How to convert onstage talents to offstage career
By L.M. Sixel / Houston Chronicle
Trevor Young hasn’t graduated with a music degree yet, but he already knows he’s not likely to get a job playing with a top orchestra.
“It’s like becoming a rock star,” says Young, who plays the bass and will be a senior this fall at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
“The top 1 percent of musicians get top orchestra jobs,’’ he says. “You have to be almost the absolute best.”
While Young loves music, he’s also thinking about his desire to tackle big projects. And that means thinking about fine arts-related career options that will let him explore that “big picture” part of his personality.
Like many budding musicians, Young is trying to sort out his career plans. He spent a recent afternoon at a career seminar as part of the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival. The monthlong program at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston included plenty of instruction and performance time.
But it also included advice to the up-and-coming musicians on how they can use their well-honed musical talent to shift into related careers.
Agnieszka Rakhmatullaev, for example, is a violinist. While she still teaches and performs, she has shifted her career into arts management as the development officer of institutional giving for the Houston Symphony.
Rakhmatullaev told the students during a panel discussion that her technical skills have helped smooth the path from performing to her role offstage. She has been planning her management career carefully and eventually hopes to be the executive director of an arts organization. To get there, she has amassed a series of progressive skills.
Rakhmatullaev has worked in planning, operations, education and outreach, but she says the missing link was development, which led her to take on her current duties.
“You have to be able to ask for money, whether directly or indirectly,” she says.
That is a skill apparently in big demand.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the demand for fundraisers is projected to grow 17 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average occupation growth rate of 11 percent.
The handbook also reported that the median annual wage for fundraisers was $50,680 in May 2012.
Chase Cobb, education and outreach manager for the Houston Ballet, encouraged the students to sign up for a variety of volunteer opportunities and internships while they’re in college to sample what’s available in the fine arts.
“You have to try different things,” says Cobb, who plays the viola and opted to use the skills he developed in college giving music lessons. He initially thought of fundraising but ultimately wound up in education and outreach.
‘A grasp of finances’
Young already has two internships in marketing on his résumé. He’s hoping to parlay the communication skills he learned to work in marketing or fundraising for a music nonprofit.
“I want to branch out while I’m still a valuable asset to music,” Young says.
Cobb also urged the students to take advantage of business-related courses in college so they feel comfortable with income statements, balance sheets and other important financial details of running an arts organization.
“I didn’t have that good of a grasp of finances,” Cobb says, recalling how he was convinced he was going to fail on the first day of class. It was a struggle, but now he’s glad he can talk the same language as accountants and financial officers.
Boards expect arts administrators to be knowledgeable about money, Cobb says.
Rakhmatullaev agrees, saying that to be part of the budget process, “you have to get out of your comfort zone.”
One student asked Rakhmatullaev how she balanced her day-to-day management responsibilities with her love of music.
“It was hard in the beginning,” Rakhmatullaev says.
While she no longer has five hours a day to practice like she used to, Rakhmatullaev still plays the violin.
She has had to come to grips with the fact that she can’t reach the high standards she once set for herself.
“I realized I can do greater things offstage than onstage,” she says.