Andrew Luse took the plunge. Last month Luse, a Walt Whitman High School and Princeton University graduate, quit a job at an economic consulting company and began an artist-in-residence program as a classical pianist at Strathmore. “I decided to just really go for it 100 percent,” Luse said.
Shelly Brown was looking for a local musicians like Luse. Brown, who launched The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage program, started Strathmore’s artist-in-residence program to give talented local musicians experience they’ll need to make a living as professionals.
“What I’m looking for [is] people who are very accomplished technically, but maybe don’t have enough experience,” Brown said.
This month, Luse plays three public concerts in the Mansion at Strathmore Hall. Off the stage, he’s learning studio recording techniques from industry professionals.
From Luse’s end, he has some ideas about staging and lighting that shatter classical music convention. He played his first concert to a full house last week, and next Wednesday, he’ll release his first CD at another Strathmore concert.
This could be the start of something good.
THERE’S NO ELITISM when Luse describes his passion for music. He’s a fan of rock, especially aggressive, metallic, three-chord power rockers.
In fact, Luse thinks classical music performers have a lot to learn from the rock-music industry, especially when it comes to the music’s presentation.
“The thing that pop musicians and rock musicians really understand that classical musicians don’t is the importance of [aesthetics],” Luse said. “They’re more purist — they want it to be 100 percent about the performance of the music.”
An admirable sentiment, Luse said, but one that’s contributed to a declining interest in classical music. “Places like The Kennedy Center are really intimidating,” Luse said. “It’s hard to convince your friends to play $50.”
One of Luse’s like-minded classmates at Princeton decided to do something about it. He booked and promoted classical concerts in non-traditional settings, like clubs and bars, where people can get a beverage or two and enjoy the music in a relaxed setting. “You just have to get them in the door,” Luse said.
He’s confident that people will be hooked once they attend a show. “I really believe the music will speak for itself. … There’s so many different compositions and pieces and styles — there’s something that’s going to appeal to everybody,” Luse said. “It’s the most powerful and complex of all the genres of music. [It] includes such a wide gamut of emotions.”
IN HIGH SCHOOL and his first year at Princeton, Luse played tennis and dreamed of competing at Wimbledon. That changed by the time he began his sophomore year, after he and a friend performed the Double Piano Concerto and won the University Concerto Competition. “The audience was jam-packed,” Luse said. “It was like flying.”
The following summer, Luse performed in the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival in Maine. “That was kind of a life-changing experience because I had such a good time. … Up until that summer I had been pretty much doing sports camps,” Luse said. “This was the first time in my life I had been exposed to a ton of other classical musicians. … I had my first experience playing chamber music.”
After Princeton, he earned his master’s degree in piano performance from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Like many musicians who aspire to play professionally, Luse said, he felt the need to get a master’s degree. He’s not sure how far it will go, though. “I’m not such a big fan of going to school for the arts,” Luse said. “It’s kind of a hard thing to learn in an institution.”
THIS IS WHERE Brown believes Strathmore can help a talented musician.
“[Luse is] a very fine pianist, he’s classically trained, but he does not have a lot of promotion experience,” Brown said. “What we’re offering him is rounding out pieces that he didn’t necessarily get in his education?”
Luse is one of the four local “emerging” musicians selected by Strathmore out of more than 200 who auditioned. Four other Strathmore artists-in-residence are established, nationally prominent artists, who will serve as mentors to the local musicians.
“Every professional, full-time musician finds a different way to make ends meet. … I equate it to running a small business,” Brown said. Somebody who wants to make it as a professional musician needs to consider marketing, budgeting and diversifying revenues. “That’s an area where Strathmore has a lot of experience.”
That’s why Brown believes that Luse can learn from somebody like Kathy Fink, a Grammy-winning folk guitarist, and one of the program’s “established” artists in residence. They will serve as mentors to Luse and the other emerging musicians.
Luse had already recorded his first CD as part of his Strathmore program, and he will work with local schools through the “Class Acts” program.
Musicians remain part of Strathmore’s program for months after their public performances. The established and emerging musicians will gather each month for jam sessions, which will serve as artistic and practical experience, Brown said. “They’re very impressed to see that professional musicians are very versatile,” Brown said.
Luse will release his first CD on the night of his Jan. 18 Strathmore show. Sessions in the recording studio and production room were eye-openers to him, and so was the “packaging” process, which included a photography session and the designing for the CD cover and liner. “I didn’t have the first clue about how you do that,” Luse said.
THIS MONTH, Luse is developing a repertoire of more than four hours of music, the most he’s ever attempted to perform at one time. It’s a welcome challenge. “I get bored playing the same thing all the time,” he said.
The volume, depth and breadth of demands on Luse during his artist-in-residency reflect what a professional music career involves, Brown said. “Who knows, among these people, who will decide to keep it as a career?”