15: Building Authentic Relationships with Elizabeth Askren

Show Notes:

Today’s episode is one that I’m personally excited about, as my guest today Elizabeth Askren was on my guest list way before I started this podcast. Elizabeth and I met when we were both fellows for the Dallas Opera Hart Institute for Women Conductors, and she has since continued to mentor other conductors and artists through the Dallas Opera program and also the Transylvanian Opera Academy that she founded in Cluj, Romania. 


In today’s episode, Elizabeth will speak with me on one topic that I found really important and somehow under-explored during conservatory training — networking tips. If networking doesn’t come as natural to you, or if you are always awkward speaking to strangers like me, today’s episode is for you.


Elizabeth Askren has built a fast-rising career by empowering musicians around the world, whether from the podium as a conductor of leading ensembles, as an educator with her Transylvanian Opera Academy, and as a speaker on issues of leadership, diversity and more. Her recent performances include débuts in Europe with the Transylvanian State Philharmonic, the Romanian National Opera of Cluj-Napoca, and France’s Victor Hugo Franche-Comté orchestra, and in the United States with the Dallas Opera and Kentucky Opera. She has also performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on recent recording projects.


Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Website: elizabethaskren.com


Chaowen: 0:02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen, recording in May 2023. After finishing the first season of the conductor’s podcast, I have decided to give this podcast project, a dedicated website with more user friendly functions. So now we have a brand new website called theconductorspodcast.com. Straightforward, right? And now we also have its own Instagram handle. It’s also the same @theconductorspodcast. So all the show notes have been moved to the new site, and I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Elizabeth: 0:50
We’re all learning and there’s absolutely no shame in saying, I need to get better. I would love to learn from you. I respect what you do. Would you give me that chance? And you’ll be surprised at how many people would like to give you a chance. But you also want to go after things that are in the sphere of your competences. Try to convince the person on the other end that you have done your homework, that this institution or whatever it is, is important to you, that you know it already and that you would like to know it even more.

Chaowen: 1:28
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups, and vocalists. I’m also founder of Girls Who Conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind-the-scenes secrets with you while I interview conductors, musicians, and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting students, musicians, and non-musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry, and business.

Chaowen: 2:15
Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth and the rollercoaster of a conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you take action on your big dream, move through the fear that’s holding you back, and have a real impact. Now, pull up a seat, make sure you’re cozy, and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 2:50
Hi there and happy January! Welcome to another episode of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, and I’m thrilled that you’re tuning in with me today. How is your 2022 so far? I hope you’re still fresh and energized and are ready to take on new or old and overdue projects. Today’s episode is one that I’m personally really excited about, as my guest today, Elizabeth Askren, was on my guest list way before I started this podcast. Elizabeth and I met when we were both fellows for the Dallas Opera Heart Institute for Women Conductors, and she has since continued to mentor other conductors and artists through the Dallas program and also the Transylvania Opera Academy that she founded in Cluj, Romania.

Chaowen: 3:43
In today’s episode, Elizabeth will speak with me on one topic that I found really important and somehow under explored during conservatory training: networking tips. If networking doesn’t come as natural to you, or if you’re always awkward [when] speaking to strangers like me, today’s episode is for you. Elizabeth Askren has built a fast rising career by empowering musicians around the world, whether from the podium as a conductor of leading ensembles, as an educator with her Transylvania Opera Academy, or as a speaker on issues of leadership, diversity and more. Her recent performances include debuts in Europe with the Transylvania State Philharmonic, the Romanian National Opera of Cluj-Napoca and France’s Victor Hugo Franche-Comté Orchestra, and in the United States with the Dallas Opera and Kentucky Opera. She has also performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on recent recording projects.

Chaowen: 4:56
Welcome to the show, Elizabeth. I’m so thrilled to welcome you to today’s episode, and I can’t wait for you to share your story and experience with my audience.

Elizabeth: 5:05
Thank you. I’m really happy to be here with you. And thank you so much for having me.

Chaowen: 5:08
So before we get started, though, will you please give everybody a brief intro–just a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are right now?

Elizabeth: 5:18
Sure. Well, I am a native New Yorker and I love music like all the time. I went to Juilliard pre college, I started when I was 14 there. And then from there, I went to Oberlin Conservatory, and then I got a scholarship to continue my studies in Paris. But that was back in 1998. And it was supposed to be for one year and I still live in Europe, so that was kind of, I guess, a life-changing experience because I really loved Europe. And so from then on, I’ve been living in Paris for many years. And then about eight years ago, we made the transfer to Transylvania, in Romania. And so now I’ve been doing this little triangle between Transylvania and Paris, France, and then the United States. And I am a conductor and an educator. And like my hostess herself, [I am] a culturepreneur, so someone who likes to be entrepreneurial in the cultural sector.

Chaowen: 6:24
That is great. Can you tell us a little bit more about your scholarship, your opportunity to go to Paris? Because, like, at least where I grew up, we had the mindset [that] if you’re serious about studying music, you go to Vietnam. How did that happen? And how was that experience that [it] made you stay there in Europe for so many years now?

Elizabeth: 6:45
Sure. Well, I went to Paris because I met Italian professors in Austria. So I went to the Salzburg Mozarteum Summer Academy. And while I was there, as a pianist, I had a great duo of Italian teachers. So the master teacher was Sergio Perticaroli, and his associate teacher was Germaine Tocatlian. And during the year, they both taught in Paris at the Schola Cantorum. And Maestro Perticaroli would come up from Rome, where he was normally teaching throughout the year at the Academie Cecilia, and Germaine Tocatlian had her own studio in the Schola. And this duo was so wonderful in so many ways that I said, Okay, I’ve got to keep studying with them. So when I finished my undergrad, I was looking for ways to make it over to Paris, so that I could keep studying with these wonderful musicians.

Elizabeth: 7:49
And I ended up finding a scholarship that’s very important–it’s still active today, so anybody who wants to go to Paris, check it out–it’s from the Fondation des États-Unis, so it’s the United States foundation in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. It’s part of an international community called the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris, and it brings together students and postdocs and grad students from all walks of life from all over the globe and gives them an international campus where we can all live together and study and have a wonderful experience as a young student in Paris. So the scholarship from the Fondation des États-Unis is called the Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship, and I applied for it. And it changed my life. Because once I got it, then I knew I was off to Paris.

Elizabeth: 8:48
I had a panic attack in the plane going over because I just I felt like I was like, you know, Magellan, just sailing off of the flat, you know, world or something, like what’s going to happen on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean? But it was wonderful. I had a great friend who picked me up from the airport. And already I was very at home, in the Fondation, and I think what I have loved about being in Europe and living here has been the proximity of so many different cultures and languages and mentalities that are so easily accessible. I love that in two hours, you can be in a completely different setting with completely different people, and yet you’re all part of the greater European community–that really appeals to me. There are fundamental values that I believe in as well, and the sense of culture is very deep and rich here. So those are probably some of the grounding points that made me stay here for so long.

Chaowen: 9:51
Yeah, I totally agree. I made up my mind to really pursue the profession of conducting when I was doing the Erasmus program. I did one year in the Netherlands, and it was on scholarship from the Dutch government as well, so I was able to travel around. But for anyone who is listening from the car or at the gym, don’t worry: we will put the link for the scholarship program in the show notes. And you can always access it at chaowenting.com/15. So another question for you: it sounds like you went to Paris to be a serious pianist. When was that turning point that you decided conducting is something that is closer to your heart than playing piano at a keyboard?

Elizabeth: 10:39
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think piano was my first love, but I knew I wanted to marry conducting. So I knew when I got bitten with the conducting bug, it was during my last moment at Juilliard, where a very wonderful conductor who was on staff there, Rebecca Scott, gave me the opportunity to conduct the anthem, you know, the graduation anthem. And when I got that kind of initial experience, and it was so powerful for me, and you know, it touched me very much, I thought, Oh, this is interesting.

Elizabeth: 11:15
When I went to Oberlin, I started studying more seriously. And I knew that that was kind of my future, even though I was much more advanced as a pianist, obviously, then–at the time, I was a baby conductor. So I think that while I was going to Paris, I already asked my piano teachers, where could I study conducting at the same time? So when I went over, I did win the scholarship as a pianist and to study with my my maestri at the Schola Cantorum. But I also was accepted at the Ecole Normale de Musique as a conducting student of Dominic Weitz. So I already knew going there that this is what I really wanted to develop going forward. And I was able to study both of them, both piano and conducting there for a couple of years, before I really made the conversion full time into conducting.

Chaowen: 12:14
So it sounds like you had that awakening moment at a young age. And did you have any objections from yourself or from other people? Did it matter to you if you had role models or seeing really successful women conductors at the top? Did you even think about those things?

Elizabeth: 12:35
You know, I have to say, in college, I really didn’t. I mean, all of my conducting professors were men. I didn’t think about that one way or the other. I don’t even remember the other classmates, if they were women or men. It’s funny. At Oberlin, you know, it just wasn’t wasn’t an issue. Even in my class at Ecole Normale de Musique, we had men and women, we had people from Asia, people from Europe, people–I think I was the only American there. But that also was not an issue; it was just an issue to see how effective the conductors were. So that was refreshing.

Elizabeth: 13:15
As I got into the, let’s say, professional sphere, and I started making some rounds as an assistant conductor, that’s when it I started getting remarks that were, just ill informed, you know: people thought I was always the personal assistant of the conductor. I couldn’t be the musical conducting assistant. But during my years of training, even when I went back to Bard, because I did an accelerated Master’s there with Harold Farberman, that was never a question either, and there was no kind of different way to treat women. I think we were 50/50, if I remember correctly. I think we were seven in the class, and there were like four guys and three girls or something like that. So yeah, interestingly enough, that did not come into play during my formation.

Chaowen: 14:10
Yeah, I’m asking this question because I know that you were on the jury for La Maestra competition last year, which is an international competition for women conductors, held jointly by the Philharmonie de Paris and the Paris Mozart Orchestra. Could you talk about your experience kind of serving on a jury and seeing all the women? And I know it was also controversial to have a woman only competition for conductors. [What] was that like?

Elizabeth: 14:42
Well, I loved the experience. I really felt that it was a historic moment, because this very competition was being staged in Paris, which I think is very important. I think that Claire Gibault did a wonderful job. And of course, the team at the Philharmonie de Paris–absolutely wonderful with Emmanuel Hondré. They really took care to compose a jury which was 50/50. And also no ageism in the jury as well. I think the youngest member of the jury must have been in his late 20s and the oldest in his 70s. So I really loved that kind of mixture of different cultures, different ages and different points of view and perspectives. Marin Alsop was a part of the jury as well; that was a great honor, of course, because she’s been a mentor, someone that we all look up to tremendously.

Elizabeth: 15:45
And I also appreciated that all the members of the jury truly were concerned about watching these wonderful talents on the podium and listening to them, you know, with their eyes, with their ears, and trying to discern really fine criteria of who has the best technique, who is the most profound musician, who is the most developed, who can benefit from the first prize of not only having a monetary compensation, but also to get in front of professional orchestras and lead them from the first rehearsal to a final concert. And I think it was a journey for all of the members of the jury which was very seriously undertaken. And I was honored to be a part of that particular jury for those reasons.

Chaowen: 16:46
So here comes the best part of the interview. And I’m personally so looking forward to this, because I know the topic we are discussing today is networking, which is something that could be very intimidating or doesn’t come as naturally to some people [as] others. But we understand that a lot of the opportunities come from who you know, and also being at the right place at the right time. So can you please share some tips with us that would possibly break the ice more smoothly, for example?

Elizabeth: 17:20
Yes, practice makes perfect. I remember standing outside–oh, goodness, it was in Zurich; I had taken the train to Zurich to watch the Tonhalle Orchestra. And oh, my goodness, it was David Zinman, I think it was who was guest there, and I wanted to meet him. He was a fellow OB–he went to Oberlin. And I just wanted to, you know, speak with him and watch his rehearsals and so on. And I remember waiting outside his door for what seemed hours, and just being like, oh, my gosh, what am I doing here? Will he ever talk to me? Will he even understand, you know, give me the time of day, anything.

Elizabeth: 18:03
And I did that quite a lot in the different circumstances. I wrote to all the Paris halls when I was a student, and I said, I’m a young student, I’m at this conservatory…I showed them my papers, because you had to do that–you couldn’t just go into rehearsals like that. And it wasn’t even to meet the conductors per se. It was just, I need to watch world class conductors working actively in real time with world class orchestras. How does the conductor work with the orchestra? And I took notes, you know, and I tried to kind of feed my young conductor brain with this kind of stuff.

Elizabeth: 18:43
So I think the first thing is, just get outside your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be afraid to, you know, search out new opportunities, even if they don’t exist. As I said, in Paris, it was extremely rare for young musicians to actually sit in on rehearsals; they were closed, you know. But the fact that I actually dared to ask meant that a couple of the doors did open.

Elizabeth: 19:11
I got my first appointments–if you can say it like that–as an assistant conductor in Paris the same way. Those positions didn’t exist. But I went up to the music director and I introduced myself and said, Good morning, sir, my name is so-and-so, I’m at this conservatory, this is my CV, I’m looking for opportunities, would you need a conducting assistant? Who doesn’t need a conducting assistant, right? So I think, you know, don’t be afraid. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? They can say no, I don’t, goodbye. And then you haven’t lost anything. And at least you can cross it off your list, right?

Elizabeth: 19:49
So I think that’s another thing, is to kind of dare, you know. We’re all learning, and there’s absolutely no shame in saying, I need to get better. I would love to learn from you. I respect what you do. Would you give me that chance? And you’ll be surprised at how many people would like to give you a chance and who are open to that.

Chaowen: 20:12
So did you just send cold emails? Or did you need to find like a common teacher who knows someone? Or like when you reach out to orchestras or to ensembles, how do you know who to ask? Like the manager or the maestro and that kind of thing?

Elizabeth: 20:34
All great questions. Let’s go down the list, right? So if you have a shared connection, that’s always better. I mean, if you can say that so-and-so has sent me or I’m calling you on behalf of so-and-so, that’s that’s always preferable. But you know, even cold calling can work sometimes, especially when you go out for these competitions.

Elizabeth: 20:10
Now I know that it is very disheartening that we all have sent how many dossiers, and you take such care to send these dossiers out, whether they’re for jobs, or they’re for competitions or programs, artist programs or whatever it is. And the amount of rejections is just–ugh–crushing sometimes, and you think, My gosh, I’m just wasting my time. But you’re actually not.

Elizabeth: 21:25
Remember, in sales, 10% is the goal that you’re striving for. If you can hit 10% acceptance rate, that’s extraordinary. So you know, with that 10% gets 90% of rejections. And so that’s what you have to keep in mind.

Elizabeth: 21:42
But you also want to go after things that are in the sphere of your competencies. So you also want to select the opportunities that you’re going for, which actually kind of make sense or are more tailored to you. For example, if, let’s say, you want to go out for an assistantship at an opera house. If you know no foreign languages and you don’t play the piano, chances are, that opportunity might not be suited to your profile. Whereas if you are a violinist and you played in a youth string orchestra that was nationally, you know, acclaimed, and you would also want to apply for an assistant conductor position with a string orchestra or music director of a string youth ensemble or something like that, that’s a much better fit. So you can also pick and choose and try to tailor where you spend your efforts when you’re trying to get that next opportunity for yourself.

Elizabeth: 22:42
And another thing is that if you–let’s say you cold call or cold contact somebody. You should have a reason; you should show them that you’ve done your research. It’s not just, I’m sending the same email out to 50 different places, and it is not personalized at all, and I don’t show them at all in my initial email that I’ve done any research, and I don’t even know who I’m writing to, actually; I just change the email address. So that’s a bad idea. So whenever you are cold calling, try to convince the person on the other end that you have done your homework, that this institution–or whatever it is–is important to you, that you know it already and that you would like to know it even more. And that will help in some cases.

Elizabeth: 23:35
Also, from looking at, you know, at this point, thousands of different dossiers for grants and scholarships and competitions and whatnot: how you present yourself is very important. Now, you don’t need to have the latest website and spend a ton of money. But you do have to show the committee or whoever is receiving your materials that you care, and that you’re not a sloppy or haphazard person. Cross your t’s, dot your i’s, spell correctly. You know, spell the person’s name correctly. I’ve actually seen candidates, you know, and some of them would misspell my name when I was in charge of the Harriet Hale Woolley scholarship later on, when I worked at the Fondation des États-Unis. And that’s never good. I mean, you you pass on the dossier anyway, but that doesn’t speak well for the person who’s submitting the material. So do take care with that.

Elizabeth: 24:37
Also, full sentences, you know–we’re not doing SMS; we are composing a formal email, [and] it’s a different style. All of these little things and you know, there’s a difference in the details. And I think if you see that someone is going to take the care and time to present a well-crafted package, then chances are, they’re going to take the same kind of care in the work that they do and in their collaborations.

Chaowen: 25:08
Totally, it’s really important to think about, we don’t want a careless person, as you say, or someone who doesn’t seem to show respect, or doesn’t seem to care about others’ work. And if you have missed it, I shared some tips of writing cover letters in Episode 5, and one of them was just exactly like, like Elizabeth said, you really need to research and study that organization very well and speak to them instead of just talking about yourself. If you want to check that out, it’s at chaowenting.com/5.

Chaowen: 25:45
I know like a cover letter for applying for a position is a little different from hoping to connect with someone for the first time when you send a cold email. So for example, if a young student coming to the Paris Conservatory to study conducting for the first time, and wanting to say, observe Claire’s rehearsal with the Mozart Paris Orchestra, [can you] give some concrete examples of what would be a well-researched email that would put yourself well? How do you really stand out from, as you say, so many applications and dossiers and really still be authentic, but speak to what is important?

Elizabeth: 26:40
I think the first thing is to be authentic. You know, I think, whether you’re trying to be an authentic artist or an authentic colleague or person, this honesty and speaking from the heart is very important. And whoever it is that you are–some people are extraordinary extroverts, I mean, they are just going a mile a minute, and they you know, the party is always over there. Some people are extremely introverted, and they speak very little, they speak very softly, or maybe they’re in their thoughts–whatever personality you are, I think you want to embrace that and be the best version of you, not a poor version of somebody else, you know. So I think that’s very important in whatever you’re trying to do.

Elizabeth: 27:28
And I think in all of these really valuable tips and tricks that you’ve talked about on previous casts, and so on, the idea is to become the best iteration of yourself, you know, not to be a cookie cutter and to use these catchphrases and so on. So as you’re saying, you don’t want to say, I want to study with the maestra, or you know, the organization is so great, because that’s not personalized. And that does not bespeak a journey that you have made to search out this particular person with this particular institution.

Elizabeth: 28:06
Maybe you know that this particular maestro–I’m going to talk about János Fürst, who was one of my mentors back in the day–the fact that he was Hungarian, and that he had already done work in Romania and with this particular violinist, I might say, that really moved me, because I studied with that violinist’s chamber music partner, and the sense of musicality was so deep, and I really feel this connection, and this is why I would love to come to you and to continue in this deep musical tradition.

Elizabeth: 28:49
Or with the Paris Mozart orchestra: I have already heard your concerts that you gave on ARTE. And I was at Nantes when you gave this live concert, and I couldn’t come and see you because of COVID restrictions, but I really wanted to celebrate what you do, it’s so alive–you really show that they mean something to you, something special, that you’ve actually been there, that you’ve actually done your research online, and that you can say something that is true, and that is meaningful, and why you would like to connect on a more personal level.

Elizabeth: 29:28
So it’s like applying to colleges. I mean, I think we remember this moment, when we apply to colleges, you don’t apply to 20, you know, you just can’t. So you have your number one choice, you have your number two choice, maybe you have a number three and a safety. And you do your research, and you really have your reasons for the number one, you know, and you take it very seriously. These take months, really, of research and crafting of the personal essay. It’s kind of the same thing when you’re courting orchestras or music directors or you know, whoever is doing the hiring or these competitions. My approach is, it’s not just throw a bunch of seeds down on the ground and see which of them grow. It really is tailoring your cover letters to people whom you think you can have a connection with. There’s a reason that you are contacting them and not somebody else.

Chaowen: 30:35
So kind of a different question about contacting people: If you were at a conference and/or at a symposium, sometimes people exchange name cards. You might have spoken with someone who is on staff with an opera house here, or a representative from a publisher here. So you collected a lot of the business cards, what do you do? Do you send an email just to say hi, because you might not have an immediate purpose with this person. But then that’s kind of something that I’ve always wanted, I would probably send a follow up email, say, Hey, we’ve met and this is me. And after that, I don’t know how to follow up, or like in two months. I hate for that potential connection to go away, but I don’t want to send something that is not purposeful or not nicely crafted.

Elizabeth: 31:30
Absolutely. I think that’s another that falls in the “nicely crafted” basket, which is, so you have met the person, you have exchanged business cards, you come home, what do you do with the business card? The answer is–do not throw it in the trash. The answer is: craft a nice, it was so nice to meet you, I really enjoyed our conversation about X. Because remember, this person might have had 20 conversations, and they might not remember your name, but they might have remembered the interesting conversation you had. So you might want to remind the other person what you spoke about.

Elizabeth: 32:08
And then some kind of ask, you know, this is the formula–either, I would love for us to stay in touch, I’ll be coming through Georgia next month and would love to take you out for coffee, or, you know, My new symphony is being published at the end of the year, and I would love to send [it to] you. Something that doesn’t stop this initial exchange that you have brought about by meeting this person to encourage the conversation to continue.

Elizabeth: 32:44
And you know, it’s like a dance: if one person has an ask and the other person has a need, and those are complementary, that’s very fertile ground for something fun to happen, right? A new adventure, a new collaboration. If someone has an ask and the other person has no opportunities, they’re not looking for anything, then chances are, it’s not going to go very far–or at the best, you might just have a nice colleague who will be interested in what you’re doing, but there might not be a collaboration. In any case, that’s okay. Don’t take it personally. Some people are very busy. Not all people are really great at answering emails; sometimes they might go in spam, you don’t know.

Elizabeth: 33:31
So I would say always give people the benefit of the doubt, you know, be on an even keel about it. If some of some of them work out, that’s wonderful. If others of them don’t, don’t worry about it. If you see the person again at another conference, don’t say, Oh, they didn’t get back to me, they hate me. No, don’t worry about it. Just go up to them and say, Well, hi, it’s nice to see you, you know, how have you been since last time? And just keep it easy. Because as you know, everybody is so busy. We’re all wearing so many hats. We’re all doing so many things. I’m sure we do not spend our time saying, How could we make other people feel bad by not answering their emails? No, not at all right?

Elizabeth: 34:13
So just keep it easy. And don’t worry about putting them on an email list. Also, you know, you could ask them, I’d love to keep you in touch with some of my things. Would you mind if I put you on our occasional mailing list of my group and let you know about what we’re doing? Something like that you could also try. And it’s just a chance to make connections and to see if there is something–a terrain that’s fertile to be developed, or if it was just a nice encounter, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing you at some other event.

Chaowen: 34:52
Yeah, and I want to emphasize that I know this can be very frustrating at times or disheartening, because you’re putting hours and hours of time and energy to research this organization or this person and you spent hours writing a nicely crafted email, and you might not get any response. And we all have been there. And it’s totally normal. I hate to say this.

Elizabeth: 34:30
Indeed, indeed. I mean, then that’s part of the success. I mean, I remember reading a story a long, long time ago about–I think it was a composer who won a very important award. And she was going up to receive it and she could give a little speech and she said, “You have no idea how hard it is been to arrive at this point. If you only knew how hard it has been.”

Elizabeth: 35:47
And I found that so refreshing, because so many times you see these people at the award ceremony, and they look beautiful. And they’re just like, Yeah, this is natural. I’m such a genius. And it was so easy for me, you know–and [so] this person acknowledging that the road was so tough and you can get disheartened so many times, I think that’s part of it. I mean, this is a marathon, you know? Your life is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. So don’t wind yourself prematurely. And don’t forget, also, to have fun along the way. You can’t take any of this too, too seriously at the end of the day, because life is long, you know. And so if one person doesn’t answer a letter, someone else will.

Elizabeth: 36:36
Also, I think another interesting point is that if you get a whole bunch of rejections, let’s say you have a campaign, and you’re sending your stuff out, and you’re getting rejections or no information at all, like no response, you might want to ask yourself, What am I doing wrong? You know, if I’m getting like, 0% interest, is it my materials? Is it my project that I’m proposing? Is it my target audience? Do I understand my target audience? It’s not always, I put myself in my package and then I put it out there–you have to tailor what you’re asking to the people you’re asking. And that will change. You know, you won’t present yourself the same in academia, the way that you’ll present yourself to performer and performance venues. There are different aspects of your persona that you will put in front or maybe take to the second plan. And you should be constantly changing and shifting things in order to make yourself more readable and understandable to your target audience. So I think that’s another thing too, you know?

Chaowen: 37:54
Yeah, definitely. And I had a question about that, because I think a lot of people would really have sensed maybe there’s something wrong about the materials or the way things were presented. But I felt, it’s a little bit like when you work with ensembles, some of them didn’t work that well, and some of them worked poorly. But you don’t always get feedback. It’s like when you send an email: [if] you don’t get a response, you have no way of knowing what went wrong, or what was not good enough. If you sense there might be something needing improvement, to put this way, what are some ways that you can kind of audit for yourself to get better?

Elizabeth: 38:37
Yeah, that’s a that’s a great question. And that’s something, actually, that we talk about in the opera academy that I founded in Romania, which is the Transylvanian Opera Academy. And one of the exercises that we do with incoming young musicians in the program is that we do exercises on self analysis, because I think one of the greatest gifts that you can give yourself is to develop an unbiased and clear ability to assess yourself–as an artist, as a professional, going forward, because you should have a little coterie of maybe two or three people–but not more–whose opinions you sincerely trust and value. And you could you could ask one of them, if they come to your concert: Okay. What did you think? You know, if you have two or three, that is wonderful, and you’re very lucky.

Elizabeth: 39:42
But otherwise, you’re largely, as you say, left to yourself. You’re not going to get that feedback, you know? And so if you don’t know how to analyze yourself, and how to really be honest with yourself…it’s hard sometimes, you know? It’s hard to say, you know what, when I give interviews, I’m not very interesting. I just realized that I recorded myself and I sound like a drone. Or, I don’t know, I’ve seen my rehearsal footage [and] I’m so boring. I say ‘um’ all the time, and I have to work on this. You know, it might not make a difference right there and then, but in any case, you are always in progression. You’re always in movement and momentum as a professional, as an artist.

Elizabeth: 40:35
Or you can say, Gosh, that comment? That was spot on; I’m really proud of that moment, you know, that I was able to pinpoint that problem. Or: I got the the orchestra to sound so sweet there–that’s amazing. If you can do that and know yourself, right, then you will have, I think, more fulfilling experiences going forward. And you can learn more from the mistakes and the things that didn’t work out. You can use them to your advantage, to become, again, the more true version of yourself.

Chaowen: 41:10
It’s so wonderful that you talked about self analysis, because also as conductors, that’s something we need to be constantly doing. You should be the best judge of yourself. Because when you’re out of school, you’re on your own. And you are to analyze yourself: what went well, what didn’t? What didn’t go well with a particular rehearsal, with a particular engagement, if you make mistakes in programming, maybe you should have programmed this piece instead of the other one, and all that. But the self analysis that you were talking about that you teach at the academy, is that like a step or like a checklist? Is that something that you can share with the audience? If not, that’s totally okay.

Elizabeth: 41:53
Yeah, no, no, you know, it’s both like a series of short term exercises and then a longer term. For example, a lot of students are taught, especially in more traditional settings, that whatever the teacher says must be right, right? And I have to listen to whatever the teacher says, because I’m here to learn from the teacher. And then when I come out, I will have the print, you know, of the teacher. And I mean, listen, even at Juilliard, you could hear who came out of what studio, right? Or at Oberlin, you could tell a Schwartz student from a Takács student from a, you know, Margolis student. So, I’m not saying necessarily that that’s a bad thing, or that you should not listen to your teachers. But that’s an initial step where you’re learning your craft.

Elizabeth: 42:47
Even the master painters in Paris, when they’re in the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, they take courses on copying the masters. Why? Because in copying the masters, they assimilate the masters’ techniques and strengths. And they appropriate this coterie of skills and outlooks and artistry that they can then (then that’s step number two) appropriate for themselves and make it personal, so that you’re no longer a copy of the master or the teacher; you become your own version, and that you’ve had very important and reasoned and prestigious–let’s say, but for the right reasons–influences on you.

Elizabeth: 43:42
And that’s why I think it’s so important to find the right mentors and the right teachers when you are developing, because in any case, you are going to absorb like a sponge whoever is teaching you. And if you have someone who is not very enlightened, then you will come out with not the greatest, you know, education or you won’t be pushed in the same way and challenged in the same way as someone who is really passionate about what they’re doing; they have a great musical pedigree, and they’re teaching it and they’re showing it to you in a very clear way. So I think you want to be an advocate for yourself as a young person and go for the best teachers or the best experiences that you can, because that is an investment in your own development, and that will serve you all the rest of your life; that will be your reference point going forward.

Elizabeth: 44:40
And then you have to challenge yourself, once you are done in that initial stage of learning, to ask yourself questions. I know that for example, when I was a young student at the Ecole Normale, we would videotape our sessions with the orchestra. And then we would do the very painful exercise of looking at our rehearsals with the orchestra, sometimes with our teacher, sometimes with the assistant, but always with somebody. And that is so embarrassing, because you see everything that’s not right. And even in my master’s program, we videoed all the lessons, because we had all the things that our teacher would say to us that we would maybe forget if we can’t write it down, because we’re in the lesson.

Elizabeth: 45:32
And also you see how our body is transmitting everything: our tics as well as our musicality, or a blockage somewhere. If there’s a blockage between what you’re thinking and what your arms are expressing, then you need to be aware of that, and sometimes you have to objectify yourself in order to see things clearly, because once you’re in it, you don’t have that kind of perspective. So that’s also what we encourage, is [to] record yourself, and take those moments to look at yourself as if you would a third person. Not all the time, of course–from time to time, because you don’t want to distance yourself completely from your artistic experience, of course, but those are some techniques, I think, that can be helpful.

Chaowen: 46:23
That is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. So you talked about like finding a good teacher and really learn what the teacher can offer to you, both technically and musically and everything. And the next step is you want to personalize what you have learned, because you don’t want to be just a copycat of your teacher. And if you’re only a copycat, why do we want you? We just want your teacher. (laughs) But you have something about yourself, your personality, and how things will suit you better. Especially with conducting, we all have different physicalities and different makes of your body. So one thing that works well for your teacher might not be working well or as natural with your own arm or your head, and even how you stand. And ask yourself questions, review your materials with someone else at the press, and that would be very terrifying.

Elizabeth: 47:23
Very hard, very hard. (laughs) But you know, you can have a buddy. Let’s say that you’re in a master’s program: you have your buddy and say, Okay, let’s be video buddies. Okay, and then we go out for a beer afterwards or something, you know, just kind of make it a little less scary. But it’s very good. I mean, I remember my colleagues at Ecole Normale: I thought I was being very passionate, you know, I was like, 22, or something, very passionate. And they were like, Why are you so angry? I’m like, Oh, okay. That’s not what I want to transmit to people is anger. So these comments, if they’re well meant, and they’re not meant to hurt–they’re just meant to show you, I don’t understand why you want to be so mad there–you know, then you can say, Okay, well, what is that? And is that just me? Or is that something that’s getting in the way of expressing what I truly feel? So you can have that dialogue with yourself as well as with your trusted colleagues.

Chaowen: 48:24
Yeah, and I will say, don’t take it personally. Because it can be really hard to get that kind of comments. I remember when I was starting, I often got the comment that I was very distanced, almost like I didn’t care, while I was really trying to process what the teacher was telling me and make the intelligent decision while people said I didn’t connect or didn’t engage. And I was very puzzled and confused, like, why, but really just kind of as Elizabeth said, try to look at yourself as a third party. And over time, we get better at kind of reviewing yourself in that way.

Chaowen: 49:08
So, Elizabeth, thank you so much for all you have shared and please tell my listeners where they can find more about you. Or if they wanted to be in contact with you, what would be the best way, if you’re willing to share your Facebook or your website or anything?

Elizabeth: 49:24
Sure, well, I have a website. I think that’s one-stop shopping for finding out more and also dropping me a line. And it’s very easy: it’s just my name. So it’s Elizabeth with a ‘z’, and then Askren: elizabethaskren.com. So that’s where you can find where I’m going to be performing or speaking or doing anything that’s public. And also you can drop me a line. And yeah, I hope to see you either over the waves or in person, and I hope you enjoyed the show.

Chaowen: 49:59
Thank you so much.

Elizabeth: 50:01
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Chaowen: 50:04
So here you have it. And I hope you love this chat as much as I do. As I said at the beginning of the show, Elizabeth was on my guest list even before I started this podcasting project. I knew that she would have a lot to offer and to share with all of us, and I loved every minute of the conversation.

Chaowen: 50:36
So what’s your biggest takeaway from the chat? I particularly loved that she shared about contacting someone for the first time with a cold email. You definitely don’t want to send out a template message, but want to tailor the content to the addressee. Think about when we talked about cover letter tips in Episode 5: you want to do a lot of homework and to talk about them, not you. If you’ve missed that episode, you can always check out the show notes at chaowenting.com/5, and I will also link this in this episode’s show notes, which you can find at chaowenting.com/15.

Chaowen: 51:14
As Elizabeth said, when contacting someone, you want to be very specific: know what they are known for, their recent projects, or even their expertise, and come in with just one particular request. Don’t just say that I admired the maestro and want to learn from you. That won’t work well or make a strong impression. For example, if you’re contacting me for the first time, you would know from googling me that I’m passionate about promoting women composers and mentoring young conductors. So when you contact me, you can say something about [liking] my programming choices and would like to know my experience working with composer XYZ, whose work that I recently conducted or premiered. That kind of email would really hit home with me.

Chaowen: 52:06
You know, I have gotten a message from a composer once who obviously knew nothing about me. And the first line of the message read, Hey, I don’t know if you perform works by living composers but I have a piece, blah blah blah blah. I immediately trashed that message and didn’t even bother to respond, as I didn’t feel respected. That was one extreme example though, but [still] something to really keep in mind, as we get lots and lots of introductory emails every day: pitching ideas, collaboration projects, soloists looking for an ensemble to work with, or composers introducing their new works, commission consortiums, and so on. So do your homework and be very, very specific.

Chaowen: 52:57
What are some networking practices that have worked for you? Please share with me and if you’re listening from the car or at the gym, you can find all information in the show notes at chaowenting.com/15. You can also ask a question or share your thoughts with me, as I always love to hear from you. You can tag me on social media: I’m @tingchaowen on Instagram and @chaowentingconductor on Facebook. If you post something, don’t forget to use the hashtag, #theconductorspodcast.

Chaowen: 53:37
My guest next week, Jennifer Kane, will be sharing with us how she started a new vocal ensemble amidst the pandemic and how she found her niche to attract the right people for her project. I can’t wait for you to hear that conversation, as it’s full of tips. You all know that I love tangible, step-by-step strategies, right? Okay, I will see you next week at the same time, same place. Bye for now.