Like Homer, I find I use my pocketknife daily for a number of small but indispensable jobs.”
“The relationship with people is the most rewarding facet of the job: sharing music with people, sharing in the learning process with students, experiencing little epiphanies each day in the company of other people. It is also very rewarding when one of the long-term projects comes to fruition: when the Niles Gallery is packed for a concert, when a conference convenes and runs smoothly, when a CD is released, when a book is published, when a film appears on KET. The reward is in seeing the tangible product actually appear after much preparation.”
“Preparation for musicology requires a pretty standardized course of study that generally takes the form of a B.A. in music, a master’s degree in music history, and a Ph.D. in musicology. That preparation includes acquiring the ability to perform on an instrument or instruments, play in ensembles, comprehend the theoretical framework of harmony and counterpoint, acquire a background in music history, acquire foreign language competency, familiarize oneself with all forms of research materials, and become acquainted with grant writing and other forms of economic support. There are different branches of musicology that require more specialized training, whether it involves archiving, fieldwork, performance practice, or pedagogical studies.
“There is a certain passion that is essential to driving a person through the long and tortuous path to a position as a musicologist. This is a pretty esoteric job that requires a lot of specialized training. It is not a short path, so you need to burn with desire to transcend all the speed bumps. Understanding why you want to do it, understanding what you hope to contribute to the world, provides meaning and helps you to transcend the trials, such as qualifying exams and preparation of a thesis, and disappointments. To be truly joyous in a job, the job and your life must essentially be the same. You need to really know yourself to know whether you possess the requisite strengths that complement the demands of musicology.
“Imagination, persistence, idealism, creativity, ability to communicate articulately in both written and spoken form, sense of drama and good vocal production, love of music, organizational skills, language facility, ability to read music and ‘hear’ it internally, technological competency, personal warmth and charm, firmly grounded in English writing and editing skills, a liberal outlook and flexible world view, and the ability to make music and perform competently—these are all qualities that would benefit a career in musicology.”
Jennifer Rose: Folk Musician/Educator
Jennifer Rose grew up singing and dancing with her family and community in Berea, Kentucky. While earning a vocal music degree at Berea College, she traveled throughout the United States, Japan, Denmark, and Italy with the Berea College Country Dancers. She has been a full-time performer since 1993, with a busy schedule of national and international concert tours and educational seminars. She has also produced ten solo recordings of traditional music and published two teaching resources for traditional dance. She and her family are featured in the KET series Art to Heart as well as in the Arts Toolkits.
“I grew up surrounded by music. My siblings all play various instruments, and my whole family sings together. I suppose my earliest musical experiences were in church, but the ones I remember best were at home, singing along with my brothers and sister in the family living room or in the car, singing late-night rounds and harmonies on the last leg of a long trip. My family enjoys dancing. I remember bouncing on my mother’s knee when I was very young, watching the dancers at Berea’s street dances or Country Dancer performances and listening to the lilting Irish fiddle tunes or English reels they danced to.
“My parents are not musicians, but all their children are. Mom and Dad continue to be our best critics and strongest supporters in the different fields we’ve entered. My father worked in the administration at Berea College, and my mother was very involved in adult literacy, so education was always a part of life in our family. My uncle John Ramsay gave me my first opportunity to teach on an official level when he recommended me to a local music teacher to help her start an after-school dance group. I was 16 at the time, and by the time I was 20 I was teaching dance in three area schools. My major professor at Berea College was probably one of the greatest influences in my decision to continue with arts education after college. He told me that I had a great voice and a special gift for performance, but ‘If you don’t teach somewhere, a lot of kids are going to really miss out.’ So, as crazy as it makes my life, I have continued to try and balance performance with education in my career.
“The folk musicians who have lived or played in Berea have had the biggest influence on my career because those are the first musical models I had. I remember meeting and hearing Jean Ritchie, Richard Chase, Edna Ritchie Baker, Homer Ledford, John McCutcheon, Malcolm Dalglish, and other very successful folk musicians when I was just a little kid. I loved the music because I was hearing it all the time in the living room and at Berea’s dances. Meeting people who were making that kind of music out in the bigger world was inspiring. I have been able to continue friendships with many of the great musicians I met as a little girl, and I am honored to be involved in the same music with people of such integrity.”
“I don’t work with other musicians as often as I would like, since my concerts are solo performances and my schedule is crazy. The people who book my concerts are often activities directors at recreation facilities or, in the case of my Florida tour, large retirement centers. Concert hall and festival performances are generally booked by the director or someone else on the board or staff, and school bookings are done through the teachers who will be directly involved. Those people become my friends through the process of arranging and completing a successful experience, and I have always enjoyed seeing them again and again over the years.
“I have to keep working to make sure my material stays fresh, and I need to keep creating CDs and other products that appeal to my audiences. The work doesn’t create itself—I have to stay disciplined and current in my field or I could get left behind. It’s hard not to get bogged down in the everyday work of the business and lose track of the creative (and much more fun) side. I’m also away from home a lot. Fortunately my husband and daughters can travel with me, so I don’t have to be away from them so much. But that can get stressful, too—all four of us cooped up in the van or in hotels for weeks at a time! All in all, though, I can’t complain; we have a great life.”
“I am always working. I remember taking a vacation once without an instrument and I felt completely lost. I need music around me nearly as much as I need food. I spend a lot of time now at the computer, working on web site development, communicating with fans and booking contacts, and reading up on new developments in the independent music industry. My year is divided up into predictable yet flexible segments: I do a concert tour in Florida every winter, spend almost all my time in schools as an arts education consultant in the spring, split my time between teacher professional development and concerts in the summer, and perform at quite a few festivals in the fall. Every year or two I take an overseas performance trip as well.”
“I have a collection of folk music books in my personal library, and I often refer to them as I gather ideas for new concert material or recordings. I like to look through them to remind me of songs I may have forgotten about, and I use them as references to make sure I understand the history of each song. I enjoy listening to other folk musicians perform live or on CD. It inspires me to do my best as well. If this question refers to actual ‘tools,’ then I should say I carry a multi-tool with me everywhere, with wire cutters for my steel strings, pliers for things that work themselves loose on my instruments or sound equipment, and screwdrivers for my tuning pegs and other things that I might need to tighten or loosen. Nobody told me that I would need to be a handyman when I became a musician! Luckily, I like that sort of thing.”
“The things I enjoy most about this work are making people happy and helping them understand the value of heritage.”
“I have really appreciated my music degree, even though it didn’t have much to do with the style of music I’m now performing full-time. I learned about the anatomy of the voice and how to best care for it, including correct vocal production that helps me sing safely through minor colds and allergies and will allow me to keep singing well as I get older. I also feel qualified to talk about music with anyone, from classical violinists to Irish fiddlers. I am very glad for my education, and I am also thankful that my family instilled in me an attitude of constant learning so that I became a student of the world and all that’s in it, not just what’s in the classroom.
“Remember that each person you’re looking at has infinite worth and not a single minute is wasted when you’ve spent it investing in others, whether from stage or the whiteboard. Remember that you need to recharge yourself; find out what recharges you and make time for it. Remember that you are part of God’s plan for the world and stay tied into that meaning for your life. Remember to set goals and work toward making them reality. And finally, learn to manage your money—there’s enough stress in any career without adding financial confusion to the picture. Get those things right and reach for the stars!
“The world has changed a lot since I started my career. My first recordings were on cassette, and now I’m considering a completely digital release. A few years ago I did a concert just for Internet viewers. There are incredible possibilities for artists now that didn’t exist when I got started, and I would encourage young artists to take advantage of that. It’s a great era for independent artists! The most important thing is to stay focused and disciplined so that nothing takes you away from your central goal.”
Stacy Yelton: Radio Program Director
Inspired by a lifelong love of music, Stacy Yelton began a career as a radio broadcaster at International Broadcasting School. She has worked in radio since 1981. At WOXY in Oxford, OH, she developed the station’s alternative rock format. She worked as a DJ and music director at WKQQ in Lexington from 1984 to 1989 and as a DJ and news director at WOFX in Cincinnati from 1990 to 1993. After returning to Lexington and WKQQ in 1995, she began working at WUKY, the University of Kentucky’s public radio station, in 1997. For the last ten years she has hosted various programs and served as program director while being named “Lexington’s Best Disc Jockey” in ACE Weekly’s poll. You can hear her weekdays from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. on WUKY’s Adult Rock program, “spinning tunes that make listeners dance, think, laugh, or call the station to ask, ‘Hey, what was that song?’”
“My earliest musical memory is of putting my toddler-sized foot through my parents’ hi-fi record player. It had a ten-inch speaker behind its fabric covering, and I could perch there and reach the spindle and tone arm to play my records. I committed this horrible crime in a rush to play my favorite song, “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas. I was eventually forgiven, though the hi-fi was never repaired.
“When transistor radios made their way to our house, I was hooked. I would strap the radio to my bicycle handlebars and listen as I rode. I sneaked the radio to school in the winter and listened all day long at the community swimming pool in the summer. Once I got my first portable cassette player, I was playing DJ non-stop. Around this time, I was so obsessed with Elton John that my friends called me ‘Yelton John.’ It was also during this time that my infatuation with music turned into deep, true love. I fully realized its power to influence my moods and emotions. Music moves me like nothing else.
“I fell into radio quite accidentally. Coming from a long line of doctors, attorneys, and nurses, I thought I would eventually follow one of those paths. In my mother’s office one day, I was literally in the middle of applying for nursing school when the owner of a broadcasting school walked in. I stopped what I was doing and introduced myself. Born salesman that he was, he told me I had an incredible voice and that I ought to consider broadcasting. The more I thought about getting paid for sitting in a room playing records all day, the more the idea appealed to me. So off I went to broadcasting school. Two weeks after graduation I got my first job, and I never looked back. I’ve been in radio for 26 years now.
“Musicians certainly influenced my career, since it was their work that I so wanted to champion, and still do. I’ve always had a soft spot for local musicians in any city where I’ve worked. There are gifted local people whose work might go unnoticed if not for radio stations that are willing to play their music. One of my favorite things about working at WUKY is how much local music I’m able to program.
“As far as other broadcasters go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the entire air staffs of WSAI in Cincinnati and WAKY in Louisville. The jocks who worked at those stations in the late 1960s and early 1970s were just plain fun to hear. Their energy was amazing.
“The person who inspired me the most was Robin Wood, who did mornings at my favorite rock station in Cincinnati, WEBN, in the 1970s and 1980s. She was smooth, smart, and in love with the music. I remember so well how she insisted on working Christmas morning every year, and how every year she played ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s a powerful song that really resonates in Cincinnati, where the Ohio River so defines the city. I still aspire to Robin’s unique style, though to do this radio bit properly, you need to be yourself, and that’s actually harder than playing a role behind the microphone.”
“Our departments at WUKY include programming, marketing and development, engineering, news, accounting, and operations. As a department head, I work closely with the other managers, as well as my programming staff, who are the people you hear on the air every day. I also work with people at our networks: NPR, PRI, and APM.
“The single biggest challenge now is staying relevant in a world where people have so many ways to receive news, information, and music. Rather than shy away from emerging technologies, we embrace them here. WUKY was the first Lexington radio station to go high-definition. The digital signal is amazingly crisp, and we have the opportunity to stream multiple channels. Last fall, I assembled a very creative team to completely revamp our web site, www.wuky.org. The site now features on-demand audio, podcasts, and our first ever web-only show, Tonic, an arts and music magazine. These are all good things, but they aren’t the heart of what we do. We believe that for radio to survive, it has to be live and local and give its audience things it can’t get from the Internet or satellite radio.”
“I never really stop working. I’m usually at the station for about eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. My time there is a mix of being in the control room when I’m on air; the boardroom during meetings; and at my desk listening to new music, analyzing ratings, or working on our web site. I also work from home when I need solitude and silence to write. People don’t realize how much writing goes on in radio. But before you can say it, you have to type it!”
“My most useful resources are a CD player, a powerful computer to run ratings software and conduct research, and lots of humor.”
“Hearing from listeners and musicians that what we do really matters is the most rewarding aspect of my job. The calls and e-mails from people telling me that the song I played at 9:00 a.m. was the perfect start to their day, the musicians who come in to play and are genuinely grateful that WUKY plays their songs … Those are my day-makers, and the reason I keep showing up.”
“Depending on what you want to do, you may not need a degree. Good disc jockeys don’t necessarily get that way by going to classes. You learn the craft best by doing it, and most of the talent is innate. However, if you want to work at the management level, especially in public radio, you very well may need at least a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications or journalism. There is no mental or physical prep for radio I can recommend, but a sense of humor is absolutely required.
“Program directors may program a news/talk station, a music station, or a mix of both. You need to know your format inside and out and be able to make sense of ratings. You also have to be able to work with your staff, as in any job. Writing skills are a must, as are computer skills. You must be inordinately creative. Oh, and of course have a nice speaking voice and unique personality. Almost anyone in the business will tell you radio is not what they do, it’s who they are. It doesn’t pay well, you can expect to be fired at least once, and technology has taken a lot of the fun and spontaneity out of it. You have to love it, even though it doesn’t always love you back.
“Patience and persistence are musts. Jobs are few and far between, and it’s a hard career to enter. You will most likely have to start at a tiny radio station in a tiny town, and you probably won’t be doing what you want to do there. It’s good to intern at radio stations. It’s a nice way to get a feel for it and meet some broadcast professionals. After that, you may just walk out and apply for medical school! Again, radio is a tough profession, but it is a very rewarding and fun way to make a living and a life.”
Lorne Dechtenberg: Composer
In the spring of 2010, Lorne Dechtenberg, a music student at the University of Kentucky, was hard at work preparing for the performance of his latest composition, The Honeymoon Symphony. Though Dechtenberg had already written and performed many orchestral works, this symphony held a particular importance for the young composer—it served as the final, major work to complete his doctorate in music at UK.
Composer at Work: Lorne Dechtenberg and the Honeymoon Symphony, a four-part series of video segments produced by KET, follows the course of a musician’s creative journey, beginning with gathering the first musical ideas that will become the foundation of the symphony. The series culminates in a performance at the UK Singletary Center for the Arts in Lexington.
Dechtenberg discusses his creative space and process, and provides keen insight into the qualities he believes one needs in order to pursue a career in music. Speaking from his own experiences, he muses on what a prospective musician, music student, and/or composer might expect from working in the world of music.
Part 1 - Writing the Symphony
This segment shows composer Lorne Dechtenberg working in his home studio to create The Honeymoon Symphony. Between sketching out the music on paper and his piano, he discusses his personal creative methods as well as the origins of the symphony.
Part 2 - The Rehearsal Process
This segment shows the first rehearsal of Lorne Dechtenberg’s Honeymoon Symphony. While Dechtenberg leads the Lexington Community Orchestra through the first movement of the symphony, making corrections and suggesting different approaches to the music along the way, he discusses what he hopes to accomplish through the rehearsal process.
Part 3 - The Dress Rehearsal
This segment shows the dress rehearsal of Lorne Dechtenberg’s Honeymoon Symphony. As Dechtenberg and the Lexington Community Orchestra prepare for the performance of Honeymoon Symphony, the composer makes some final corrections to the second movement and offers further guidance concerning the general energy of the music.
Part 4 - The Performance
This segment shows the performance of Lorne Dechtenberg’s Honeymoon Symphony. While Dechtenberg conducts the Lexington Community Orchestra’s performance of the third movement, he discusses his passion for music and examines some important factors one should consider regarding a career in music.