What Every Artist Needs to Know

Audrey Chen '18An OFA Artist Development Fellowship at Tanglewood teaches cellist Audrey Chen '18 that art cannot stand by itself. It takes practice. And other professional skills. 


By Audrey Chen '18
Artist Development Fellow

Audrey Chen ’18 is a resident of Kirkland House concentrating in molecular and cellular biology. Chen is enrolled in the Harvard/New England Conservatory joint five-year A.B./M.M. program, and performs with the Ravos String Quartet at NEC and the Brattle Street Chamber Players at Harvard. After completing her Master's at NEC in cello performance, she plans to pursue a career in music. She received an Office for the Arts Artist Development Fellowship to participate in the Tanglewood Music Center Fellowship Program, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer academy for advanced music students. Her reflections on the experience follow. 

Like any other music festival I’d been to, Tanglewood has a dedication to classical music that is nothing short of inspirational. Located in the Berkshires, just two-and-a-half hours from Boston, the roaring green campus is resplendent with idyllic views, large supportive audiences and, above all, concerts every day – and you can choose to sit inside or picnic outside on the lawn while still

Audrey Chen '18
Audrey Chen '18 lead the cello section in Britten’s "Four Sea Interludes" and "Passacaglia." Photo: Courtesy of TMC
enjoying the sound and view of a live performance. The days are packed with rehearsals, festivities and eclectic programming, ranging from Beethoven to Dai Fujikura to James Taylor. As a Tanglewood Fellow, I performed almost one concert a week, giving me a sense of productivity and purpose. Who doesn’t wish for that?

But I was at a point where I was surrounded by many other people, who like me, needed to reconcile the idealistic thrills of constant music-making with the reality that the music world, particularly the classical music world, is one of high supply and low demand. Jobs are few and highly coveted, not to mention the trials of auditions, competitions, teaching and freelancing, which are taxing and often unsustainable.

It would seem then that being at Tanglewood was a huge ironic endeavor on our parts. The same way the Harvard bubble exists (as much as we hate to admit it), the Tanglewood campus is a large opaque haven of classical music, where the audiences listen eagerly and attentively to every piece that you spend hours working on. It’s easy to adopt the mindset of a carefree artist reveling at how central the music is to the rest of the community.

But Tanglewood is, as my fellow colleague Paul puts it, a “big boy and girl camp.” In spite of its pristine demeanor and sparkling green hills, the people here don’t hesitate to tell us that this lifestyle is, indeed, a difficult one to attain. Through the masterclasses, the Festival of Contemporary Music (which can often be a big challenge for most classical musicians), and even a mock audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, we all knew that the first thing we had to do was to undergo the basic tedious steps needed to train ourselves as professional players. And by now, we all know the tricks of the practice room – practice for consistency, use a metronome, yet don’t forget that we are practicing music, not some practice etude.

But it was through an orchestra seminar workshop, a series of guest lectures headed by Ellen Highstein, director of the Tanglewood

Cello section
Cello fellows David, Elena and Audrey Chen '18 with Yo-Yo Ma '76, an inspirational role model, at a Tanglewood donor luncheon.
Music Center, that it became clear to me it wasn’t enough just to be diligent and disciplined with the art itself. No matter what profession we choose to step into, the basic skills are all the same. We are living within communities of people that seek to belong, to love, to nurture and to cherish the things in life that make societies and nature healthier and stronger in the world.

So down with the practice room walls, down with the barriers between the performers, audience and the rest of the world. Bart Reidy, director of development of the BSO, reminds us that sometimes all we have to do is listen. For one, the future of classical music is not possible without the philanthropy of many donors and to make donations possible, you have to be willing to listen to these people. You have to understand where it is they find meaning and how that might overlap with your goals and ideas.

Tanglewood has taught me that art cannot stand by itself. It has to be fought for, labored over, researched extensively and presented beautifully and convincingly. It takes courage to move past the individual practice room and into the logistics of planning for a concert like finding sponsorships, setting up the stage, maintaining the grounds, the list goes on – but treating those crucial steps as just as equal to the music-making itself is fundamental for the survival of classical music and its artists in this world.