Interview: Rose French and Developing a Career in Music

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Featured today is Dr. Rose French, a very active performer and teacher here in the Phoenix area. Now more than ever you need to not only play horn well but be entrepreneurial and take full advantage of the opportunities you have.

JE: Starting with today, where do you perform, where do you teach?

RF: Besides the Mill Ave Chamber Players, I am the Principal Horn of the West Valley Symphony and perform regularly with the Arizona Opera, the Phoenix Symphony, Tucson Symphony and the Orquestra de Baja California. I am a member of the Phoenix Chamber Brass, which does a lot of performing in the area as well.

I currently am the horn professor at Grand Canyon University and teach humanities courses for Arizona State University and for the Maricopa Community Colleges. I’ve developed two online courses for the community colleges, which really gives me greater flexibility to work on projects and perform. I just started my tenth year at Rosie’s House and have a private studio. I have taught at the Interlochen Arts Academy, and this summer will be returning to the Northern Arizona University music camp and to Germany for the Saarburg International Music Festival.

Mill Ave Chamber Players will also be hosting a chamber music camp at Paradise Valley Community College June 9-14th, which I am really excited to announce. I’ve been wanting to have a summer chamber music camp in the valley for a long time.

JE: Your guest master class last semester at ASU was great, you clearly have not only a gift for playing but also for teaching. One thing I tell people about you is that when you came to ASU for MM study (which continued through a DMA) you were probably the most motivated student I have ever had in terms of getting your name out and getting teaching and playing gigs. What advice would you give students who are starting a MM in a new city?

RF: A friend told me, “if you play for free, no one will ever pay you to play your instrument.” I took it to heart and decided that when I moved to Arizona, if I had to take any job that wasn’t music related I obviously wasn’t talented enough to stay in music. So before I moved to Arizona, I researched all the orchestras, music academies, and music stores and called or sent my resume to each one of them. I moved to Arizona with a suitcase, my horn, and two boxes of books that I mailed to a friend in Tucson. By the end of my first week in Arizona I had a job teaching band at a Catholic high school, a job teaching music lessons at a music academy, and at Rosie’s House, where I still teach today. My first orchestra job came not long after that.

The thing I didn’t do, that I would recommend is to contact the principal horn of all the orchestras in town and play for them to get on their sub list. Pretty obvious thing to me now, but then it was not on my radar.

JE: Right, play for the principal horn although be sure what you play for them first is really ready, to make the best first impression if you are new in town. Another thing you did far beyond that of the average student was start a music ensemble that still exists and is active. Tell readers more about this.

RF: Mill Ave Chamber Players (www.millavechamberplayers.com) was started in 2007 with an entrepreneurial grant from Arizona State University. This grant enabled me to form the ensemble, get a LLC, and do some outreach concerts. The original goal of the ensemble was to have an ensemble that was completely self-run with each member having an external responsibility to keep the ensemble running.

Laughable, I know, but in the wake of what was facing myself and my friends at the end of a terminal degree: not many full-time job options, the ensemble was formed with the idea of having artistic and performing freedom by creating our own opportunities.

We’ve received grants from the City of Phoenix to be a part of their ArtSpace Afterschool Program. I taught students about the different classifications of musical instruments using vegetables! It was a great experience, and a great opportunity to make a musical experience for schools with little resources. We’ve partnered with Rosie’s House and Phoenix Children’s First Academy, the largest school in the nation for homeless children to perform outreach concerts and held an instrument fundraiser to purchase two horns for students at Rosie’s House.

This year we were awarded a grant from the City of Glendale to keep a 25-year-old series running. The “Live at the Library” is a multi-disciplinary performing arts series that has been offered free to the public for the past 25 seasons at Glendale’s Main Public Library. Until the 2009-2010 performance season, the “Live at the Library” series offered these quality programs every Thursday evening from November through May. Due to significant staff and budget cuts, the library was forced to dramatically reduce the number of programs offered. These free public concerts provide people of all ages a great opportunity to develop their audience skills, as well as affording retirees, young families, the disabled, and group-home residents easy access to a wide variety of exceptional performances.

We’re also now the presenting artists of a new chamber music series at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts and are in our third season of a morning series in Sun City.

This season we were the only classical music ensemble that was a part of the CALA (Celebración Artística de las Américas) International Festival, where we performed an entire concert of music by Latin American composers. In March we will be traveling to California to perform with the Pacific Arts Woodwind Quintet at the University of the Pacific to premiere “Three Pieces” for woodwind dectet by John Steinmetz, with Steinmetz performing.

JE: You also won a paid position working for the International Horn Society. Describe the process of winning that position and what your duties are today.

RF: I applied for this new position that was created out of a need for exhibitors to have a consistent experience as part of the annual International Horn Symposia. Often this job was relegated to a student and every year exhibitors and advertisers had to deal with a new person, someone usually inexperienced at putting on such a massive undertaking. When you have people and businesses spending a lot of money to get to an international event, it’s essential to give them a professional experience in return.

Besides running MACP, I had experience running the business side of a violin shop for about four years. I used this as my platform for why I would be a good candidate: understanding both the logistical side of running an instrument business and having the experience of running a chamber music ensemble I thought applied directly to the needs of the position.

The first year it was not a paid position, but showing the jump in revenue and new exhibitors that attended the symposium, the Advisory Council was convinced that this should be a paid position and that I should also manage all advertising contracts that were part of the International Horn Symposia. It’s been a fantastic experience for the most part: I have been a part of the past five symposia and worked with some fantastic hosts.

Beyond the job itself, I have had the opportunity to listen to and take lessons from some of the best artists hornists in the world. I hosted a regional horn conference in 2012 and I think the success of that event was largely due to already knowing many of the exhibitors and hornists who came to the event.

JE: To close, what other projects do you have going on in your busy and multi-faceted career now?

RF: Last year I had my first book published: Rangesongs [see review here; purchase here], and am currently working on two other horn-related method books that I hope to have finished by the summer. I find the topic of teaching beginning and intermediate students really underdeveloped and that we lack a lot of good material for students of that age. I am hoping to change that!

All this makes it difficult to write a bio, but I really love what I do and think it is the new reality, not just for musicians, but for many in the work force. What I love about what I do is that every week is different, I get to travel, meet new people, and have rewarding experiences as a performer and teacher. I have a very rich life!

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