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Arts & Culture

Eighth Blackbird Guides MSU Students Through 21st Century Career

Lam-Kaplan.jpg
Jamie Paisley
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Yvonne Lam, Dan Qiao, Lisa Kaplan, and Yu Han in an Eighth Blackbird Masterclass at MSU's Cook Recital Hall

This week, the MSU College of Music welcomes the four-time Grammy winning ensemble Eighth Blackbird to campus for a few days of masterclasses and a final concert Wednesday evening. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley caught up with a couple of members from the group during one of these masterclasses.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in Cook Recital Hall on the MSU Campus. College of Music students Dan Qiao and Yu Han play the opening to the Viola Sonata in f-minor by Johannes Brahms while Lisa Kaplan and Yvonne Lam listen in and make some adjustments, including telling pianist Han "....this is cheesy, but it's a little bit too tame. Try it one more time." Han gives it another try and Kaplan's response, "Yeah, that's better! That's better. I mean, for me it's not enough yet, but maybe I'm the only one who wants more." The group laughs at this quip highlighting that music is a subjective art.

[T]hey are sort of, some of the founding members of the new frontier of what it means to have a career in music today - MSU College of Music's Christine Beamer

Kaplan and Lam are members of the Grammy-winning chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird and are on campus as part of the inaugural Entrepreneurial Musical Artist in Residence program at the College of Music, a program backed by a $750k gift from the MSU Federal Credit Union, and is directed by Christine Beamer. I asked Beamer about that tricky word in the program: "Entrepreneurial" and how that applies to Eighth Blackbird. 

"When they were forming," explains Beamer "it was very rare, I would say, a path that was not teaching or performing in a large ensemble. And over the course of the past 2 decades, they've really been at the forefront of having new voices of come to the fore. They've been at the forefront of defining 'What does it mean to perform?' That's really why I really wanted them to launch this, because they are, sort of, some of the founding members of the new frontier of what it means to have a career in music today."

what I think musicians struggle with is viewing themselves as almost like as a product, right? And being able to look at yourself objectively and not just as a tortured artist. - Eighth Blackbird's Yvonne Lam

"I think every musican has to be an entrepreneur." says Eighth Blackbird’s Yvonne Lam. "Any musician that you see that's out there freelancing, gigging, whether you're in orchestra, you kind of are your own business and so viewing it that way, instead of something separate, I think is the way that we sort of preach entrepreneurship. You know, a lot of what I think musicians struggle with is viewing themselves as almost like as a product, right? And being able to look at yourself objectively and not just as a tortured artist. But as something- as somebody who has something to offer that people will then pay you for."

While established now as headlining Chamber Music specialists, for Eighth Blackbird’s Lisa Kaplan, the contemporary focus of the group had plenty of early struggles for them.

With this program, in particular, we were trying to represent often under-represented composers - Eighth Blackbird's Lisa Kaplan

"I remember, you know, talking to presenters early on and they would say, 'well, you have to play music by contemporary composers that people know.' And I was like, okay, well, they know Philip Glass, John Adams, and Steve Reich, and that's about it." laughs Kaplan. "I mean, this was 20 years ago. But it's a little bit better but not that much. With this program, in particular, we were trying to represent often under-represented composers, you know? That was a part of it. And we also tried to represent these young composers like Nina Shekhar, Fjola Evans, you know that was just kind of getting their feet wet and you know, trying to make a living for themselves."

Eighth Blackbird, the MSU College of Music’s inaugural Entrepreneurial Musical Artist in Residence have a final concert at MSU’s Fairchild Theatre Wednesday evening, starting at 7:30pm. More information about the program and the concert is at Music.MSU.edu

Note: The MSU College of Music is an Underwriter of WKAR.
Masterclass audio thanks to MSU College of Music's Jen Shangraw & Steve Boughton.

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