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MA Top 30 Professional of the Year: Rod Vester
By Zachary Lewis
December 7, 2021

Director of Contemporary Music; Assistant Professor
Shenandoah University Conservatory

Rod Vester made a tough but sound decision during the pandemic summer of 2020. In the name of safety, the former director of the Memphis nonprofit PRIZM Ensemble called off the group’s in-person Summer Music Camp and International Chamber Music Festival, its biggest event of the year.

He wasn’t about to let the musical youth of Memphis flounder, however, especially since many, from diverse backgrounds, had been counting on the camp and were newcomers to classical music. Instead, and in response to the growing awareness of social justice issues, Vester launched a remote course in musical activism, technology, and production called “Music Video Recording for Social Media.”

The course, which covered the basics of recording and sharing music on social media and other platforms, now appears destined for a life far beyond the pandemic. Though Vester has since moved on from PRIZM, “Music Video Recording…” is now embedded in the curriculum. He also hosts a YouTube channel dedicated to music and technology and has a published A Musician’s Guide to Creating Multiple Streams of Income on his website. 

“Musicians just did not know how to navigate technology, in a sense,” Vester said when he launched his YouTube channel. “So many people in general are wanting to know, how can I use music to enact positive change in some type of way… I see that as being something that we will continue.”

The keyboard artist and gospel scholar was recently named director of contemporary music and assistant professor of music at Shenandoah University Conservatory in Virginia.

The shift isn’t as dramatic as it sounds. At PRIZM, which seeks to fill the music gap in public schools, Vester applied his degrees in music education, psychology, and counseling. At Shenandoah, he’ll add his degree in musicology and his long experience as a piano accompanist, producer, and arranger on over 30 albums. He’s also since joined Sphinx LEAD, a two-year fellowship program for aspiring arts leaders organized by the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization.

Vester’s push for a diverse, equitable world of classical music will always be a priority. “If you choose to ignore diversity and inclusion,” he wrote in a recent issue of Chamber Music magazine, “you will squander your competitive stance in the world. You will stand idly by as the world moves forward without you.”


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