How to start a career in music- Adam Reifsteck Interview- Part 1

Adam Reifsteck  has been one of my closest friends since we met at Western Michigan University where we did our masters. He is now the membership manager at Chamber Music America, and  we often talk about the music world and what it takes for young artists to make it nowadays. Because I always find what Adam has to say very interesting and accurate, I thought you guys would too!
Geraldine: Can you tell us a little bit about you and your musical background?
Adam: I have my bachelor’s from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, in music technology, and a master’s in composition from Western Michigan University, not focused in electronic music, but more on the “traditional” writing for chamber music and choral music.

That was nice because I had the technology background and the master’s program allowed me to focus on the craft, the music behind the music if you will. Then it eventually turned into an almost full-time job when I became the director of contemporary music at Saint Catherine of Siena Church in Portage, MI, while completing my master’s degree.

Geraldine: How did your job at St Catherine relate with your background as a composer?
Adam: I had the opportunity to write music while working there, writing different psalms settings to be used in worship, and writing worship music. It helped me experiment with writing more accessible music instead of more experimental music.

Taking what I’ve learned from song writing and what I’ve learned from the craft of composition and merging the two together led to what I’m writing now which is combining popular elements with more traditional writing, as well as incorporating electronic elements.

" Be true to the art form 
while making it marketable"

My goal is to write music that is accessible to the average music enthusiast. I don’t want to alienate audiences with the avant-garde, and I don’t want to dummy down the music either, so I want to be true to the art form while making it marketable and presentable. Consumable is the word I guess, because we live in a consumerist world. It’s not just art now, it’s a product. But you don’t want to lose sight of the art form either. How you bridge the two together is the ultimate question.

Geraldine: So you’re working at St Catherine and then what happened?
Adam: I started a concert series at St Catherine, a program called Sienna Arts. The intent was to have a concert series at the church that celebrates concert music of all faiths and traditions. It was a great experience where I started to be involved with arts administration, grant writing, coming up with programming ideas and booking artists and working with contracts and rentals and that kind of things. Investigating, doing things on my own, and learning from trying things was the best way for me to discover how to be an arts administrator.

While I was doing that I was recording my first album. I applied for a grant through the Kalamazoo Arts Council, the Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant, and I got that grant to record three of my compositions and that was released as my first commercial album.

"You have to be an entrepreneur"
So really, I think what it means to be a composer these days is you own your own business, you have to be an entrepreneur. You’re not just confined to writing in your studio, you’re managing projects; you’re coming up with ideas on how to collaborate with people, looking at different ways to integrate all aspects of arts. It’s more of you being connected with the performers, the founders, and the people making the project happen.  It’s more than “I write a piece and that’s it.” You’re more directly involved with the process of creation to presentation, it becomes a group effort. That’s what the most rewarding for me—to be part of a project where everybody come together to create something new and exciting.

Geraldine: You’re saying that in some ways being a composer in our days is like being an arts administrator of your own work. Is that how you ended up working at Chamber Music America?
Adam: Absolutely. I don’t want to label myself, but I sort of am a chamber music composer, that’s what I write. What better way to get to know the field and the musicians I write for than to work for a national service organization for the ensemble music profession, and learn the business side of chamber music.

"Nobody tells you how to 
make things happen"

They don’t teach that in school—they only give you the tools to create your art. You get training in theory and composition, musicianship, etc. Nobody tells you how to make things happen, you have to figure it out yourself and the way to find opportunities for me to be a composer is to be an administrator in the arts.

That’s how projects happen: you get to see what other people are doing; you get to be involved with the administration side of the arts, and see how projects are created and seen through. I felt it was a natural segue for me to be in the position where I am now at CMA, where I am helping other musicians finding the resources that they need to make their visions come true.

Geraldine: What is your job at CMA?
Adam: I’m the membership manager, which means that my primary role is to retain and acquire members for this national organization. Since it is a membership and a service organization, I try to sell membership, because it’s the membership that helps support a lot of our programs, and as a member you get benefits in return.

Geraldine: It’s helping people help themselves.
Adam: Exactly!


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