29: Navigating a Diversified Career in Music with Susie Benchasil Seiter

Show Notes:

Conductor Susie Bechasil Seiter, who specializes in orchestra pops and film score conducting, discuss systematic gender bias, barriers, and her experiences touring with bands around the world!


Susie Benchasil Seiter is a prolific conductor, orchestrator and composer for film, television, video games, and live concerts. Susie currently stays busy conducting Live to Picture shows with venerable symphonies, orchestrating various projects  and her first co-written Netflix limited series is due out this fall.

Seiter is best known for orchestrating and conducting the remarkably successful orchestral concert tours The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses and Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions. Combined, these tours have been performed more than 300 times by some of the world’s most respected orchestras. In 2017-2018 alone, she conducted over 80 orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic at London’s Apollo Hammersmith, The Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Madison Square Garden, the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap, and the Sydney Symphony at the iconic Sydney Opera House. Seiter excels in leading popular symphonic film concerts such as Frozen Live, Muppets Christmas Carol, Pixar in Concert and Mary Poppins Live. She recently completed a 120 city worldwide orchestra tour as conductor and music director for multiple Grammy-winning band Evanescence and Billboard Music Award winner and YouTube sensation, Lindsey Stirling. Last year she conducted the Paramount blockbuster hit Snake Eyes: A GI Joe Origin Story and Netflix’s holiday favorite 8-Bit Christmas. She is excited to appear this summer with Toy Story Live and Nightmare Before Christmas live in various cities. Susie also likes to boast that she conducted the recording to Zombieland 2 at Capitol Studios nine days after giving birth.

Originally from Baltimore, Seiter now calls Los Angeles home, where she lives with Chad and their sons Samuel and William.

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Susie: 0:00
You know, I was conducting pregnant and having a ball. And people were like, you know, I would I would conduct orchestras and they would say to my face, oh, we should have been informed that you were pregnant. We didn’t know that you’re pregnant. Why didn’t you tell us? And I’m like, Why does why should it matter that I’m pregnant? You know, have you suddenly decided that a pregnant woman shouldn’t conduct an orchestra? Because I can be on my feet all day long, and be fine. You know, like, I’m tough. Like women conductors are tough.

Chaowen: 0:40
Hey there, welcome to The Conductors 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 vocalist, 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 student musicians and non musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry and business.

Chaowen: 1:27
Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth and the roller coaster of conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you a 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: 2:01
Hello, hello, hi there. Welcome to another episode of The Conductor’s {odcast. I’m your host challenging, I’m so glad for you to be joining me today. Because my guest today is a really awesome badass. She specializes in conducting a very unique type of performances, which is sometimes very often called orchestra pops. And before I introduce her, I wanted to give you a little background in case you’re not super familiar with what is going on.

Chaowen: 2:37
So the two typical types of this orchestra pops performances are one that there is a set band that tours. And when this band tours, they pick up an orchestra to work with at every single city that they are touring to say that they are now going to Atlanta, their agent will contact orchestras. They’re in Atlanta to see who might be interested in partnering with them. And they might be moving on to Orlando next day, or two, I don’t know back to Baltimore for in two days. And their agent would organize all this ensembles to work with this band. And the bands usually have a set music, a set numbers of music, depending on the orchestra and the venue, they might be playing like you know, say, nine out of the 12 in a pool, or all 12 in a pool. Depending on the band and the agent, sometimes they contract directly with the orchestra. Say they might partner with Augusta Symphony, for example. That’s one of the examples that I just assisted this past month when they had the pop series. Or it could be a contract with the venue say that they want to be having a show and at the Fox Theater, and they would have a pickup orchestra. That’s what we called.

Chaowen: 4:09
So it’s not really a regularly performed to get a group. But because of this gig, there is a contractor who went out and find all the musicians needed for this particular gig. So this is called a pickup orchestra. So this is one type of the orchestra pops and Susie will talk about how she tours with a band around the world. The other type of Symphony pops or orchestra pops are usually housed or hosted by an established ensemble, say, you know, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony or any established ensemble join their pop series and they I have a particular show that they are bringing a different conductor for that. The conductor is very often a package with the particular show that you want to be doing.

Chaowen: 5:15
For example, and company might hold the rights to all the arrangement from Frozen. So when you want to have Frozen in concert, either with the image or not, the company will sell you the music and all the videos and all that with a conductor so you have to take their conductor if you want to perform this show with your orchestra.

Chaowen: 5:45
My guest today Susie Benchasil Seiter is a conductor for this very specific types of performances. She is a prolific conductor orchestrator and composer for film, television, video games and live concert. She currently stays busy conducting live to picture shows with symphonies orchestrating various project, and her first co-written Netflix limited series is due out this fall. She has also conducted the series like the Pokemon symphonic evolution, or the Frozen show, like an example that I just mentioned, or Toy Story, etc. In today’s conversation, we talk a lot about working with professional orchestras, touring with family. She has two young kids just like me, and some of the barriers and obstacles that we encountered in our career. So we have a lot to cover and dive in.

Chaowen: 6:57
Welcome so much to the show. Susie, I’m so thrilled to speak with you. I so look forward to it. And thank you for coming to The Conductor’s Podcast.

Susie: 7:05
Thank you so much for having me.

Chaowen: 7:09
So before we get started, though, I asked everybody this question, can you give us a brief intro of your background and how you get to where you are right now?

Susie: 7:18
Sure. Um, so I studied music at a small liberal arts college, Franklin Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, it was just a general music degree. But I got exposure to conducting ensembles, because they offered conducting, you know, so I took three years of conducting and conducted the wind ensemble, and the orchestra and the choir while I was there, at the smaller arts college, which was wonderful, and I also had a really small department. I think there were only maybe six people in my class.

Susie: 8:01
So after college, I went to grad school at SUNY Purchase, which was a studio composition degree. And that was, that was great because it exposed me to commercial music, TV, music, documentary music, I did internships and things like that with National Geographic. And then I taught for a really long time, I taught for six years. And I taught music and I taught just actually regular kindergarten reading and first grade, which is coming in handy now that I’m a mom to a kindergartner.

Susie: 8:44
And while I was teaching, and this is kind of the story that changed my life, so I was teaching at an upstate New York boarding school called Millbrook School. And Alan Menken, his daughter, his both his daughters went there. So, I always had an interest in film music. And I ended up meeting Alan Menken when he was dropping his daughter off at school, so I met him in the school cafeteria. And he’s just this jolly friendly dude. And I just went up to him, and I said, Hi, you know, like, I’m a big fan of you. I mean, he’s won eight Academy Awards. And this guy really influenced my love of music. You know, I grew up on the Little Mermaid and Aladdin and, and I just said, you know, I’m really interested in film music. And would I be able to give you a call? So he gave me his number. He said, Sure, call me. And we kept in touch for a really long time. And he sort of became a mentor of mine because he’s straight shooter, he’s very honest. He gave me a lot of really great advice. He listened to my music and gave me feedback. It was constructive. But you know, my music wasn’t good when I was, you know, 22. And he told me what I needed to do. And then he invited me to a recording session, he said he was recording some music for a film called Home on the Range. It was a musical. And he invited me to come to a day and I said, actually, you know, because I’d be traveling from New York, to LA, can I stay? He goes, Yeah, just stay for the whole week, I went to the studio was Todd-AO Studios, which is now doesn’t exist in LA anymore. But it was on the CBS lot. And I was a fly on the wall for a week of recording the score for Home on the Range. And that is when I just became addicted and I needed to be part of this world. I was like, I have to be in this world. I don’t know how but I have to be.

Chaowen: 11:13
This is a great story and have so many questions to ask

Susie: 11:18
Ask! I mean, I have more I have edited down, it’s fine.

Chaowen: 11:23
So coming back to your experience, and it looks like please correct me if I were wrong, that you went to USC for film scoring, it was more on the composition and arranging sides, perhaps. Yes. And then how did you get to like, come back to you, even though you have some experience collecting for your undergrad? And did that prompt you into the you want to conduct or you felt capable? Because I heard that from a lot of women that they never thought they could connect because they just didn’t have the commitment or it never occurred to them. That’s something that he can do.

Susie: 11:57
Oh, I see. Okay. Well, also when I was teaching music, I was conducting every day. So I at Millbrook, when I was teaching at the boarding school, I had a jazz ensemble, and I had three choirs. So I was Yeah. I’m a singer, and I’m a terrible pianist and a terrible violinist and a terrible bassoonist and an okay singer. And so, as you know, a conductor music director at a school I was I was conducting four ensembles, a day running rehearsals, things like that. And so when I got to USC, you know, you had to conduct the cue that you wrote. And I’ll never forget this, because, you know, all the people kind of that came before me. They were late or flaky. And and, and so I ended up you know, I was third on the docket and had to go first. This went up there and just did it. And it felt very natural, because I did it teaching for six years and conducting ensembles, four times a day. And I remember that teacher, you know, looked at me and said, You’ve clearly done this before. And I said, Yes, I have. I, I definitely had the confidence. Because I didn’t think about it. It’s not scary to me.

Susie: 13:28
In fact, when I was it was like my second day in LA, I got a I got to visit a recording session for Alias, had in had invited the class. And most of the class didn’t come because they were busy working on student films. So I was the only one that showed up for my class of 20. And, and the conductor asked, you know, does anybody want to conduct a cue and I just raised my hand without even thinking about it. And then I realized, Oh, I’m the only one that volunteered. There were there was another class there from UCLA where they were like 10 other students. But I just kind of raised my hand and then I was like, Oh, okay.

Susie: 14:16
So there is a bit of fearlessness in me. Um, and I just did it. And I crashed and burned. I was terrible. But I did it. You know, I have to say that that’s, that’s part of it is just deciding to do it. And yeah, I totally crashed and burned. And I learned from it. I will say too, I also met I met my spouse there too, on that second day, that was assisting Michael It was like his, you know, third or fourth day on the job and he was this friendly assistant that greeted me and made me feel you know, welcome and he was very warm. So, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s part of it. You know, most of the the battle is just showing up. And just, you know, being a little bit unafraid to just make a fool out of yourself and just say, Fuck it, what can I lose?

Chaowen: 15:11
So it was never a decision that you have to make between conducting or composing what you were just OA and the film score.

Susie: 15:19
Yeah, yeah.

Chaowen: 15:21
Well, whatever that’s takes.

Susie: 15:23
Well, and also to because I was working for composers that needed an orchestrator, that it when it came time to record the sessions, it made sense for me to conduct it, because I orchestrated all the music. So there was nobody else besides the composer that knew the music so well. So it made sense. So I would be conducting their music and they would be in the booth. You know, composers, composers can be really great conductors. But composers also have so much other things to deal with in the booth, where they have pre-lays, they have electronics, they have to, they have to monitor the mix. They have to, you know, sit with the, you know, the show runners or the producers and directors in the booth, and listen to the music and discuss it. So usually, the next best person to conduct is the orchestrator if they have that skill, so that’s so I was just regularly conducting music that I was that I was orchestrating.

Chaowen: 16:34
That’s awesome. And you said that you work really hard. I think a lot of people forget about that, that when people say I was, I thought I was lucky being at the right place at the right time. But people don’t remember that you have to be so prepared, so you can shine when the opportunity is given to you. But I also heard that as women, you have to work 20 times harder or 50 times harder than your male colleagues to, like, see, you felt the same, especially as a parent or just being as a woman or like me, as a woman of color. I felt I have to be externally prepared and awesome. So people won’t pick on me on the same little question that my other colleagues made, that they will just say, Hey, this is okay. They’re young. And when it’s me, it’s Oh, when they can’t do it?

Susie: 17:25
Well, here’s the thing, they’re always going to pick on you. And that sucks. I know that they’re always going to pick on you. There are, there are things that I can say, on the podium, because I am very direct. And, you know, we have sometimes one rehearsal, and then one, and then the show is that night. So I don’t really have time to be this like shrinking sweet violet person, that that, you know, I just need to say, hey, you know, check those notes there. Because, you know, because they’re wrong.

Susie: 18:07
Well, first of all, you have to trust the musicians, first and foremost, that if you hear mistakes, and that you trust that they know that their mistakes, and that they will correct it because they have been doing this their entire lives. But then if those mistakes don’t get corrected, you do have to just fix it. And you have to fix it in the most efficient way possible. And that is just to be direct and polite. But that does not always go over well, when you’re a woman. You know, we all know, you know, the politics of this country, and that there are certain regions of the country that are extremely conservative. And I have conducted, you know, those orchestras, and it is not a coincidence that they don’t invite me back. And they don’t like me. I conducted a really prestigious orchestra in 2019. And it was a very difficult show. And with very little rehearsal, we had probably half as much rehearsal as we needed to. And I remember.

Susie: 18:07
So the administration is very nice, where they, they welcome you, but it’s the orchestra that determines whether you get invited back. And their main comment to me was that when mistakes happened, that my face didn’t change. Wow. Yeah. And I was like, Okay, I’m like, If a man in first of all, like when when mistakes happened, my face doesn’t change. I just fix it. I immediately pay attention to it, fix it, but my face does not change. If a man were to do that, they’d be like, Oh, he’s steadfast, he’s unbreakable. But if a woman does that, and she’s young, it’s like, oh, she doesn’t seem to have a clue.

Chaowen: 20:15
I got that a lot, or when or when our faces change, they say, they look concerned, and they are not fixing it, or they are not addressed in that they just, they’re too emotional, they can handle it.

Susie: 20:29
It’s, it’s such a double standard, you know, and it’s, it’s a hard, it’s a hard world out there. You know, and, and it’s not a coincidence that, that there when I, when I traveled to a red state, I am not well received, I am, I am dark skinned, I am a female, and I look young. I’m not well received on the East Coast. Or the West Coast, they love me, you know, they’re like, Oh, this is great. You know, it was efficient, you know, I just ran the show. And, and, and I got the work done. And so, you know, now that I’m in a spot, I’m like, okay, you know, I kind of want to work with people that want to work with me, as opposed to going in and being thrown to the wolves. And, and, you know, having to face this double standard, that I can’t be direct, and get the work done, you know, just like a man can, I will say to that the additional challenge of being a mom, and being a mom to young children, especially is that people also feel that they need to decide your priorities. And that needs to stop.

Susie: 21:47
You know, I was conducting pregnant and having a ball. And people were like, you know, I would I would conduct orchestras and they would say to my face, oh, we should have been informed that you were pregnant. Wow. You know, like, we didn’t know that you were pregnant? Why didn’t you tell us? And things like that? And I’m like, Why does? Why should it matter that I’m pregnant? You know, have you suddenly decided that a pregnant woman shouldn’t conduct an orchestra? You know, because I can be on my feet all day long. And be fine. You know, like, I’m tough. Like, women conductors are tough. They are. It’s frustrating to me. You know, they get frustrated at, they tell you, you know, that you shouldn’t be traveling and things like that. I’m like, Hey, I love traveling. I get to go and enjoy wine. And you know, after rehearsal and talk to adults and, and the new city. It’s a vacation to me. And they don’t really think of it that way. Because suddenly you’re a mom and your your priorities are supposed to change. And it’s like, of course, like I I’m very present for my children. But I’m also a much better mom, because I’m doing what I love. Yeah, I’m working with orchestras. I love orchestras. You know, as much as I am frustrated at discrimination and things like that. I love orchestras. I love the people in orchestras. I find them even even the ordinary ones. I find them fascinating because they all have amazing stories behind them of how they became that, you know, best, best, you know, person to make that chair.

Chaowen: 23:38
Yeah, usually, they’re like, Don’t you miss your kids? When are you that when you get to talk to them? It’s like, it’s not your business. I’m here to work.

Susie: 23:46
I just say no. I say no. Like, I’m not gone that long. Like, I’m fine with them, you know, for two or three days, like I’m having a great.

Chaowen: 24:00
That those are really my vacation. So it’s like really like not having to grab lunch, wake them up and do things.

Susie: 24:09
Oh, you have lunch, you just have to prep, like an entire week’s worth of lunch before you leave. Because you still have to do all those things.

Chaowen: 24:17
I used to, but then I realized my husband has his easy way of doing lunch like me prepping make making having to do extra work to heat I’m not. So like dads always have their own ways of doing and you have to trust your partner. Totally. But I like to come back

Susie: 24:35
Yeah. Oh, sorry. I don’t know if like I wanted to get into this a little bit about partnerships too. So because my husband is a composer, and like and we talked about, you know, possibly talking about how to balance a family with a career and everything and, and here’s the thing too, it’s like, you know, Chad and I are partners. As we met, you know, working in this industry, and we both love it. And neither one of us wanted to give that up to have children. And we didn’t, you know, we both, we both are very driven. I’m sort of ridiculously driven. I, I have conducted recording sessions after both my kids within two weeks, you know, so like, I think 10 days with my first kid, and I had a C section, I was I was up on the podium. And then nine days after that, I was up on the podium after my second kid,

Chaowen: 25:43
You’re strong, you’re a tough, I couldn’t, I had some complications from my C sections. So I was in bed for a good three weeks after both of my kids were born.

Susie: 25:54
I also like, I mean, my, my mom, friends say I’m a little crazy. And I’m like, You know what, I am a little crazy. Like, and that’s the thing too, is that, you know, we have it, we have, we live in this freelance world where we don’t know what our next paycheck is gonna be. So, you know, I really wanted to keep working. I love working, you know, and also like, both my husband and I both need to work for our mental, you know, health, but also for finances, and to keep this, you know, this life that we have. But like, so, so I don’t know if you know, some people know, I conducted this tour, it was an Evanescence Tour, where I got this offer, actually, while I was conducting 10 days after my first kid, I got the offer to conduct the Evanescence store. And they said it was going to be just a few cities. And we were going to pick up an orchestra in every city. And you would learn the show. And, you know, Amy Lee, the, the lead singer loves orchestras. And so she actually wanted to make the orchestra, like a celebrated part of the show, and not, you know, just people behind the curtain in the background, which is what I initially assumed. But she’s like, No, no, I want to be surrounded by the orchestra and have them, have them around me, but then also have you right next to me.

Susie: 27:37
And I was like, what, like, I was, I was literally in line in line site with her right next to her when she was on the piano, front, in center. And and I got that tour offer. And I turned it down. And my husband said, Wait, what, like, and I said, Well, I’ve just given birth, you know, and it’s, it’s too bad. Because that tour sounds like a dream for a conductor. And he said, Well, hold on. He’s like, it’s only for a couple of shows. He’s like you, you taught you told me you were going to be a working mom, why don’t you be a working mom, like, this is a huge opportunity. And he’s like, I used to listen to Evanescence in college all the time. And, and, and this is a great opportunity. And he turned me around. And and so I took that job that the few cities turned into like 80 cities over a year. And I would come home, you know, you know, they the band has families too. So we would out for like, you know, two weeks, and then we back for two weeks.

Susie: 28:54
And then the nice thing was, even though it’d be gone for two weeks, and I had a baby at home, I would come home for two weeks and solely focus on my baby, you know, and stalk my baby on the nest camera as well. When he slept. I was. So it was like, you know, balancing that career and family. I mean, it’s hard. It takes a lot of work, but it’s so worth it to.

Chaowen: 29:20
So just for the listeners who are less familiar with the orchestra touring, or for this kind of touring shows, can you tell us a little bit about how they operate both as guest conductors saying like you work with a orchestra say you’re invited by orchestra A or B that you fly in for a show and then kind of also touring. How are they different and how is your typical work like?

Susie: 29:46
Okay, well the thing that I love about this life is there’s no typical day or new typical work. I love that every day is different and it’s an adventure. So for touring, and I’ve done a lot of tours I’ve done The Legend of Zelda tour, I’ve done Pokemon tour. And I’ve done the Evanescence tour and the Lindsey Stirling tour. So and they all lasted like two or three years each. So I’ve been touring a lot. So the way that the tours work is I, you know, I’m either in a hotel or on a tour bus and the tour bus is fun. Living on a tour bus with a rock band is like, the funnest thing ever. Because I was, you know, I was treated like a member of the family. You go into a new city, and, and it could be St. Louis, it could be Moscow. And there’s a contractor that contracts the local orchestra. And so I wake up from the tour bus, I go into the venue, you know, and rehearsal starts at like one.

Susie: 31:01
So, actually, because I was a new mom, I was pumping milk all the time. And would pump milk before rehearsal, then go and run rehearsal, it would, it would be from like, one until 330 with a 20 minute break in between. And then I would break for a couple hours. And then the show is at eight, or seven, for Evanescence, we did an opening number of just orchestra where it was just featured. And we did you know, music inspired, you know, by by Evanescence or things like that, because they had, they had some music that was Mozart based there, they have a plate, they have a song called Lacrymosa. So we did I did an arrangement of, of a chamber ensemble for Lacrymosa. And, and we did the Mozart Lacrimosa. And then I would get on the bus. And we would, we would, you know, go to sleep and drive to the next city. It was the most comfortable sleep ever sleeping on a tour bus. And then I would wake up and just rinse and repeat. And we did that, you know, about five shows a week. And that was touring, it was so much fun. I made incredibly great friends. And I became like a family member to a band that had been together for a long time, but they welcomed me immediately. And like a, like a band member. And you know, when my when my child would come on tour, my husband would join, and my child would come and they would be holding the baby and playing with the baby.

Susie: 32:46
It was just this family. I remember in Moscow, I had probably the worst rehearsal of my life. You want to talk about sort of gender bias and things like that it was so difficult. It was like a battlefield constantly. And the orchestra was, was quite beautiful. But when they made mistakes, they were really bold mistakes. And I came out of that rehearsal, looking like I got hit by a train. Just a constant battle of hostility. You know, and I remember walking off that stage, and the band saw me, the band and crew saw me. And they knew that was a tough rehearsal. And we had done that show 40 times before. And they I got a knock in my dressing room. And they all came in with like bottles of wine, and snacks. And they just sat around me, and we just kind of drank a little wine and just settled in. And they just helped me recover. You know, so that that was sort of this, really a career highlight for me on a beautiful, beautiful tour that I did. I’ve been on tour with my husband before and that’s a lot of fun. But also crazy because, you know, we’re, we’re working together. You know, we’re communicating and, you know, handing off the kids and things like that.

Susie: 34:34
Now the guest conducting part that works differently where I’m invited by artistic directors of orchestras, and it’s usually of a show that I know, or I’m well prepared to do. So something that I’m used to doing are in addition to the rock shows. I’m used to doing the film the live film to picture shows. And so I, I would get invited by the artistic director usually through an agent. Like I have a wonderful agent Emily Yoon, with ICM. And she’s, she’s like a power mom too. And she’s a rock star. And so I kind of love that we get each other very well. She also, you know, doesn’t ever try to, you know, she gets the discrimination and everything and so she, she knows. And she’s tough too. So she’s my agent. And so we, she’ll get a call, and she just knows that this is kind of the show that I like to do is, you know, I’ve done Toy Story I’ve done Frozen several times. And so she is has relationships with artistic directors. So she’s able to put me forward for those things.

Susie: 36:03
And, and so I travel and it’s usually to rehearsals, and then the show. And those those work more like a vacation. Because the has two rehearsals in one show is really nice, as opposed to like one rehearsal and then show that night and then leave, like a tour where, you know, the artistic directors, or the administration takes me out to dinner the night before rehearsal, and you know, they’re always lovely. And usually the orchestras are lovely, too. And, you know, we do the show, and then I leave the next day, and then they review me and then you know, it depends on whether they liked me or not. And like I said before, like, because I’m pretty direct. You know, and I’m a woman and I’m a woman of color, like, a lot of people on the East Coast and West Coast. Those orchestras really love me. Yeah.

Chaowen: 37:02
And then mentality for sure.

Susie: 37:04
Yeah. And then when I go to, you know, much more conservative cities, they don’t like me as much. And that’s okay. That’s kind of also the lovely thing about being in my mid 40s. And, you know, having a great career already is that I’m okay with not being everybody’s cup of tea. You know, I know how I am, and I’m not gonna soften myself or, or, you know, behave in a way that they see fit that I behave, you know, and talk in a way that I talk, you know, I really am just who I am, and I’m, I’m really good at, you know, 10 things. So if I’m not, you know, fit for that kind of show, or kind of group, that’s okay. Because I will always continue to work. And it’s so much more rewarding when you’re working with an orchestra that, you know, welcomes you isn’t really bitter about being there in the first place.

Chaowen: 38:12
So it sounds like that you are constantly working with new orchestras, especially when you’re on tour that you’re picking up a local orchestra or a local ensemble, how do you adjust working with different groups of musicians or, or because you have so little rehearsal time, you don’t worry about that use going and try to fix as much as you can.

Susie: 38:33
Um, well, this was actually my method, pre COVID. Go around and meet the players beforehand, because meeting the players on on a level that’s equal. We’re just making it about the music and the show. And not about anything else is really telling. It tells me a lot about the orchestra. It tells me a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of each player. Because a lot of those pickup orchestras, they call them pickup orchestras, you know, for scoring is these these orchestra members there, they rarely all play together. They’re all kind of made up of different Yeah, they’re freelancers. They pick up gigs. Exactly.

Susie: 39:30
So there was this one time, for example, I was on tour with Pokemon. And I met people and some people, you know, if they have questions, I’m like, okay, note in my mind, they’re prepared. They’ve looked at the music before. I know that. And then, you know, I met a timpanist who goes, oh my gosh, there was so much traffic and this and that, and I barely made it. And I’m so sorry, but I’ll have to you know, hopefully, I will try to get all the notes I take a mental note. Okay. She has probably hasn’t, she’s looked at it, she’s overwhelmed, you know, what can I do? And here’s something that has made me a better conductor because I became a mother is because I am so empathetic to that, you know, like, okay, you’ve had a bad day, you know, you’ve had traffic, you know, maybe you don’t have everything together today. And that’s okay. I’m getting help, like, I’m here to help. And so how can I help you? And so I answer those questions, I try to calm things down, I try to create a friendly environment, where they don’t have to be afraid to make mistakes, because rehearsals are supposed to, you know, that’s the time to make mistakes. And I also kind of realized that she’s going to probably be overwhelmed. And so I may need to pay more attention to her than then anyone else. And it’s fine. Everybody’s human.

Susie: 41:03
And, and I love I love people in orchestras. And so that helps me prepare, you know, because there’s all sorts of different personalities, and it helps me prepare beforehand. Because I know the music. I mean, I’m always prepared with the music. So how can I guide the different personalities with however, you know, horrible day they’re having, or you know, what they’re bringing to that rehearsal, and then try to aim it towards the music and making a good show.

Chaowen: 41:42
I love what you’re saying about that you are feeling? Let me rephrase that. I love that you say you felt you’re a better conductor now, after you became a parent because I heard that from my teacher as well. Like he felt he had relief, like learning things and understand everybody has different strengths and all that from that, which helped him. But I wanted to ask you another thing, because I think in the beginning of my career, I was wise to never tell people that I was a parent or not to put my kids pictures on social media. And I was told by an admin say, hey, white man, like holding a baby, that’s cute, with a woman conductor. And people were hesitant to hire you in the first place already and seeing your family they that gives them too much out of thoughts. And there wasn’t going to be great for my career. How do you feel about that? Or do you feel that you had babies later in your career that you’re already established that you didn’t have to worry so much about that?

Susie: 42:46
I did have, yeah, I had my first child when I was 40. So I did a lot of work before that. But yes, I do believe that, you know, and again, we can do a whole podcast on bias in orchestras. Because, first of all, everybody has bias. And, and systematic bias, bias definitely exists, and it is alive and well in orchestras. You know, my attitude is you can do whatever you feel comfortable. But what I really hate about it is not being in control. You know, like, hey, my kids are cute. So if I want to post something, then I’m going to post something. And, and I found that the people that I have the most rewarding relationships with, allow me to be authentic, and I allow them to be authentic. And no one is happy when they have to not be authentic. You know, because that’s like a prison. And why would you want to work and live in this prison where you have to hide aspects of your life that are important, and that make you better? You know, just because you have a child does not make you worse off or distracted or whatever conductor, you know, much like a man with a child. Oh, well, he’s a great provider. And he’s a he’s a great conductor, and he’s a great provider and he needs to provide for his family but a woman No, no, she’s she needs to be at home with her child. You know, that needs to stop. It may not be my job to stop it, but I am certainly not going to imprison myself on that belief that you need to decide you know, you need to hide, you know, beautiful things that are important to you.

Susie: 45:03
Because that’s the thing is that music is about beauty, and passion and feelings. You know, that’s why we all got into this, it’s not about ego, like, you know, screw the ego. It’s not, it’s about music and beauty. You know, and, and it’s the ego and all of these biases that get in the way. You know, and, and the thing is that with classical music, there’s so much systematic bias that, you know, if if, you know, a conservative orchestra is suddenly not, you know, receiving me well, like, I’m not surprised by that. And that’s okay, I don’t, I don’t need need, or want to work with you. Because I want to go in and be authentic, and I want to welcome them to be authentic, and I want to make beautiful music together. And I don’t, and having to fear who I am, or not be who I am, is not how I choose to find happiness. You know, if I work a little less, and that’s fine, but, you know, you just end up you know, when you’re older, finding your people and, and loving who you are, and finding people that love you for who you are. You know, I would I would hate to work for an orchestra where I had to hide that. You know, because relationships and, and closeness and authenticity is really the core of, of a conductor and orchestra relationship.

Chaowen: 46:44
So I know that now you say like after working for quite a while you have a feeling of how the orchestra might receive you. And it’s okay for you to pick your works now. But what if you walk into a rehearsal and things that you didn’t expect? Or somehow you felt that the vibe was not okay. Do you have any stories that you will want to share and how you deal with that?

Susie: 47:11
Oh, sure.

Chaowen: 47:13
We have a lot.

Susie: 47:15
Oh, yeah. Man, I got, I got, I got invited to sort of replace another female conductor who had to have surgery. And this was years ago. It was it was this like, New Year’s on New Year’s Show Pops, very prestigious, beautiful orchestra. And it was a show, first of all, it was music that I wasn’t really comfortable conducting. And I, I this was very new to me. But I was in this position where I felt like I needed to get in front of every orchestra to advance my career. And so I went there, and you know, the administration, you most administrations are lovely, and they were also lovely, but the second I, I stepped out of that dressing room. Like, I didn’t even get on the podium. It was like, the musicians were so hostile. And it’s like, okay, they’re, you know, it’s New Year’s Eve, they hate that they’re at work today. And they’re taking it out on me. You know, and that sucks. And it was just kind of a hostile rehearsal from start to finish. You know, the trombone player, okay, first of all, the administrator said, you know, we don’t have enough money, you know, to have all these doubles, you know, and the trombone player immediately was like. Oh, well, this should be played on, you know, this double, and this should be played on this double. And he like, got me right out of the gate. And I was like, No. And I’m like, you know, that sucks that he wasn’t prepared for that. And there was no communication. I just kind of had to tell him no, and I, I literally just walked in there, you know, having flown in that night before.

Susie: 49:29
And man, that was a hard rehearsal. You know, I was working with a singer who was lovely, but he had he woke up with the worst cold and that happens all the time. And we just had to deal with it. And I had to, like, you know, kind of become the mom and just make sure that he was well taken care of that he could still perform tonight. So it’s like, you know, and here’s, here’s the mom part of the conductor is, is you have to think of everyone and everyone’s well being, you know. And you know, there was a trumpet player that fell backwards and injured himself. And so, you know, I had to stop and make sure he was okay. And it was just, you know, it was, it was an incredibly negative experience. And, you know, I was with a different manager, and he told me, he said, uh, you know, well, the orchestra said that you were not of the caliber conductor that they are used to seeing. And that hurt my feelings. But then I realized, okay, like, this is a really great orchestra, where they have famous, famous conductors. So the orchestra is complaining that I am not of the caliber that they’re used to seeing. I’m like, of course not. I’m like, conductors are not magically made, immediately to become great. And here’s, here’s where systematic bias comes into.

Susie: 50:57
You know, if you’re a white man, you are a million times more likely to be nurtured in this music world, and to become a conductor, and to have mentors, and to have people that support you, and to have orchestras that support you, and want to make you better, and want to work with you. If you’re a woman, and if you’re a woman of color, you know, it’s like, fucking A, it is a million times harder for you. So of course, I’m not going to be Stokowski. Okay, like, and that kind of pisses me off that, that, that that was like, one of the reasons why, you know, they didn’t receive me, it’s like, well, worse, you know, like, of course, I have not had the pedigree, because I haven’t had the opportunities. You know, yes, I was invited by the administration. But it’s like, you can’t expect me to be this 80 year old white man, you know, who has had every opportunity in the world? No, like, I am a woman of color, who has been discouraged by so many men by so many teachers, you know, I can’t even tell you how many teachers told me that I needed to quit, I needed to stop, or I will never be a comic conductor. Because I’m a woman. You know, like, that is rampant. No teacher, should I ever, ever, ever say that to any student?

Susie: 51:11
And when they say that to women, I feel like that’s evil, that’s, that’s even more evil, because teachers are supposed to nurture that’s their job. Yeah, they can be tough, you know, but like, I’ve had countless teachers that just basically put me down and tell me, you know, that I’ll never make it, I’ll never make a cent. And I’m like, well look at my mansion in Los Angeles, you know, because I now make much more money than you. And, you know, it makes me angry that that people wonder why there aren’t women conductors. And it’s also because orchestras are not willing to invest in diversity. You know, when you’re not just a woman of color, even even men of color, you know, you do not have the same opportunities that other people do. You know, you don’t have the same music education opportunities, you don’t have the support, you don’t have the funding, there’s so many things. It’s so complicated, you know, we talk about systematic racism, and systematic bias, it all plays into the orchestra. And, and that is a huge, huge, you know, combination in an orchestra saying that I was not of the caliber that they were used to seeing. And it’s like, yeah, I’m not gonna be, you know, and that’s funny that you expect me to be that way, you know, and, and you invite a woman, but you don’t actually want diversity, you know, because diversity really takes commitment. You know, it takes commitment, it takes the will. It takes, frankly, it takes white men to become allies in this and not just sort of passively, well, let’s include this person to check a box.

Susie: 54:22
Diversity is never going to happen that way on the podium, like people need to invest in diversity and commit to it. And unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of that happening. And I’m, I’m out there in the world. I’m out there as a guest conductor. And because these comments and these things come back to me. I think that orchestras are still not committed to diversity, not in a way that really needs to happen. And it needs to happen much earlier too. It needs to happen also, you know, with teachers but it also has to happen with orchestras. You know, I mean, you know, the first woman, you know, in Atlanta, you know, just got appointed last year. And I look at her and I’m like, man, you know, she’s great. And how many battles did she have to fight to get to where she was, you know, and it takes my breath away. And I am, I’m in admiration of her, I’m in admiration of Maren.

Susie: 55:33
You know, who’s doing a lot of work. But, you know, it’s women that are helping other women, and it’s, it’s minorities that are helping other minorities, but, you know, white people can be allies, too. And they should be, I would, I would love it. If they, if they could be, they really could commit to it, because because it is still very much, you know, a white person’s world in the orchestra. And we need allies, and we need people in power to be allies.

Chaowen: 56:03
Yeah, because it’s, as I say, and and it’s also about perception, people perceive you in a very different way, when you get on the podium and conduct, as you say, they are much more forgiving, and nurturing, and supporting to a certain type of color and young conductors that they perceive they are the rising stars, the emerging new talents, and, and all that. And I totally felt I just came back from Paris, and I was looking at that orchestra that we work with, there were only two and a half people of color in the orchestra. And out of 14 conductors, there were two of color. And it’s, it’s like, it’s a systematic thing.

Chaowen: 56:52
But just to wrap up our conversation today, I wanted to ask, kind of looking back, would there, was there anything that if you have, you can do it all over again, that you would do it differently? Or what’s the biggest thing that you’ve learned that you maybe you wish you had learned earlier? Or like things that became so important?

Susie: 57:18
I would, well, first of all, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. The only thing I would, would have done differently was I would have worried less. You know, I always always worried about what people thought of me. And you know, when I would get criticized, I would really take it to heart. But now that I’m kind of like, in this great position where, where I’m constantly turning down work, because I just don’t have the time and there’s not eight of me. I wouldn’t have worried that much. Because the thing is, I really committed to just being authentically who I am. You know, I love love being in my 40s and not caring, you know, and just being being who I am and, and so I would have, I would have not worried as much about that. You know, but that’s kind of part of being young and not and not having the confidence. And that’s the beauty of getting older too, is that I think I’ve always had some some sort of confidence in order to do this. But But I did used to constantly worry about what I was thought of, or what how I was perceived. And I don’t I really don’t care anymore.

Chaowen: 58:42
I feel you. This is my first year that I started turning down works and without feeling guilty or bad or worried that they might not they might invite me back. But now I’m at a better place in my career that I want to be I want to be good. I don’t want to take a job just because I felt I need to take every single job.

Susie: 59:03
Yeah, and you know, with this type of shows I do now like I don’t you know, I don’t do shows that are really far out of my expertise. You know, I don’t, because I don’t have anything to prove anymore. You know, I don’t need if they asked me to conduct Beethoven, I’m like, no, no, thanks. Like, it’s not my thing. If if you have a live picture show, you know, that’s my thing. And people sort of, you know, discount those shows as not difficult and things like that. I’m like movie to picture shows are really, really hard. They are really hard. Yeah, but that’s what I do. And I do it well because I’m I you know, I work with the click. I work with the orchestra and I figure it out and I and I and I prioritize the picture above everything else. You know, because that’s my upbringing. I work in film scoring. So this is really my expertise.

Susie: 59:59
Um, so these are the shows that I do. I just did Frozen live with San Diego symphony. And I loved them, they were all, I love California orchestras. They’re so like, laid back, but they’re good. And so, you know, like, you live in San Diego, you’re probably pretty happy. And I did Frozen and it is hard. I mean, that show is relentless, it’s wall to wall music. And it’s really difficult music. And, you know, afterwards, I think everybody was very, very lovely to me. And even sort of the, the, you know, most venerable people in the orchestra that I could tell would come up to me and say, You are brilliant. And I was, like, you know, what, I was, like, I was on fire up there. You know, like, I don’t say that about myself all the time. But there are times where I was like, I was really on fire. And my five year old son was in the audience to watching me and, and, in seeing me, you know, having practiced so much to see me up there, you know, in front of 3000 people that was important, you know, for him to understand, and for him to connect with that, and he loves frozen. So it was just, you know, really wonderful show.

Susie: 1:01:32
And, and so that’s, that’s really what I excel at, is I excel it the movie depicts your shows, you know, the families and things like that, you know, when I, when I talk to the audience, I usually do bring up the fact that I am a mom, you know, and sort of the opposite of what you’ve heard, but like, oh, you know, you got to hide that, you know, hey, I do these family to picture shows. And I tell them that I have kids, you know, that are foreign to and, and so I love to be to be able to relate to the audience that way, because they’re all, you know, running around trying to calm their kids. And, and watch the show. And I’m like, oh, yeah, I get it. Like, mine’s backstage right now. Yeah. And so, you know, it’s, it’s that kind of human connection that’s really authentic, that I love to. And so I love doing those shows, they’re, they’re my thing, for sure.

Chaowen: 1:02:32
And just for the record, conducting those kind of score as not any way easier than conducting Brahms, Beethoven, or Tchaikovsky, because you have to be so onpoint there’s so many different transitions, and especially with click to film you to get things right away. And more difficult is like very often, you know, if I have enough rehearsal time, you have to put everything together very quickly, be very efficient, effective, and just get everything right. That’s a great skill to have. Thank you. Yeah,

Susie: 1:03:04
I mean, you know, a lot of people discount those shows, but I really think that, you know, they’re really hard. They are really hard. And they also, you know, they also out outreach to other audiences, too, which I also think is important.

Chaowen: 1:03:21
But thank you so much for all that you just shared. And I will put that in the show notes. But could you please tell my listeners where they can find to your website or social media that they can follow you?

Susie: 1:03:32
I have a website. It’s susieseiter.com. And then I’m on Instagram @susiebench. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Chaowen: 1:03:53
Here you have it, my friends. And it was really, really an interesting and exciting conversation was that I hope the information that we shared was useful to you, or somehow encouraging and positive, even though we talked so much about stereotypes, bias and the barriers that we have encountered. But we definitely want to be encouraging to everyone. This is a hard profession. But there are a lot of great people working there. And if you reach out to us, we can form a great supportive system for each one of us. And we want to see more and more and more great women, non binary folks and people of color on the podium leading all kinds of performances. If you’re liking this show, please don’t forget to leave a good review or subscribe. And this is the best way to send me some encouragement and I will see you next next week at the same time same place bye for now.