Rebekah Geiselman is the Education and Community Engagement Manager of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. She received her Master of Arts Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and has worked with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and Aspen Music Festival and School. She received her Bachelors in Flute Performance and Music Business from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam.
Recently Monica Meyer interviewed Rebekah, who’s been with the VSO since September 2019.
MM: Tell us about your childhood. How did you become interested in music growing up?
RG: Both of my parents were artists, so all forms of art were always a big part of our household. Growing up on Long Island, we frequently travelled into Manhattan to visit the Met, MoMA and Guggenheim, and see Broadway shows and other performances. My mom would host Saturday morning art classes, so my friends would get a chance to just play around with charcoal, pastels, and different types of paint.
I always enjoyed the fine arts, but had a special connection with music especially once I began playing in fourth grade. I did almost quit, though! I had trouble reading music and wasn’t catching on as quickly as my peers. My band teacher sat down with me one-on-one and gave me a few tricks that helped me catch up to my classmates and fostered my love for music even more. If it wasn’t for her personal attention and dedication, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.
MM: What made you interested in working in education and community engagement?
RG: I actually started my undergrad studying music education but quickly realized that being in front of a classroom wasn’t quite the right fit for me, so I switched over to music business and learned what arts administration was all about. It took a few years and exploring a number of arts industries before I circled back to education but from a different angle.
Growing up, my favorite arts experiences were those that happened outside of the classroom. Saturday morning art classes with my mom, playing in youth orchestras and bands on the weekends, seeing live performances with my family, and attending different education events at museums with my school. I wanted to be able to create those memories and experiences for children like I was fortunate enough to have when I was young.
MM: Why do you think music is important in a child’s education?
RG: Music is so critical to a child’s education and development! Music and art allow students to let their imagination run free and develop a sense of empathy, in addition to creating an ability to express their own emotions and ideas. A sense of comradery and collaboration develops in group music settings that you don’t quite get in other classes.
There’s nothing like the pride and accomplishment a student feels after learning a new thing about music or following a performance after working on a piece for the past few weeks. I am so fortunate to work with many amazing, dedicated, and passionate music educators across Hampton Roads! And the programs that we collaborate on with VSO musicians in schools help to enhance what the kids are learning within the classroom.
MM: What are some upcoming initiatives you are looking forward to with the VSO?
RG: I’m very much looking forward to continuing to develop our Sensory Friendly programming and concerts in the coming seasons. I had worked on a number of sensory friendly and relaxed performance series in my internships with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and was so excited to be able to implement a new program here. We had three different structures of concerts planned for last year, but had to postpone two due to COVID restrictions. We are hoping to continue our program in the spring during our 100th anniversary season.
The VSO has also been working on a number of initiatives relating to our equity, diversity, and inclusion practices as an institution. While this work started a few seasons ago, recent events have only magnified the importance of bringing these efforts to the forefront and making swift progress.
I think it would be fair to say that the VSO, and the industry overall, has a long way to go on fully delivering on its goals, but we are able to acknowledge our previous faults and use them as an opportunity for moving forward. I’m honored to be a part of the committee that is spearheading our established goals and making them happen authentically with the support and contributions of our community members.
MM: In your role at the VSO, how have you adapted to the pandemic?
RG: This is my first season with the Virginia Symphony, and just as I was feeling like I had my feet under me, the pandemic had another idea. It has been challenging to say the least! But overall, I think it has created an interesting opportunity to relook at some of our programs and reassess our collaborations with our partners.
With each new idea and program, we have collaborated more deeply with each of our partners involved as well as many of our musicians. I hope this creates a new norm in developing future initiatives—making sure all voices are being heard and reflected in programs that we can produce together.
MM: Where would you like to see the industry moving in the next 10+ years?
RG: First, more diverse voices that truly reflect the community need to be highlighted both on and off the stage that the orchestra calls home. There have been a number of articles going around about the audition process which shows that this is an important subject to the industry as a whole.
However, we have to keep in mind that this progress starts in the music classroom in elementary education. Equitable access to music education will help not only the pipeline for eventual music majors and performers, but also music appreciators that will be our future audiences. It’s also important to note that we will not attract these diverse voices if we don’t have concert programming that reflects who we hope to have in our audience.
Secondly, there needs to be a shift in how we go about creating different community partnerships and programs. You can’t develop authentic programs for your community without inviting them to the table and listening to not only their wants, but their needs as well.
There are subtle hints that the industry is moving towards this, but there is a long way to go before the industry is truly equitable and representative. Once these practices become an inherent part of what orchestras do, we will have a truly welcoming and inclusive environment for all.
Monica K. Meyer is Vice President of Marketing, Sales, and Public Relations at Virginia Symphony Orchestra. For more information, visit virginiasymphony.org.