Music students get a running start on their entrepreneurial ideas
Live Pitch event reveals pilot programs, new products and new music
Developing prototypes, creating pilot programs, and diving into new products are not always terms associated with musicians. But since today’s musician often needs to be multifaceted to succeed, students in the College of Music are rising to that challenge.
As it has for the past six years, the College of Music’s Running Start program held its annual competition, this being the third year in which music students applied for the chance to live pitch their ideas to a panel of experts. It was a cold Sunday in late January when eight finalists presented their ideas in Hart Recital Hall, but the warm response from community partners like the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), the MSU Federal Credit Union, MSU Broad College of Business, Cynthia Kay & Company Media Production, and others in attendance made it an exciting step forward for the students.
“It’s energizing to know that people in the community not only care about but want to tangibly help guide creative ideas from their inception into an actual product,” said Natalie Law, a masters student in bassoon performance.
Law’s pitch centered on her idea to create a beginning bassoon system that would make learning the instrument less frustrating and more enjoyable. She took first place in the Live Pitch competition this year, earning $2,500 plus a $500 “people’s choice” award.
Over the next six months, the MSU community may see Law’s and other student’s innovative ideas start popping up in the community. Law’s idea is to create a new product, and the same is true for percussion junior Nicole Bouwkamp who plans to build an electrified vibraphone, giving it a range of effects for gigging musicians who don’t want to be limited to acoustic performance techniques.
Other ideas presented this year involve new partnerships, such as percussion doctoral candidate Kathryn Irwin’s effort to raise awareness and understanding of bipolar disorder through the performance of a commissioned percussion piece at high schools and music conservatories. The five movement work by Joe W. Moore III called "is this madness?" premiered on March 7, 2018 at the University of Central Missouri, and performances will take place at Portland High School in March and Albion College in April.
Emily Roberts, meanwhile, is developing sensory-friendly concerts. Roberts, a graduate student in flute performance, is a board-certified music therapist, and she sees an opportunity to combine her skills in a way that will benefit people with special needs in the community. The first concert will be held on April 17 as a service to students of the Clinton County Regional Educational Service Agency as well as individuals who participate in music therapy at the MSU Community Music School.
“As a music therapist, I’ve worked with special needs individuals, and I have always wanted to bridge the gap between that and the performance side of my life,” Roberts said. “I think creating this concert series will allow me to do that. I hope that the ‘Sensory Friendly Spartan’ concert series will be a long-lasting resource for getting music out to those who need it the most.”
Finally, as one might expect, College of Music students are bursting with ideas about creating new music. Novus New Music, the brainchild of doctoral performance students Connor Mikula and Jeffrey Leung, is an established nonprofit, sponsoring concerts and music lessons in Flint, Michigan, and providing funding for commissions. Their proposal during the Live Pitch event was for the commission and performance of saxophone works that highlight the importance of women’s perspective in music. The project will feature commissions of women composers, interviews, and performances by women. Already they have received commitments from composers Shelley Washington and Karalyn Schubring to write pieces for them which will feature Grace Gelpi, a junior majoring in music education and performance.
Other new music pitches included an opera workshop and performance led by composition and theory graduate student Evan L. Snyder in partnership with Detroit-based opera company Opera MODO, and an album release of Peruvian music by jazz trumpet graduate student Walter Cano. Contemporary music ensemble The ___ Experiment, made up of undergraduate students Natalie Pate on harp and Michelle Myers on clarinet, along with Bowling Green State University student Andrew Hosler on saxophone, plan to bring their unique instrumentation into the studio to record a new album.
“Our instrumentation unique, and as a result, all our music must be commissioned,” explained Myers of The ___ Experiment. “We aspire to record a studio album to demonstrate the work of a variety of up-and-coming composers. We would also like to inspire high school students to start their own unique ensembles.”
Thanks to the Running Start Live Pitch sponsor partners, each of these new ideas received some level of funding to help the students get their ideas off the ground. The students are now working with mentors and putting their projects in motion—several with the support of the MSU Hatch, the entrepreneurial incubator open to all MSU graduate and undergraduate students.
“The creativity that music students have displayed in their proposals has continued to impress our judges every year,” explained College of Music Director of Career Services and Music Entrepreneurship Christine Beamer, the coordinator of the Live Pitch event. “More importantly, these initiatives have helped students try out their entrepreneurial ideas in a safe space, allowing them to develop their ideas in conjunction with their musical and professional growth. Tia Harvey and Chelsea Koziatek’s Consuming Arts Project, Alex Smith’s sustainable marimba business, and the Circulo Trio, for example – these things have kept going or have become critical aspects of the growth of these students as artists.”
A result of the recurring Running Start Competition is a growing number of community-focused and interdisciplinary musicians. Ongoing partnerships have increased as well, with groups like LEAP now working with professors at the College of Music, like Assistant Professor Marcie Ray, to create ideation challenges where students practice an entrepreneurial mindset on real case studies in their classes.
“As students explore their ideas, they find themselves at various times in the ideation, prototype, pilot or growth phase of development,” Beamer explained. “This is where community partners and mentorship from faculty and staff become critical in helping the students through each phase. It truly does take a village, and we’re proud that our College of Music students have embraced the challenge.”