By Christine Stutz
Meet four Peabody people whose careers have taken them in directions not typical of their Conservatory classmates. Yet even as these four have risen to achieve distinction in disparate fields — technology, law, hip-hop, and foreign diplomacy — their classical music roots have continued to nourish them, providing unique ways of hearing, thinking, organizing information, and relating to the world.
They remain classical musicians at heart.
With his inquisitive mind and boundless creative energy, it’s no surprise that Mark Goldstein (KSAS BA ’73, Quantitative Studies; BM ’75 Percussion) has found a way to pursue his passion for music while building a career at one of the world’s most innovative companies, Google.
Mr. Goldstein came to Johns Hopkins to study math and engineering in 1969, long before its official affiliation with Peabody. He took music classes at Goucher College, where several of his professors just happened to be Peabody faculty members. He also studied percussion with Peabody instructor Charles Memphis and performed with Peabody’s ensembles. Mr. Memphis encouraged him to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in music performance at Peabody, a decision Mr. Goldstein has never regretted.
“It was a really, really great time to be there,” he says. One of the things he loved most was the strength of the composition program. “There was always steaming-hot new music to play,” he says. “And I was open for just about anything.” Evidently, he still is. Since moving to California, Mr. Goldstein has played in Brazilian samba bands, African marimba ensembles, with the American Gamelan alongside Lou Harrison, and on stage with Lev Theremin.
In addition to the usual percussion instruments, Mr. Goldstein also plays the Buchla Lightning wands and the Marimba Lumina, an instrument he co-created with synth pioneer Don Buchla. They produce eerie, otherworldly sounds appropriate for outer-space movies.
Now a senior technical writer at Google, Mr. Goldstein continues to perform with the Redwood Symphony, of which he is a founding member; as a leader of the jazz group MAGPIE (Musicians at Google Play Instruments Everywhere); and as one half of the Filmharmonia Duo, silent film accompanists. And that is just a partial list of his musical activities.
“As a writer, I think quite often musically, in terms of pages that I’m writing,” Mr. Goldstein says. “I think about elements of form, repetition, meter, and rhythm. I think about how all of these quasi-musical attributes sound to my inner ear as I write.”
He believes his training as a performer has helped him in his personal and professional life. “The skills you learn as a performer are ensemble skills. You learn to listen, to respond, to blend,” he says. “Working with a conductor, you see good and bad examples of leadership.”
Mr. Goldstein sees no disconnect between his classical training and the experimental music he often performs. “It’s not ‘classical music,’ it’s music,” he says. “My training makes me a better player all around.”
An Eye Toward Detail
Growing up, Clara J. Ohr (MM ’95, Piano) found it easy to balance her dedication to her studies with her piano practice. “For most of my life, that’s how I was training. School was my most important priority, with music just a hair under that,” says Ms. Ohr, who is currently legal counsel and compliance officer for LUKOIL Pan Americas LLC, which trades crude oil petroleum products in the Western Hemisphere as a subsidiary of the second-largest Russian oil company, PJSC LUKOIL.
She was able to focus on her music during summer programs at Aspen and Tanglewood, but once she started her undergraduate work in East Asian studies at Harvard, she found the balancing act more difficult to achieve. In choosing to pursue a master’s in music at Peabody, she was hoping to answer the nagging question of whether music would become her vocation or remain an avocation.
When she shared her doubts with pianist Robert McDonald, her first instructor at Peabody, who is now at the Curtis Institute, he told her that if music isn’t something you think of the moment you wake up and throughout the day, you shouldn’t make it your career. Because it’s so challenging to make a good living as a music professional, she recalls him saying, “it has to be something you need, like your morning orange juice.”
Today, Ms. Ohr has an extremely busy professional life that has included leadership roles in the Asian American Bar Association of New York, the largest minority bar association in the state. Nevertheless, she’s made a point of subscribing to the New York Philharmonic, where she enjoys seeing performers such as Yefim Bronfman, Joshua Bell, and Alisa Weilerstein. “Listening to New York Philharmonic concerts, as well as any number of jazz concerts around New York City, is one of my favorite ways to unwind in the midst of what is often a stressful career,” she says.
She also sings in the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York. The leader of the choral group, John Maclay, is a pianist who studied at Peabody Preparatory, she says, and attended Harvard Law School. “I have heard of other musicians who end up going into law, and I understand it,” says Ms. Ohr, who earned her JD in 1998 from the University of Minnesota Law School. “Music gives you an eye toward detail. This is helpful, especially if you’re a transactional lawyer.
“If you think about studying a piece of music, right down to the smallest rest, there are so many layers of complexity,” she continues. “It’s not unlike the analysis required in studying a legal document, such as a contract. Music teaches you to see how the small details fit into the big picture.”
Classical Piano Meets Hip-Hop
Even while Wendel Patrick was studying classical piano on full scholarship at Northwestern University, the hip-hop music of his childhood was “always present,” he says.
After earning his master’s degree, he performed as a classical and jazz pianist, but he also began experimenting with hip-hop production, collecting keyboards and other sound equipment. Soon, he says, “it became clear that this could be an alternate path.” Thus far, that path has included five solo albums, all produced without the use of samples. Mr. Patrick plays every note of every instrument — all created electronically.
He also performs in experimental and improvisational jazz groups under his given name, Kevin Gift — Wendel Patrick is an alter ego he adopted for his hip-hop career; it’s the name of his twin brother who did not survive their birth — and he has performed with spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker. This year, Mr. Patrick began teaching hip-hop classes at Peabody, and he will offer an advanced class in 2017.
Mr. Patrick sees no disconnect between the hip-hop composing he does now and his classical music training, which began at age 4 and included a year at the Peabody Preparatory at age 7. “You’re dealing with all the same musical attributes, whether it’s manipulating musical pitch or rhythm,” he says. Because he uses a keyboard to mimic an array of instruments, including many percussion instruments, it’s important to know how each of those instruments ought to sound, to ensure their authenticity.
“There’s a lot of manipulation of sound that goes into this kind of production,” he says, “and it’s important to have the ability to understand, harmonically, music from different cultures.”
As a pianist, Mr. Patrick is more than comfortable with the multiple keyboards he uses — along with sound modules, effects processors, and virtual instruments — to produce a variety of sounds for his recordings. “You still have to have the technical knowledge of the electronic instrument,” he says, “but being able to play the piano is an immeasurable benefit.”
Connecting Through Music
Braphus Kaalund (BM ’02, Trumpet) enrolled at Peabody to study the trumpet, with the hope of one day becoming a conductor. As a high school student, he played in band and orchestra, and was involved with the Young Artist Program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. After enrolling at Peabody, he became intrigued by the business side of music.
He ended up earning two law degrees, one in the United States and one in England, and practicing international law in Europe before returning to the U.S. to become a diplomat. Through it all, he says, he relied on his musical training to succeed.
“The training I received at Peabody was really invaluable, the most beneficial of my three degrees,” he says. “A lot of times when you’re studying academic subjects, you can be disconnected from the material and cram for exams. You can sit passively in lectures and regurgitate what is said later.
“But in music school, you have to practice every day,” says Mr. Kaalund. “Ear training must be done regularly; there’s no way to cram for it. You have to be dedicated and disciplined or you won’t succeed.”
Now a foreign service officer at the U.S. Department of State, he says he still enjoys attending concerts at the Kennedy Center. And, he says, “I still practice.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Kaalund says, classical music remains an almost constant companion. “When I really need to focus and write in-depth pieces, I sometimes close my office door and put on Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, or even Penderecki’s Symphony No. 3. For some reason, longer and more sorrowful-sounding works really help me when I need to do longer written pieces,” he says.
As he travels the world for work, music has been a bridge that has sparked interesting conversations and experiences. He turned a friend into a classical music fan by playing for him countertenor Phillippe Jaroussky’s recordings of Farinelli’s music. During a night visit to a Jordanian desert, where the movie The Martian was filmed because of its stark landscape, he says, “Mars, from Holst’s The Planets, kept running through my head. I pulled out my phone and started playing a recording of it. It was a surreal experience, and I ended up sharing my whole classical playlist with my friends after that, since they had never heard Western classical music.
“I have really found that for nearly every moment, there is a fitting classical piece, and I listen to it, and I often end up remembering various events because I connect them with a piece of music.”
Conversant in Arabic and German, and proficient in Hindi, Mr. Kaalund says his musical training aided his language study. The finely tuned ear and appreciation for nuance that he gained from musical study makes it easier for him to acquire new languages.
Listening to songs in foreign languages helps him more quickly grasp accents and cadences, he adds. “Music was really what gave me the ability to do that,” he says.