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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

VH New Music Fridays: An interview with Blair School of Music’s Seth Soloway

We sat down with Blair Associate Dean Seth Soloway to discuss his career and his bold vision for programming at the Ingram Center.
Sophie Edelman
Happy New Music Friday! This week, Blair’s Seth Soloway spills all about Ingram Center programming.

When I asked Seth Soloway to capture his role as Associate Dean for Presenting and External Relations and Director of Ingram Center at the Blair School of Music with a single word, he struggled at first, fumbling over industry phrases like “curator” and “live arts presenter” before finally settling with something simpler and more elegant: “connector.”

“My real passion [is] connecting the right artists to the right audiences and also teaching audiences that the arts are for everyone [by] … bringing these works of art to people on a level where I can show them ‘Hey, I didn’t know a lot about this at first, either, but I know what I like, I know what I think I heard or saw and that’s enough,’” Soloway said.

Born to a visual artist father and a mother who studied the dramatic arts, Soloway was raised in the bright lights of New York City and graduated from LaGuardia High School, a New York school for the performing arts. The school was the inspiration for the 80’s classic “Fame” and has a network of famous alumni large enough to have its own dedicated Wikipedia page. In essence, Soloway’s love for all things creative and theatrical runs deep through his veins.

“There was a key moment very early in my life when my siblings and kids around me started to do, you know, not artistic things and I remember saying to my parents, ‘look, this is who I am. This is what I’m going to do.’ So I’ve had a passion for it for a really, really long time,” Soloway said.

While he originally planned on pursuing a career in stage directing, even working on a fledgling theater company, the advice of one of his mentors sent him down a bold new path. 

“I had a great mentor who I went to, and I said, ‘you know, I’m going to go to Yale and get a master’s in stage directing.’ And he said something that shocked me- ‘Don’t do that,’” Soloway said. “The reason was because he had seen what he thought would make me happiest and what I could be when I was being the artistic director of the theater company. He told me that I ought to go and not hone my stage directing skills but learn how to be an artistic curator and artistic director.”

This change-of-heart led him to study at the Brooklyn Academy of Music under the direction of renowned curator Joe Melillo.

“One of the greatest things I learned from Joe is that if you had an aesthetic and you understood audiences, and you understood how to talk to artists,” Soloway said. “You can really study any form that you could to be the kind of prolific curator that he is.” 

Upon graduating with a masters in performing arts management, Soloway did exactly that by working in a wide range of settings to explore different styles of music. One of those was The Paramount, a premier concert venue on Long Island. 

“We envisioned it purely as a theater for plays … but it ended up being [for] mixed programming so we did a ton of music there. We had a lot of fun doing smaller concerts with known artists, so we had acoustic nights from Franz Nicolay from The Hold Steady, we had a lot of beat poetry [sessions] and we even used it for art exhibits. I found it to be a flexible space and a community space,” Soloway said.

In addition to contributing to larger venues, Soloway also worked on a personal project with his wife, Jen, where they repurposed an abandoned train station into a performing arts center called the Railroad Playhouse. 

“There’s a great yin and yang where I’ve got the curator, design, fundraising, ‘I’ll go up and make the speech,’ sort of mentality and she’s very much the behind-the-scenes creator and maker,” Soloway said. “We had an opportunity to move out of New York City and move upstate to Newburgh, New York and take on this train station, which was a great building that [fell] into massive disrepair originally designed by the firm that did Grand Central. There was a group of people that wanted to save it but they needed the right project to save it with, and so we pitched our project to turn it into a black box theater and that’s what we did.” 

However, Soloway embarked on his most ambitious project yet when he was hired at Purchase College to steer The Performing Arts Center, one of the largest performing arts centers on the East Coast, as its artistic and performance director. 

“I thought it was pretty obvious that you’ve got seats to fill every night, sitting empty, and you’ve got a whole population of people, via the students, the faculty and the staff who really aren’t coming so I just investigated: why aren’t they coming?” Soloway said.

His solution? Commissioning new works and facilitating long-term residencies. 

“For example, I did a great long-term residency with the Kronos Quartet where every year, we would commission a piece from them. What that did was it kept them on campus, gave the faculty and the students a relationship with these phenomenal musicians, but then it also gave the performing arts center a world premiere, which pleased the community,” Soloway said.

After his 6-year tenure at Purchase, Soloway decided to take his curating talents to Blair. He prides Blair faculty on their achievements, citing everything from flute concerts with Claire Chase to collaborating with the Calefax Quintet.

What Soloway hopes to bring into the current stream of programs at the Ingram Center are those which show an expansion of music through the incorporation of different artistic mediums, such as dance, while ensuring that music itself remains at the center.

“I was speaking with a very well-known choreographer about a project that would also include a very well-known composer, and part of the music would be choral. So, the idea that I would then pitch is sort of a fusion between our faculty, the choreographer, the composer and the students where everyone is involved in birthing this project in some way,” Soloway said. 

Having just joined Blair staff last year, Soloway has been busy smoothing out technical edges and upgrading the equipment at the Ingram Center. Because of this, it will take a bit longer for these new kinds of programs to be incorporated. 

“I’m really here to start something brand new. If you plopped me anywhere and said we’re going to build a new performing arts center, it would be three years, three to five years before we arrive. Here, [the center is] built, so it can only be a year and a half to two years, but there’s always going to be a ramp up,” Soloway said.

While there are many exciting things soon to come, Soloway’s vision for potential new programs focuses on creating an environment that not only fosters community involvement, but also helps Blair Students connect with working professionals. 

“Art and the artist can be impacted and benefit from the student’s involvement and from the faculty’s involvement and creating this two-way ecosystem. And I also hope that in that way, we’re intentionally creating pathways for our students,” Soloway said. “We’re building relationships such that you might graduate and have a great experience with this choreographer such that he reaches out to you to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this project,’ or that something happens that builds your relationships in the field naturally.” 

While Soloway’s interdisciplinary musical programs are still on the horizon, there are recitals featuring the talented student at Blair School of Music held on a daily basis and open to the general public. For more information about these performances, check out the calendar of events on the Blair School of Music website.

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About the Contributors
William Yuk
William Yuk, Staff Writer
William Yuk ('25) is from Long Island, New York, and plans on majoring in Human and Organizational Development and English in Peabody College. When he's not churning out music content, you can catch him dozing off on the couches of the EBI Great Room, reminiscing about his mom's pork and chive dumplings or moshing to Lo-fi hip hop beats. He can be reached at [email protected].
Sophie Edelman
Sophie Edelman, Former Staff Writer
Sophie Edelman (‘24) is studying cognitive, child and educational studies in Peabody College. As the former Music Correspondent, she is passionate about expanding coverage of local musicians and performances. She loves fish tacos, thrifting and working at Vanderbilt’s Acorn School! She can be contacted at [email protected].
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