Like Strathmore itself, the Artist in Residence (AIR) experience, part of the North Bethesda arts center’s Institute for Artistic and Professional Development, is highly esteemed and understated, well-known mostly among aspiring musical elites. About 50 musicians—including classical guitarists, trumpeters, jazz pianists, vocalists, percussionists, songwriters and more—compete each year for six coveted slots.
What does it take to be selected into this flagship Strathmore program, now in its 12th year? The criteria begin with some basics. “They need to be at a very high level of musical skill and live in the greater D.C. area,” said Betty Scott, AIR director. Further entry requirements include: being between the ages of 16 and 32 and completing a detailed application that includes audio or video examples of one’s work. Entrants find out if they make the cut early next year. “If they are selected for an audition in January, a panel of judges votes on their top choices,” Scott said.
Once accepted, the artists begin their journey from talented amateur to professional. Over the course of 10 months, they benefit from the support of participating mentor musicians and perform regularly—at the Mansion at Strathmore, as well as at venues like senior communities “where we present concert series on a regular basis,” Scott said.
When not performing, the artists attend professional development seminars. The rigorous trainings in professional development are a large part of life at Strathmore, “since they in effect, need to become independent business people as well as performers,” Scott said. The subject matter is practical, focused on the nuts and bolts of success: “Branding and Websites,” “Taxes for Artists,” “Grant Writing,” “Interview Techniques,” “Launching a CD,” “Intellectual Property,” and “How to Choose a Producer.”
Woodwind player Seth Kibel has been an AIR mentor twice. “I don’t need to help with the talent side of the equation; they’ve got bags of talent to spare,” he observed. “My job is to help them get the business and professional side of things together, which is indispensable in today’s music economy.” Contemporary success requires multiple skills. “Gone are the days when a musician could concentrate solely on their art,” Kibel said. “Today’s musicians need to be their own managers, booking agent, press agent and accountant. Strathmore’s Artist in Residence program fills an essential void in this regard.”
The program boasts a large community of “graduates,” many of whom return to help and teach. One alumna, Jess Eliot Myhre, is recognizable to area jazz/swing/bluegrass fans. She is a singer-songwriter who also plays clarinet, washboard and kazoo trombone for the crowd-pleasing area favorite band, the Bumper Jacksons. Of her year as an AIR, Myhre said, “The Strathmore AIR program is welcoming, supportive and a ton of fun. I’ve loved getting to know so many other musicians from different genres. Betty [Scott] keeps the AIR community tight and engaged. I’ve befriended not only my AIR classmates, but other alumni, program mentors and workshop presenters.”
“The network has become a rich space for cross-pollination of ideas and fun collaborations,” Myhre observed. “Since graduating in May, I’ve already worked with several AIR alumni for a blues program, have received invaluable advice from three presenters, and am in the throes of planning an Ella Fitzgerald tribute show with several AIR alumni for the spring.”
Giving back to the community and collaboration are core values of the program. In fact, it is contractual. The artists “reside” in the program from September through June. Attending the list of business-focused seminars is mandatory. Their own performances occur on Wednesday evenings in the Music Room of the Mansion; each artist is assigned a specific month from January to June. Scott pointed out one particularly unique part of the program: “the requirement to collaborate with ‘classmates’ in different genres.” As such, “a high level of comfort with improvisation is important.”
Artists culminate their assigned month with a world premiere of a new work they are charged with composing. “[The artists] are also each required to design an education outreach program which we use in some of our local schools,” Scott said.
All this hard work pays off. Not only is new talent able to comingle with accomplished mentors, but also they get a free photo shoot and videos of their shows—indispensable and costly marketing tools. Of equal value is their exposure to the “rather amazing networking within the AIR community,” Scott said.
AIR participants go on to launch remarkable careers, among them, Wytold (Lebing), who tours widely. playing progressive original compositions featuring a six-string cello; the Bumper Jacksons, a prolific and popular bluegrass-folk-jazz duo; Christylez Bacon, a Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist and multi-instrumentalist who multitasks between the West African djembe drum, acoustic guitar and human beatbox. The list of accomplished former students goes on, and on, and on.
The Fresh AIR Artist in Residence program is accepting applications for the 2017-18 session through Dec. 15. For details, visit www.strathmore.org/education/artistic-development.
The Fresh AIR Artist in Residence Class of 2017 Preview Concert will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, at AMP, powered by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Ave., Suite 400, North Bethesda. Strathmore’s 2017 AIRs are Joey Antico (percussion), Simone Baron (accordion and piano), Ethan Foote (bass), Patrick McAvinue (fiddle), Ines Nassara (vocals), and Chris Urquiaga (vocals). Joining the AIRs will be mentors Bonnie Rideout (Scottish fiddle), Mark Schatz (bass, banjo, composer), and Tom Teasley (drummer). For tickets, $17, call 301-581-5100 or visit www.AMPbyStrathmore.com. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.