How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Arthur Rubenstein's apocryphal reply was "Practice, practice, practice." In that spirit, Carnegie Hall has developed the Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange, a place for young musicians to connect with peers, share performances and compositions globally, and join creative projects led by professional artists from Carnegie Hall in a free online community. This community offers budding musicians new ways to learn and grow as an artist, establishing a dialogue with peers who share a passion for music and the desire to learn about cultures from around the world.

We spoke with Christopher Amos, Director of Educational Media and Technology with Carnegie Hall's Wiell Music Institute about this great program and the community behind it.

Tell us a bit about Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange.

Musical Exchange is Carnegie Hall’s free online community for young musicians, ages 13-25. It’s a place for young musicians from around the world to share their music, and to connect with peers and professional artists. The community is open to students at all levels, and across a wide range of musical genres, from classical and jazz to singer songwriters and performers of traditional music from around the world.

What has been your biggest challenge with starting to cultivate an online community? 

Getting young musicians to open up to one another, especially to share their own work and to comment on each other’s work, can be challenging. We address this by offering creative projects and giving students other “prompts” to which they can respond. This provides a structure within which the students can create new work and communicate with one another; and their investment in project-based work often opens the door to deeper engagement and dialogue with their peers.

Because our community covers a wide range of musical interests, it is also challenging to help new members get oriented to the community. Our community managers from Metaverse Mod Squad work very hard to welcome new members, to help them find their “place” in the community, and to connect each new member with a group of peers who have similar musical interests.

The Teen Ambassadors program is something pretty unique to Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange. In addition to getting the online recognition of being an outstanding member of the community, Ambassadors get access to Carnegie Hall staff and artists. How did the Teen Ambassadors program come about?

We developed the Teen Ambassadors program because we are very interested in cultivating peer leadership opportunities within the Musical Exchange community. The Teen Ambassadors program gives us a way to identify students who are natural leaders, and we invite them to take on a special role in leading and mentoring their peers on Musical Exchange.

In our Musical Theater group, for example, the Ambassadors are getting ready to interview professional artists who are currently starring in Broadway productions. The ambassadors have asked the community to help them come up with the interview questions; they’ll videotape the interviews and post the responses on Musical Exchange. The students are working with their peers to come up with ideas about what they want to learn from successful artists who are working in musical theater today, and to gather that information for the community.  Of course, our professional artists also play a role in making these opportunities possible.  In this case, Leslie Stifelman, who is the music director and conductor of the hit musical Chicago on Broadway is helping to make it possible for the students to get access to these artists, but from that point forward, the students are taking charge of their own learning.

Just a quick look through the video section shows that there’s a huge amount of talent in the community. Do your members come back to you with success stories?

Yes! We’re lucky to have such talented students in our community, and we’re always thrilled to hear about their success stories and experiences, whether it’s being invited to audition for a Broadway show, getting accepted to a prestigious summer festival, or just meeting up with other Musical Exchange members in person to attend a concert.

The Projects that you organize offer young musicians some amazing opportunities and learning experiences. What goes into planning one of your Projects?

We look for two key elements in designing a project for Musical Exchange. First, we look at the learning experience. We design the projects around activities that can genuinely contribute to the musical development of the students in our community. Second, we want to create opportunities that are unique or not readily accessible to most students in their local communities. This could mean giving them access to artists who have major careers, or to opportunities to have their music played by professional artists. For example, in our recent Film Score project, young composers received feedback from a professional composer working in TV and film, and one student was selected to receive a studio recording session, where his original score will be recorded by professional musicians.

Our current Songwriter Search project is another example. We are collaborating with the Rock School Scholarship Fund and the Casterbridge Music Development Academy to create an opportunity for young songwriters in the US and South Africa to work with each other and with feedback from professional songwriters, first online through Musical Exchange, and then in person, at the Route 40 Music Festival in South Africa this December. As part of the application process, young songwriters will have a chance to get their music heard by some fantastic professional songwriters, including Dave Matthews, Vusi Mahlasela, Holly Knight, Wayne Kramer, Vicki Peterson, Kay Hanley, and others. 

How do you think artists and musicians are adapting to the digital environment?

Young artists embrace digital media as a way to explore their interests and guide their own learning, while building communities of musical collaborators and fans. They’re using digital media to share their performances and to express their own creativity. They have a sophisticated understanding of how all the digital platforms and tools at their disposal work together.  For example, they value their community of friends on Musical Exchange and understand it as a group that is distinct from, yet complementary to, their group of social friends and acquaintances on Facebook.  They understand the role of media platforms like YouTube, Soundcloud, and Noteflight (for music notation), and integrate media from those platforms into other online communities and platforms in ways that are quite fluid and seamless.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from this community?

The young musicians in the Musical Exchange community can sometimes really surprise us with the diversity of their musical tastes and interests. By the time many musicians finish college, they’ve often accepted label for themselves, as in “I’m a classical musician” or “I only play jazz.” We’ve had students join the community to participate in one project, and then a few months later, we find them doing something completely different. The most striking example, for me, is a student from Egypt who joined Musical Exchange when we were doing a project on Arabic Egyptian music; six months later he was working on a song from a Broadway musical! We’ve also had vocalists from our Musical Theater group join us for our live chats during streaming radio broadcasts of orchestral concerts from Carnegie Hall. They can jump right in there with the orchestral musicians for a 90-minute Bruckner symphony and share insightful comments about the orchestration and what they notice in the music.

What is your best piece of advice for a musician who is starting to cultivate her own community of fans?

For the most part, on Musical Exchange, we are working with young musicians who still have a few years left to enjoy just being a student! However, especially in musical theater where professional careers tend to start a little earlier, some are right at that point of really working on the transition from being a student to starting their professional careers. For those musicians, it is important to begin building their own audiences and to recognize the importance of social media in how people discover and learn about new artists. It is also incredibly important to build a diverse network of peers who are working in the arts, and to be a good colleague and collaborator to other musicians, as well as artists in different disciplines. When it comes to getting professional work, the most trusted recommendations often come from other artists.

What is one thing you want to say to people with a passion for music?

I’d encourage them to share that passion with someone else, especially someone who might be younger and looking to develop their own skills.  Or help a friend discover a place for music in his or her own life. Music can play a meaningful role in everyone’s life; that idea is central to the mission of Carnegie Hall and it inspires all the work we do in our educational and community programs.

Thanks, Christopher. To learn more about Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange or to sign up visit http://musicalexchange.carnegiehall.org/

(Images: Twitter, Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange)

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