A student at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Hannah O’Brien applied to the National Repertory Orchestra to gain orchestra experience outside of a musical role. An avid violinist since childhood, O’Brien was drawn to the NRO’s Marketing Fellowship.
“I was at a point in my undergrad where I was starting to explore entrepreneurial management. I hadn’t done any internships that weren’t playing,” she recalls. “I applied to the NRO on a whim. At Michigan, my teacher [Danielle Belen] had been a concertmaster there. I had heard good things from my teacher and friends. I had never been to Breckenridge. There’s not a lot of fellowships available like that. It sounded like a good opportunity.”
O’Brien came to Breckenridge as the NRO’s Marketing Fellow in summer 2021. In spite of the challenges presented at the time by the COVID-19 pandemic – face masks, social distancing, etc. – she relished the experience and gathered crucial organizational, planning and social knowledge which, as it turned out, would be instrumental in her future success as a professional ensemble musician, recording artist and teacher.
What does a Marketing Fellow do?
A typical day in O’Brien’s life as a Marketing Fellow began either working with the team at the NRO office or oftentimes, from the live morning rehearsal.
“I could work from the rehearsal with free background music – getting print ads out, getting materials ready for the week,” she says.
She would also meet with partner organizations, businesses and local media at coffee shops around town to discuss and plan various projects throughout the summer.
As audience members filed into concerts and community engagement events, O’Brien split her time working the NRO information booth, greeting concertgoers and collecting survey information.
“We’d walk up to people and ask if they knew if the community engagement event that day was part of the National Repertory Orchestra. At first, it can be a little scary doing that kind of thing, but that’s a huge part of the job. They’re there to see the music and everyone was always really nice. It was great practice in promoting,” she says.
Having just completed her Masters in Violin Performance at New England Conservatory, O’Brien plays and performs in a handful of groups. Along with fellow University of Michigan graduate Grant Flick, she’s in an Irish folk duo that recently recorded its second album. She also juggles a number of teaching gigs and performs with the Boston Lyric Opera and the Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra. She largely credits her NRO Marketing Fellowship experience with building the confidence and the know-how to market her own talent.
“So much of marketing and doing well for your organization is being good about deadlines and having a clear idea of what you’re putting out there,” she says. “I learned a lot about how planning works in the grand scheme of things. As a classical musician, it teaches you how to be organized and how to market yourself. A lot of classical musicians don’t learn that,” she says. “It’s one of the most important parts of finding opportunities – to be able to talk to people and show them the face of what we’re doing.”
O’Brien’s most cherished memories with the National Repertory Orchestra involved soaking up her stunning surroundings and the unique offerings of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
“Just to spend the summer in Breckenridge was a highlight. It’s a beautiful town and everything is so accessible,” she says. “They worked us hard at the NRO, but we had such fun activities available to us all summer. I got to spend my birthday whitewater rafting.”
As far as what type of person to which the Marketing Fellowship is best suited, O’Brien says anyone with a sociable nature would be an ideal candidate and that the experience could benefit any up-and-coming musician, entrepreneur or arts admin student.
“It doesn’t have to be someone who knows anything about marketing. They could just be a strong musician. If they like the organization and are an outgoing person, they would work out great. If they’re interested in marketing, they already have a connection through the music,” she says. “If there’s an eagerness to grow, you learn a lot on the job.”
Lead photo: Hannah O’Brien in Breckenridge, summer 2021. By Elaine Collins