Where Music Meets Leadership

When Rachel Roberts, Associate Professor of Music Leadership at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, was a student at Eastman herself more than two decades ago, she visualized her future much differently. She recalls, “I came to Eastman as a flute performance major thinking, ‘I’m going to be the piccoloist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra!’”

Early on in her performance career, Roberts faced a struggle that hits many young musicians: the constant stress and financial strain of living life one audition to the next. While walking the halls of Eastman, Roberts saw a flyer promoting the school’s then-new Arts Leadership Program and realized that working behind-the-scenes in the music industry might be her true calling. “I’ve been doing this type of work for years. I helped run community bands since junior high and later with high school bands,” Roberts says. “I love that back side and connection with people.”

After she became involved with the Arts Leadership Program (ALP), a whole new world opened up to her. Roberts took multiple jobs and internships, including working for Eastman’s public relations department, interning in orchestra management for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and planning the grand opening for an outdoor amphitheater in Atlanta.

past and present directors and co-directors at Eastman
Past and present Institute for Music Leadership directors and assistant directors: (from left to right) Dr. Blaire Koerner, Leslie Scatterday, Jim Doser and Rachel Roberts.

According to Roberts, the skills she learned as a performance major went hand in hand with the skills she needed on the administrative side. “As a musician, you look at a piece of music and break it down. You work in sections, you understand the whole scope of the score that’s underneath,” she says. “That’s what planning the grand opening was like. We started at the end with the grand opening, then broke down the steps to get there. ‘Who are the community partners?’ ‘What is the budget?’ It’s the same abilities applied in a different medium, behind the stage.”

This journey ultimately led Roberts back to where she started: Eastman School of Music, where she is now Director of the Institute for Music Leadership (IML), which has been a staple of music education at Eastman since the founding of the Arts Leadership Program back in 1996. The program focuses on career development within the music industry, and it encourages students to develop a productive mindset and look at the bigger picture behind every music performance. “You can learn as many skills as possible,” says Roberts. “But the bigger piece is the mindset of how you approach opportunities, how you approach your career.”

an Eastman student watches a performance at Rochester Philharmonic. performance
Joyce Tseng supported the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s education department in bringing in over 9,000 students from local schools for an interactive experience.

50 Years in the Making

The Arts Leadership Certificate Program is currently in its 27th year, and the IML itself was officially founded in 2001. However, according to Roberts, the foundational ideas behind this leadership program have been in the works for nearly 50 years.

In Roberts’ office sits a binder from the 1970s, filled with papers from Eastman’s first Business of Music class, which was taught by jazz trombonist Rayburn Wright. “These conversations about entrepreneurship have been going on for a long time at the school,” Roberts says.

Even the school’s name itself honors a famous entrepreneur, George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company, who also funded the creation of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. “It fits that Eastman has this lens, given George Eastman’s history,” Roberts says. “These conversations were happening through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”

In the 1990s, Dean James Undercofler decided to officially launch the Arts Leadership Program. “Since the IML began, it’s continued to develop [and] provide professional opportunities to musicians both on and off the stage,” Roberts says.

student standing in Metropolitan Opera
Noah Sesling used the special opportunity grant (offered to ALP students and alumni two years after graduation) to intern with the Metropolitan Opera in Fall of 2022.

A Practical Performance Mindset

“On and off the stage” is a key phrase in the IML’s philosophy, which aims to develop not only students’ performance abilities but also their knowledge of the entrepreneurial side of music. “Do you see where you can fill a niche? How can you innovate and be creative there? It’s the mindset of self-efficacy,” Roberts says. “It’s thinking like an entrepreneur, having that creative and innovative lens through which you see musical possibilities.”

As a result of this mission statement, the IML features a variety of practical classes beyond performance, which include grant writing, music health and wellness, auditioning strategies and career preparation. Currently, the IML has two levels of music marketing classes: an introductory course and an advanced class that breaks down specialized marketing concepts.

Auditioning classes regularly welcome guests. “We bring in faculty members to help explain how to separate from the music side,” Roberts says. “They delve into the mindset of preparation you need to be successful in any type of audition.”

The certificate in Arts Leadership requires students to complete four credits of Arts Leadership courses, two semesters of internships, and participate in one special event like a performance or a guest visit.

What makes this certificate unique is its accessibility. “The Arts Leadership courses are free for anyone to attend at Eastman,” Roberts says. “The certificate is available for any student at Eastman — undergrad, master’s, Ph.D., anyone.”

performance at International Women's Brass Conference
Student Isabella Lau attended the International Women’s Brass Conference at the University of North Texas in 2022.

Benefits of a Balanced Education

Because Roberts herself was among the first classes of students to participate in the IML during her undergraduate years, she can attest to the benefits of the balanced education it offers. “I love that the IML provides a menu of offerings to choose from,” she says. “You can dip your toe in, or you can dive in, such as with the Arts Leadership certificate.”

According to Roberts, one of the advantages of completing the entire Arts Leadership certificate, rather than just taking a few IML courses on the side, is the depth of commitment the program encourages. “In earning this certificate, it shows a true focus to understanding a different side of the music industry,” Roberts says. “Individuals often come to Eastman solely to study performance. This work, through the certificate, immerses students in what it means to be in the music business today, working alongside mentors, colleagues, leaders and supervisors at an internship.”

This past summer, Eastman’s website launched a page called Alumni Journeys, which details the success stories of the school’s alumni, both in the Arts Leadership Program Certificate and in the master’s program in Music Leadership. “We have close to 500 alumni now,” Roberts says.

At its core, the IML pushes students to question and refine their career goals and definitions of personal and professional success. “It asks the individual to think, ‘What skills do I want to develop? What are the directions I can go?’ It asks the students to think critically about leadership — their own leadership, leadership in the industry and how they fit in,” Roberts says. “It goes back to that mindset of creativity, of being an entrepreneur, of developing that resilience [and not being] afraid to create your own path.”

four students with percussion ensemble
Sammy DeAngelis (second from left) used the special opportunity grant in Summer 2023 to create professional materials and recordings for his percussion ensemble in preparation of a tour.

What’s Next?

As the IML continues to evolve, Eastman is adding more programs for students interested in the intersection of music and business. In addition to the IML and the Arts Leadership certificate, Eastman also hosts a leadership conference, a three-day intensive program in June that will enhance a person’s leadership effectiveness.

In September 2023, Eastman launched a program targeted at a new demographic: high school students. The Eastman Leadership Development Retreat was open to high school students throughout the Rochester area. “It’s been this natural evolution of ways to continue providing leadership development opportunities for musicians, in ways that are relevant to the industry right now,” Roberts says.

Overall, Roberts is proud of how the IML has evolved during the past two decades and the variety of programs it continues to develop. “The IML is really a gem here at Eastman,” she says. “It’s a joy to look back at all the amazing work that’s happened with the leaders of our school.”

Eastman School of Music is one of 10 distinguished colleges and universities selected to be part of the inaugural Yamaha Institution of Excellence program, which recognizes extraordinary commitment to innovation in the study of music. The Yamaha Institutions of Excellence were chosen for their dedication to providing unique and challenging experiences to music students through diversity of thought and curriculum. They are also recognized for exposing students to a wider variety of voices and opportunities and preparing them for the modern world of music.


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