The Road Unexpectedly Taken

By: Edna Landau

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It is no secret that a large number of today’s most successful arts administrators in music at one point studied an instrument, voice, conducting or composition but moved on in a different direction that was inspired by their earlier experience. Not one of the many individuals I know made this choice out of feelings of inadequacy or, even worse, failure, yet it is still comparatively rare for music school or conservatory students to be exposed to their stories and the joy they experience in their current careers. I have chosen to spotlight two such individuals whose current occupations hearken back to defining moments in their younger lives.

Shauna Quill, Executive Director of the New York Youth Symphony, is a shining example of someone who has leveraged a multiplicity of skills to serve with distinction in each of the positions she has occupied in the music industry. I first met Shauna when she was Associate Artistic Administrator at the Aspen Music Festival and School. (She later moved into the Artistic Administrator position.) We were also in touch when she became Executive Director of University of Chicago Presents, where highlights of her tenure (2007-2011) were the UCP’s first-ever music festival, dedicated to Olivier Messiaen, and “The Soviet Arts Experience”, a sixteen month interdisciplinary celebration of artists’ responses to the Politburo, which she conceived of and spearheaded and which involved 25 Chicago arts organizations. In September 2011, she may have surprised some people when she accepted the position of Executive Director of the New York Youth Symphony. My own curiosity about this prompted me to invite Shauna to lunch, at which time the impetus for her move became clearer.

Before joining the work force, Shauna Quill was a flutist who studied for a year at Columbia University and then transferred to Carnegie Mellon University, where she studied with Julius Baker and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Music Performance with University Honors. While in Pittsburgh, she rehearsed and performed in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony every Sunday for three years. She spoke very movingly of what it was like to play in Heinz Hall, have sectional rehearsals with Pittsburgh Symphony players, and even to use their music stands or a stray pencil left behind. The PYS created a sense of community during her college years and she still has good friends from those days. Shauna’s original plan was to obtain a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon but after experiencing four years of performance-related injuries, she decided against it. Her first jobs were as a paralegal, and then as an artist and publicity manager with Herbert H. Breslin, Inc.  When the New York Youth Symphony position opened up in 2011, Shauna saw an opportunity for a more balanced personal life than she had in Chicago, with the possibility of spending greater time with her husband and two young children. She had warm recollections of spending six months in the NYYS Chamber Program while a student at Columbia University. Today the symphony offers tuition free participation in five programs (orchestra, chamber music, composition, conducting and jazz) to its players who are between the ages of 12 and 22. It has over 5000 alumni, five of whom are currently trustees. Each of the NYYS’s orchestra programs at Carnegie Hall and Queens College every season includes a world premiere of a work written by a composer participating in the symphony’s First Music Program. To this wonderful initiative, Shauna has added a program of hour-long workshops after select orchestra rehearsals on topics such as Careers in the Arts, Preparing for Auditions, and Alexander Technique which are open to participants in all of the NYYS programs, as well as their parents. She explained to me that in her view “the goal of the youth orchestra experience is to create musical citizens, not future conservatory students.” She wants the orchestra to offer them resources for making future decisions and to ensure that music will be part of their lives forever. It would seem that this goal should be 100% attainable with such a caring and inspired leader at the helm and the thrill of the NYSS’s program participants’ own experiences, performing in such august venues as Carnegie Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Composer Bill Holab, owner of Bill Holab Music, never envisioned running his own business. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, he pursued a double major in English Language and Literature and in Music Composition. He subsequently took classes at Juilliard and studied composition with David Diamond. At Juilliard, he saw an ad on the bulletin board for a part-time draftsperson with musical knowledge. He got the position and simultaneously continued to compose. His career path led him to various publishing houses where he learned about engraving, a skill which he wanted to have as a composer. By the time he started working at G. Schirmer as Senior Editor, he was growing increasingly frustrated with the constant need to promote himself as a composer in order to attract commissions and performances of his music. When he left Schirmer ten years later (where he had advanced to Director of Publications), he decided to devote all of his time to engraving and typesetting music books for publishers and composers. Two years later, he was approached by composer Osvaldo Golijov, who had left his publisher, to see if he would handle his rentals and sales. The answer was initially negative but Mr. Golijov twisted Holab’s arm. This marked the birth of Bill Holab Music. Fortunately for the new enterprise, Mr. Golijov’s career virtually exploded just at that time. Holab really took to the work and found it to be a nice complement to all the production work he was doing as an engraver. His efforts were noticed by other composers and before long his little company grew considerably larger than he had ever anticipated. He was surprised to discover that although he dreaded having to hustle his own music, he loved being a publishing agent for other composers. Today, he lists twenty-four composers on his website, to whom he offers an array of services, including engraving (now in the form of computer-based note setting that is expertly laid out, based on many years of experience).  He calls the individual composer pages on his website “passive promotion” as they are not the primary focus of his efforts, although they are undeniably important. He also gives generously of his time to participating in workshops for young composers.

What sets Bill Holab apart from some publishing companies, who provide some of the same services, is that he doesn’t assume any of the composer’s copyright ownership. He is happy to work alongside a manager or attorney and handle commissioning agreements and grand rights if one of them doesn’t. All of his services are offered with meticulous attention to detail and a strong desire to protect the composer’s rights in all situations. I contacted two of his clients – Michael Torke and Kevin Puts – both of whom had nothing but praise for their collaboration with him. Mr. Torke wrote: “I left a major international publishing company to work with Bill Holab in 2004. He harkens back to the age of 19th century publishing, like Jurgenson was to Tchaikovsky, offering tremendous personal service and loyalty.” Kevin Puts commented: “Bill manages everything in my catalog with absolute professionalism. He has proven a trusted advisor for things from the mundane (layout of scores and parts, practical issues of scoring) to the artistic. I value our relationship highly.” Bill told me that it is his own background as a composer (he still finds a little time to write a few new works) that he feels makes him empathetic to his clients’ needs and able to successfully represent them. He loves the turn that his life has taken and finds tremendous fulfillment in his work each and every day.

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© Edna Landau 2013

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