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Maestra Mentorship: A Retrospective

By Halle Mitchell

The inaugural cohort of Maestra Mentorship (2020-2021) set precedence with the success of its partner-pairing program. The six-month stint matched 34 student and early-career mentees one-on-one with seasoned industry professionals, all members of the Maestra community. 

As a participant in the program myself, I found Maestra Mentorship extremely valuable to my growth as a musician and felt that I got a lot of experience and knowledge out of the partnership. While every mentee’s experience will be different, I want  to share how my relationship with my mentor Anessa Marie developed during my time in the program. 

The Application Process: 

The application and pairing processes were set in motion during November 2020, allowing the matches to meet once a month from December 2020 to May 2021. The carefully-selected group included a diverse range of women and non-binary people from across the globe, from the US to Hong Kong, with a wide variety of musical skill sets, including composing, music directing, and orchestrating.

When applying for the mentorship program myself, I found that one of the central questions posed to applicants was to describe what we were looking for from the program, including both short- and long-term goals. For example, one musician may have been interested in learning about music copying and asked to be paired with a copyist mentor. 

In my case, I had multiple musical elements that I was interested in honing in on as a multi-faceted theatre musician. This does not have to be the case for everyone, as some people may choose to focus their energy on just one element as they work through the mentorship program. But for me, I was interested in working on songwriting, music production, arranging, orchestrating, and music directing. 

My Mentor & Me:

After the applications were submitted, there was an applicant mixer where prospective mentees and mentors could meet each other before the pairings were sent out. This initial call was a nice way to get to meet some of the fellow soon-to-be mentees and hear about their diverse experiences. 

Shortly thereafter, I and others found out about our acceptance into this inaugural cohort of 34 mentees in the mentorship program. 

With my wide range of interests, I was thrilled that Maestra paired me with Anessa Marie: a phenomenal musician who is the founder and director of the Phoenix Trans Chorus of NYC and music director of many shows, as well as a simply wonderful woman overall. I found that we were able to create a good dynamic in our mentor-mentee relationship from the get-go because we are similar in the sense that she also has a variety of interests in theatre.

The general structure for our first couple of months was focusing on a different project or skill for that month’s meeting. This really helped drive me to work on developing a well-rounded repertoire of skills and continued to push me to make tangible products even during the pandemic. I’m sure that most people can relate to how hard it has been over the past year and a half to stay motivated at times, especially when everything was virtual. However, I am very grateful that our mentorship helped give me direction.

One project that I was working on concurrently with the mentorship program was music directing a New Works Cabaret with the Princeton University Players. I music directed, audio edited, performed, and submitted original compositions for this project. I was able to talk about a lot of these elements with Anessa and apply them to the cabaret. One of the songs that I wrote was called “Is It Dangerous”, and it was really helpful to work with Anessa on the skills needed for audio editing, arranging, and music directing the performance.

Moving Forward From My Mentorship: 

Upon completing the mentorship program, I found myself within a welcoming community of fellow mentees as we celebrated our accomplishments over the last few months. Maestra threw us a wonderful celebratory Zoom call where we were able to share about our experiences, the amazing artistic products that came of it, and thoughts on the guided relationships overall. 

For instance, some people shared performances of songs that in some way came out of their mentor-mentee relationship, whether it was a focus on composition, orchestration, or production. In addition, we were all able to connect with one another as mentees and now have a Slack channel dedicated to our community. It has been a joy to see a space created amongst us based on our collective experience in the program.

To anyone who is considering applying to the mentorship program this year when Fall 2021 applications are released, I highly recommend the experience! Not only does it have immense benefits for individuals in the music industry, but it is a great opportunity to get further involved in the Maestra community and connect with wonderful people in meaningful ways. 

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