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Meet Rachel Roberts of Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department and New England Conservatory in Back Bay

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Roberts.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Rachel. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I moved to Boston in fall of 2009 to create and launch the Entrepreneurial Musicianship (EM) Department at New England Conservatory (NEC), the first department of its kind among music schools worldwide. Complementing the artistic training provided at NEC, EM aims to equip musicians with the skills necessary to create a life in music. In short, musicians today are their own businesses, and I’ve created and led this program to teach musicians how to manage their ‘business’. It’s been an absolute joy to work with eight (and counting!) classes of musicians at NEC, seeing them progress as students and develop into exceptional and wildly varied careers beyond the walls of school. I also enjoy sharing the EM model with colleagues and schools across the globe as they delve into exploring various educational models of arts entrepreneurship.

Prior to Boston, I worked with orchestras across in the U.S., most recently serving as Director of Strategic Planning Engagement with the Atlanta Symphony where I helped to open a 12,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. My undergraduate training was from the Eastman School of Music, having received a Bachelor of Music in flute performance. Since moving to Boston, I completed my master’s in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, pursuing part-time study (while continuing to lead EM) on a self-designed curricular track to focus on leadership and organizational development.

I continue play flute (and piano!), teach a few music lessons, and am a proud fife member of the Middlesex County Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps. With my twin sister (who lives too far away in Texas!), we’ve formed the Essimar Trio. It’s a great excuse to see each other to perform a few times a year, especially performing new works together over the last few years. In my spare time, I find myself spending time outdoors (running half marathons, hiking mountains, biking, and training for my first triathlon), cooking vegan food, photographing the interesting things of life, and training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’m passionate about getting involved in the community that I live in and have worked with the City of Boston to train over 800 women how to negotiate their salaries. From this work, I’m serving as the first Chapter President for the AAUW Younger Women’s Taskforce in Boston and am excited to be jumping into advocacy work with other passionate women on behalf of our City!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Of course it’s been a smooth road!!

Nothing is life is a smooth road, really. When I look back at the narrative I tell about my career, it makes perfect sense how one job led to another, which led to another. Yet, when I’ve been in the moment in each of those instances, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and a lack of clarity around what REALLY should be happening.

One big struggle along the way has been doubting myself, both in professional and in personal arenas. A lot of my career has been moving jobs for a new position (I’ve lived in Rochester NY, Houston, Atlanta, and Boston). It’s tough to find a new home, a new network of friends, and a new way to fit into life in a new city. As an introvert, it’s hard to put myself out there … and it is something that I continue to work on. I’ve had to gain the confidence to speak up – at work, in social settings, and in life – especially when it matters.

Thru far, I’m better at understanding that the only wrong decision is no decision at all … but at times, I still find myself overthinking the options for which direction to go. At the end of the day, my heart is with learning, caring, and respecting others. There will always be bumps in the road, but I hope to continue learning from them all to have a more well-informed path forward.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department / New England Conservatory – what should we know?
The Entrepreneurial Musicianship (EM) Department at New England Conservatory (NEC) is one of a kind among music schools worldwide. It helps to educate students with the relevant education and mindsets needed to succeed in the music world today. In designing the department, I built each component to be individualized to the needs of each individual students and created all the learning opportunities to be experiential so that students learn through doing. The EM Department has many different initiatives, including a variety of classes, workshops, internships, fellowships, a grant program, and individual advising. Additionally, I’ve worked to build many relationships with faculty throughout the school and am thrilled that our department can integrate and embed some of our work within what is already required in the curriculum.

The EM Department interfaces with 60-70% of the student body yearly. We only have one required class that undergraduates take in their third year, and everything else is by a student’s own choice to participate. Amid overseeing all these activities, my favorite part of this job is the advising and mentoring sessions with students and alumni. These sessions always reveal how incredibly passionate, excited, and innovative they are with their future. It’s such a joy to help guide those processes on an individual level and see them take shape in so many ways, both at school and as alumni.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Loads of people have helped along the way! My family has been the biggest support of all – mom, dad, and twin sister Sarah. They’ve always encouraged me to follow the crazy-turned-real dreams, no matter how big or how small.

I’ve had many teachers and colleagues at the places I’ve studied and the organizations that I’ve worked for … too many to list here. But every single one has been incredibly generous with his/her time, with his/her mentorship, and with seeing the potential within me (especially when I doubted myself!) to give me an opportunity to make a difference. I also must give credit to a few close friends and confidants that I’m able to call anytime to chat about anything. This close network is an unbelievable resource, and able to lend an open ear or offer an objective opinion when I need it the most.

Lastly, but certainly not least, the other talented members of the EM team past and present deserve credit for making the EM Department great! Eva, Maria, Tim, Drew, and Annie, along with the awesome Work Study students we have every year. This department (and our work serving students) would be what it is today without each of your insights and perspectives that you’ve willingly shared with so many.

Thanks to everyone along this journey!!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Headshot pic credit: Erin Roberts

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