Kaufman Music Center’s brand new Executive Director Kate Sheeran took the helm last month following the retirement of long-time leader Lydia Kontos. A professional French horn player with serious music education chops – she was formerly Provost and Dean of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Assistant Dean at Mannes School of Music – Kate shares her vision for Kaufman Music Center.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone,” says Kate. “If you see me in a concert or in the halls, please introduce yourself. Let me know your connection to Kaufman, because I’m really interested in getting to know the whole community.”
Q: What got you excited about Kaufman Music Center?
A: I’ve worked in music education and have also been involved as a performer with orchestras, new music ensembles, and chamber groups. Those two themes, performance and presentation together with music education, are both themes that I’ve woven through my career and are the things that I find most compelling. They both come together at Kaufman Music Center. I’m really interested in the ways that education influences presentation and performance, and how what we present influences how we’re educating future musicians. So to be at this place that has both is pretty exciting to me. Music can empower a community and bring it together. Given all the different communities that are represented in our student body and in the performances we present at Merkin Hall, thinking about how we can uplift community through music is really meaningful to me.
Q: As Kaufman Music Center’s new leader, what are your biggest goals and priorities?
A: There are so many great things that happen at Kaufman Music Center. I’m excited to build links between our different programs – between Lucy Moses School and Special Music School and Face the Music and Theater@Kaufman and Merkin Hall – and see how all the different threads connect. I want people to know what Kaufman Music Center is as a whole, instead of just knowing one part or another. And I’m also excited to make sure that New York City and the broader music and education communities know what it is that we do, because the model that we have here can be replicated by other cities and communities looking to bring together performance and education so that one can uplift the other. I’m also really interested in partnerships with other music and educational organizations.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing performing arts educators and presenters today?
A: There’s always a finite amount of resources, and that’s where partnership can really move us forward – whether it’s building a brand new program or just looking at things like space for music programs in New York City. There has been a lot of recent progress in pushing our field forward in terms of diversity and inclusion, which is an area where classical music and music in general need to be catching up. That’s a challenge, but certainly an opportunity. When you look at what’s going on here, at Special Music School and Face the Music and all of our other programs, we’re really doing good work in that direction.
Q: What have been some of your most rewarding moments as a music educator?
A: At the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, one of the things I’m most proud of is an initiative where we linked what was happening in the classroom with the repertoire that students were performing. The first semester, we chose the theme of music, politics and social justice. We talked about these themes in standard repertoire including works by Beethoven and Shostakovich, and also had a program that included Frederic Rzweski’s Coming Together narrated by Angela Davis, and Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads. We planted many different kinds of seeds, but the most gratifying part to me was when the students picked up on an idea and made it their own, and started performing their own concerts, full of works and issues that were meaningful to them. When certain kinds of music and topics resonated with them, they really led the charge.
Q: How did you get started playing the French horn as a child?
A: I had played piano a little bit before then, but I started the French horn in fifth grade. I loved my elementary school music teacher, who said, “You have a good ear, and we need somebody to play French horn – go ahead!” My brother had a friend who had an extra French horn lying around, which he traded for a jean jacket. That’s how I got my French horn. I kept moving ahead in music because I found different teachers that were great. At every point I was learning from people who really cared. I feel so compelled about music education because I had so many great teachers throughout my education. I was lucky to have teachers who were interested in their students as individuals, and in helping me and their other students find their own path through music, and how we wanted to use music to propel us through life.
Q: What is your favorite music to play?
A: I love playing a Brahms symphony, but I also love playing in a contemporary ensemble. I’ve played with chamber groups, rock bands, all kinds of things. But mainly, I love playing music with my friends. I love music, but I also just love the human connections that are created through music.
Q: As an extremely busy professional, how do you find time to practice?
A: Well, the more I do administrative work, the answer really is necessity. If I have something to play coming up, I have to practice to be sure that my chops are shape. When I’m preparing for a concert, I’m really excited to play, whether it has to do with the repertoire or with the setting or the people. I’m great with a goal and a deadline with every facet of my life, so the same applies to practicing.
Q: Aside from the French horn, do you have other hobbies?
A: I’ll admit that I tap dance, which might surprise some people. My mom grew up going to see the Rockettes as a kid and loved tap dance, and so I was signed up for tap dancing before I was ever playing any sort of music. I still love it. So you might find me tap dancing in the hallway a little bit by accident. I also enjoy traveling, exploring new places and getting to know the cultures of different places. I’m thrilled to be back in New York, and I love visiting both new and familiar places all over this wonderful city.