Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Daniel Israel
Education (UR and additional): B.A. (Music), University of Rochester, 2005; KEY Program, 2006
Current city/state of residence: New York, NY
Job Title: Agent / Artist Representative
Community activities: New York Yankees
When and how did you choose your major?
I chose my major freshman year (music major). I almost transferred to Eastman for classical saxophone and was “searching” for another major at the River Campus, but nothing excited me as much as music. But I had no interest in being a full-time Eastman student and didn’t want to limit myself to the world of saxophone and only saxophone. So I stayed at the Music Department and was so happy I did. Looking back on it, I feel like I had much more meaningful and well-rounded experience than I would have had at Eastman exclusively.
What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?
During the my time at U of R, I was a member of the Midnight Ramblers (a cappella group), Delta Upsilon Fraternity, Meridian Society, Undergraduate Musicians’ Council and was a saxophonist in the Eastman Wind Ensemble. Without a doubt (and no offense to the other “activities”), my time in the Ramblers was the most valuable. As Music Director, I learned not only how to manage the group musically, but also how to manage everyone as people. As a result of the years leading the Ramblers, I feel confident leading any group, musical or not. I was largely responsible for planning and booking our annual Spring Tours and became comfortable picking up the phone (a borrowed cell phone from the Music Department) and trying to sell our group to schools, baseball teams, churches, restaurants, etc. Now, as a full-time agent representing jazz musicians, I can say with confidence that my days booking gigs for the Ramblers played a major roll in developing and refining those skills.
What do you do now and why did you choose this career?
I am an Artist Representative at AMI, an agency that represents about 20 jazz artists. In other words, I’m an agent and I’m responsible for getting my artists work performing at festivals, performing arts centers, colleges and universities, clubs, concert halls, etc, around the US and world. Three of us started the company over 5 years ago (along with fellow UR Grad David Soson ’07) after leaving our old company. After booking many gigs for the Ramblers during my time in the group, I realized that I could actually make money booking the performance, not just performing. It was something I felt comfortable doing. This job also gives me great flexibility, which is important for my other career as a musical theater composer. I’ve been an active member in the BMI Musical Theater workshop for 6 years (it’s a laboratory for musical theater). BMI is a place where my songs can be tested and evaluated by my peers and other musical theater professionals. Avenue Q and Next to Normal are two of the recent popular Broadway shows to have been developed in the workshop. Since graduation, I’ve written close to 100 songs while working on 4 different musicals, the latest of which was commissioned by the George Street Playhouse: Austin the Unstoppable. I’ve been fortunate to balance both of these careers, although during rehearsal periods or intense writing weeks, it is difficult to manage.
What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?
Without a doubt, my Music Theory courses helped shape the way I write vocal arrangements (ie I try to avoid parallel fifths and look for opportunities for voice exchanges). Four semesters of Music History gave me a fairly rigorous background of the seminal works and composers. Spending hours and hours listening to recordings in the Art Music Library in preparation for horrifying listening exams planted seeds in my head and feel have influenced me as a composer. For my Senior Honors Project, I wrote and produced an original musical. This undoubtedly prepared me to better enter the world of musical theater. But probably the most important skill I learned in the Department was how to think – and how to do so critically. Dr. Kowalke, especially, forced me to be a better writer and organize my thoughts in a more clear and coherent way. That has nothing to do with music, but everything to do with everything.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
For me, having a balance is very important. And it also helps if your work life is something you really enjoy. Sometimes I try to have these worlds intersect. For example, if I’m going to see one of my artists at a jazz club in NYC, then I’ll invite a friend. Easy! I get to see jazz and my friend. But I do think it’s important to separate work and personal life too because it keeps you sane and fresh, and also in touch with your friends. I go to a bunch of Yankees games — always a nice escape. I try, whenever possible to never let too much time go by without seeing each of my friends, or at least speaking with them on the phone. One last thing: certain careers make harder to have a rich and rewarding personal life. So far, I’m able to do it fairly well. If that’s an important factor, I would suggest that you consider that when choosing a field.
What advice do you have for current students?
There’s no rush. Try to figure out what makes you happy because I promise if you go to work actually wanting to go to work every day, you’ll be in good shape. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong career path. Obviously if you have a long-term goal or a five-year plan, that’s great. Go for it. But don’t feel that you’re stuck to that plan. Do what you think is best and make career decisions that you want to make, not what other people think you should make. Make sense? Lastly, remember that you’re smart. Don’t sell yourself short.