New Associate Dean Gears Up Conservatory Career Development

Laura Kuennen-Poper (pronounced 'kee-nen poe-per'), has joined the Conservatory administration as Associate Dean and Director of Conservatory Career Development. Dean Karen Wolff says she chose Kuennen-Poper because of her extensive music background, having earned bachelor and master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music and performed as a professional violist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, the Joffrey Ballet, and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, among others. In addition to her valuable teaching and administrative experience, she has significant expertise in developing and managing a career in music. "Laura brings a wealth of experience and fresh ideas to Oberlin where she will develop the Conservatory Career Services office along with her duties as Associate Dean of the Conservatory."Laura Kuennen-Poper

In order to better prepare Oberlin students for their professional careers, Kuennen-Poper will teach "Professional Development of Musicians" which will initially be a one-module course but will be expanded in the near future. This course will address in detail the essential issues of pursuing a professional career, including how to prepare for auditions, enlist the services of a manager, deal with contracts and unions, manage finances, interview for jobs, and develop the people skills necessary for successful interaction in the business world.

The co-author of a forthcoming book on managing a professional musical career, she is, according to Dean Wolff, "perfect for this job because she is a musician's musician-an insider who has lived and experienced everything she will be teaching her students from a musician's point of view."

Her own professional activities demonstrate how diverse a professional musician's career can and must be, having, among her other jobs, played for the major motion picture soundtrack recording studios in Los Angeles, including MGM/Sony, Warner Brothers, Disney, and Paramount with such composers as John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Randy Newman, and Jerry Goldsmith. "That kind of diversity and availability to do a variety of things is absolutely necessary for a musician today," commented Dean Wolff.

In a recent telephone interview with Conservatory News, Kuennen-Poper discussed her past experience and goals for the Career Development position she will direct at the Conservatory.

CN: You have had extensive professional experience as a performer, teacher, and administrator in your career. Which aspect of your career will be of most value to you in your work at Oberlin?

LKP: A combination of all three, really. One of the most important things I hope to teach in my course at Oberlin is that to make valuable connections in the real world, professional musicians today need to know about the diverse expectations and opportunities that are out there. I have performed a wide variety of music in a wide variety of groups, from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to contemporary music ensembles and studio work. I have taught in private college, pre-college, and public university settings, and I've been an administrator for performing groups and music schools. To make it in today's world, professional musicians need to know their options, and then be prepared to take advantage of every possible opportunity.

CN: Is that what you will discuss in your "Professional Development of Musicians" course at Oberlin?

LKP: In its crudest form, my course could be called, "How to get a job 101," but I want it to be about much more than just getting a job. We will discuss the lifelong learning process which is necessary to sustain a long career in the arts--learning about both the music profession and about how each person's strengths and weaknesses will affect their career. We'll also ask some very serious questions about why students are in music: is it because of their parents' expectations, or because their teachers would be disappointed if they didn't pursue music, or is it because of a real love for the art? If they sincerely love making music, we'll talk about how to turn that love into a lifetime of successful interaction in the music community.

CN: You are the co-author of a book about "making it" in the professional music world. Can you talk some more about the origin of your book and its contents?

LKP: One day I was sitting at lunch with my friend Julie Feves, also an accomplished professional musician, talking about all of this. We both said we wish we had known then [during our conservatory years] what we know now. We found that talent alone did not make successful musicians--everyone we knew in school was very talented. The most successful musicians were the ones focused on finding the market for their skills and making valuable connections with the people around them. So we spent 18 months researching the information and then began writing. The class at Oberlin will be an experiment for the book. One of the most important ideas we identified is our concept of "net-building," as opposed to networking. Net-building involves a two-way connection with the people around you; it's not all about what "they" can do for you, but what you can do to build community everywhere you go. It's not enough to be just a great musician anymore--to be competitive you must be a good person and colleague as well.

CN: There is a lot of alarmist literature out there about the future of the classical music profession. Would you say your book has an alarmist tone, or is it more hopeful?

LKP: It is absolutely hopeful. The reality today is that the availability of institutionally supported workis declining. Our message is that professional musicians need not depend solely on institutionally supported work to have a successful career because there are so many non-institutional opportunities out there. Musicians today are responsible for finding employment themselves. If you are lucky enough to be a part of an institution [such as a symphony orchestra], it should supplement and support the work you do elsewhere. I want to help the students see that there are many opportunities out there for those who are focused enough to find them.

CN: Another part of your job will be supervising the Career Development office. What kinds of services will that office provide?

LKP: The office itself will be staffed by a counselor who will assist with research and catalogue a thorough collection of information about competitions, internships, and jobs available to Conservatory students. We will also provide one-on-one counseling on résumé preparation, interview skills, job searches, and audition techniques. The expansion of this office is an exciting and innovative addition to the Conservatory--I don't know of any other school in the county which is developing as thorough a program to prepare its students for the real world. It's an invaluable addition to the musical training students receive at Oberlin.

CN: One last question--Why did you choose to come to Oberlin?

LKP: Oberlin is an extraordinary place. I have been impressed by the caliber of the faculty and students at the Conservatory, and Dean Wolff is a woman of extraordinary vision--just the kind of vision which is necessary to create a program like the Conservatory Career Development office and take the Conservatory to a new level of excellence. I have also been intrigued by the cross-pollination of students with double majors from the Conservatory and the College. The music world needs people who have skills and knowledge in areas besides music to survive. We have to go out into the world and deal with all kinds of people, and the strong balance between academic and Conservatory training at Oberlin will enable the students leaving here to be more effective contributors to their communities. That balance makes Oberlin extremely fertile ground for my ideas.

Kuennen-Poper assumes the position vacated by Kathryn Stuart who this summer moved into the College's administration to become Assistant to the President. As Associate Dean of the Conservatory, Kuennen-Poper will chair the Educational Policy Committee which reviews curriculum matters, serving as an objective facilitator to provide oversight for the curriculum, and overseeing the curriculum evaluation of one division of the Conservatory each year. (Each division comes up for evaluation once every ten years.) She will also serve on various campus-wide committees and assist the Dean with her responsibilities in the office. Her position will involve much faculty interaction. "It is a critical position," commented Dean Wolff. "I am certain Laura's energy, efficiency and expertise will serve our students and faculty well."