Home Announcement My Musical Adventure: From Politics to TRYPO

My Musical Adventure: From Politics to TRYPO

by Emily Bovan

Development Associate and Executive Assistant, Ethan Schwartz shares his experience in college and how he stayed involved with music while majoring in a non-musical field. He also shares how he navigated finding a job that matches his passions and goals. 

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Greetings, TRYPOfam! I’m Ethan Schwartz, your resident Development Associate and Executive Assistant, and it took me until I was 23 years old to realize that people actually work for orchestras without playing an instrument for them.  

Until then, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to stay in music in some fashion, but I didn’t know how. I wasn’t good enough on the cello to make any kind of living in performance. I wasn’t especially interested in teaching. I didn’t have the know-how or aptitude to go into technology and become a sound engineer. I wasn’t nearly creative enough to be a composer.  

But it was what I loved, more than anything else. I wasn’t finding joy or fulfillment in writing 25-page research papers on democratization in the Philippines, nor on the political effects of Hurricane Agnes in the Wyoming River Valley of Pennsylvania.  I was good at it, but what I really looked forward to was orchestra rehearsals and cello lessons. My favorite class was music history with the lovably eccentric Chuck Youmans, and I am a proud brother of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, where I “sang” tenor in our a cappella group and played cello for different functions.  

It was around this time that I heard about a friend-of-a-friend who got an administrative job with a mid-tier professional orchestra in the southeast. It wasn’t necessarily surprising – I mean, I knew intellectually that someone has to run things office-side for orchestras – but only then did I really begin to consider it as a viable career path.   

It was too late to course-correct at Penn State, as I was less than a year from graduating and faced a hard decision: I could either wrap up my B.A. in political science or change my major at the last second and incur serious financial damage from three-plus extra semesters. I chose to play it safe, and after graduation I was bumped up to full-time at my longstanding grocery store deli job. After a few months, I got a job clerking for Centre County government’s mental health and intellectual disabilities department.  

It felt like I was staring into the abyss. What was this supposed to do for me? Where do I go from here? I was proud of the work that my department was doing, but I wasn’t at all qualified to become a case worker. How do I take this into the arts?  

I am happy to say that the abyss stared back, which in this case was a lot less scary than it sounds. I developed a bevy of transferable skills at Centre County, including data entry and maintenance, interpersonal skills, and the proper use of Excel. I began to notice the practical benefits of my political science degree: information synthesis, critical thinking, research, and effective written communication.  

Most importantly, I had my experience as an amateur musician. I didn’t really take cello seriously until I was 16 years old and was never great at it, but I carved a small path regardless. I was principal cello for the Williamsport Youth Symphony (as my hometown of Lock Haven had no such thing), played in PMEA All-State Orchestra twice, and immersed myself in the Penn State School of Music through orchestra, chamber groups, theory classes, and cello ensemble, earning a minor in music performance. I was able to satiate my desire to perform through the Altoona Symphony while working full-time.  

 Sometimes it takes a little bit of being at the right place at the right time in life, but you also need the skills and knowledge to bust down the door after it’s been propped open. I found this to be true on what seemed to be a typical weekday evening in October 2022, when my Dad called me to tell me all about a job listing he had seen for an organization called “Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras” in Pittsburgh. I was already quite familiar with Pittsburgh’s orchestral pedigree through my attendance of several PSO concerts and digestion of their outstanding recordings with Manfred Honeck, and my interest was immediately piqued.  

Lo and behold, Executive Director Lindsey Nova invited me to a 15-minute virtual interview. A month later came the in-person round; a week after that, an offer. In less than two months, I went from not even knowing TRYPO existed to being their newest Development Associate and Executive Assistant.  

The opening at TRYPO making its way into my life was a bolt from the blue, but that I was able to successfully compete for it was no matter of luck. My ostensibly irrelevant degree and work experience demonstrated to Lindsey and to TRYPO that I could handle an office environment, and perhaps more importantly, my wholly voluntary involvement in music showed that my application to a youth orchestra job was borne out of true admiration for their mission and for the art they were fostering.   

There is still so much I wish I knew when I was 18, and I still wonder on occasion about where life would have taken me if I began my performing arts journey right then. But I am still glad that I decided to keep my passion for the orchestra close to my heart, and thrilled that this decision turned into something far more than I ever could have expected.   


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