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“The Serendipity Story”: The Power of Maestra Mentorship

By Alexandra Maria Vollero

Last year, our second-ever round of the Maestra Mentorship was a huge success! Since the hybrid pairing program’s inception in 2020, we’ve seen our mentorship program grow from 19 to 49 mentor-mentee pairs.

Almost 100 growth-minded Maestras set off on a six-month journey together and came out their individualized interactions confident, well-equipped, and better acquainted with our international musical theatre community. 

As we open applications for the third round of Maestra Mentorship that begins meeting in January 2023, we want to look back at one of the first “success stories” ever to come out of our inaugural pairing process in 2021 from mentor, conductor, board member, and Maestra Care co-chair Laura Bergquist and her mentee Meg DeLaura. 

Deciding to Apply

Meg has been a long-time active Maestra participant, both in-person and virtually, since the Directory came out. From her first Maestra event – the NYC Music Direction Masterclass in-person in August 2019 – she has been continually drawn to the organization in search of  professional development opportunities and a community of like-minded musicians that extends beyond her network in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Meg is clearly the definition of a growth-minded person and devotes herself to “always looking for ways to learn, grow, and develop.” She is an established member of her local music scene with a glowing reputation and impressive resume to match – including countless productions, her own private voice studio, and work as a music director, vocal arranger, college audition coach, and accompanist. 

With almost 20 years of career work under her belt and two elementary school-aged children (then ages eight and 10), she decided she would use the time provided by the pandemic to continue her personal and professional growth.

However, when she first heard about Maestra Mentorship, she admits, “I thought I was too old… I didn’t know what to expect by participating in the program, [but] I decided to throw my name into the hat.” 

On the mentor side, Laura recounts, “Maestra just put out an alert asking for people that wanted to mentor in their first class of the students and the mentees and since it was during Covid and we all had a lot of time, several of us signed up to do that.”

The Pairing Process

Laura describes the initial Zoom meeting of all mentors and potential mentees with “speed-dating” in separate rooms to get acquainted. Afterwards, both parties were asked to fill out a preference sheet where they indicated which skills they were hoping to prioritize – mentees where they were looking to grow, and mentors where they felt most comfortable leading growth. 

The match was made from there.

Meg and Laura were brought together by a shared passion for conducting, music direction, and Meg’s desire to make more connections in New York City and with other like-minded female musicians who are in the business of building each other up.

Their Six Months Together

From North Carolina to New York, they held Zoom sessions where Laura could work with Meg “on the big screen” in her living room to get a (literally) fuller picture of her progress during lessons. In their time together, the pair worked on identifying and tackling targeted growth areas.

“Meg’s just fearless,” says Laura. “Every time we met, she would have something she wanted to work on. And as the time went on, we got into areas that were scarier and scarier for her.”

The biggest of these was stick conducting. Stick conducting is Laura’s happy place, and she is experienced and comfortable behind the podium. On the other hand, Meg shares, “I’d done a little bit of stick conducting through the years, but I’ve never felt as at home as I do when I’m conducting at the piano.”

So, Meg prepared and brought in “Defying Gravity” from Wicked for Laura’s feedback. “It was a big step out of my comfort zone, and she was so supportive and encouraging,” says Meg. “[Laura’s mentorship] has shown me techniques, trouble spots, and the JOY of conducting while being ‘in the moment’ with the singers and musicians.” 

Laura and Meg’s time together inspired Meg to participate in the NYU  Summer Intensive in Musical Theatre Conducting with Broadway MD Ted Sperling to take her skills to the next level.

“[Laura] was the first person in my life to truly feel like a mentor in all aspects of the word,” says Meg. “From day one, she has uplifted me and inspires me to do better in everything that I do. Laura has always been an open book sharing her experiences, and she has made me feel validated in so many ways. I’ve really learned a lot by having conversations with her and connecting on a level of what it is to be a woman who is a musician and also a mom who is a musician.”

Laura was able to level with Meg and talk openly with her about the joys and difficulties balancing a successful career and raising a family at the same time – “which she’s doing beautifully,” Laura adds. “I didn’t move to New York ‘til I was older than her. So I told her ‘don’t wait.’ Don’t ever look back and say ‘I wish’ or ‘what if.’ Go for everything and see what happens.”

Additionally, to enrich their time together and create community among Maestra Mentorship participants, Laura connected Meg with her other Maestra mentee at the time: Toronto-based music director, pianist, and arts educator Athena So

With the three women at different stages in their career – Athena just out of college, Laura a Broadway veteran, and Meg a seasoned conductor and music director growing her reach – Meg recounts that each individual brought valuable insight and inspiration to the table (or in this case, Zoom call).

Overall, Meg and Laura’s conversations extended from family life and short-term growth goals into long-term career goals and Meg’s long-held consideration of taking the next step into working in regional theater. Little did she know, what began as an idea would shortly become reality. 

Getting the Gig

The circumstances could only be described as “serendipitous” by every party involved. Laura even referred to it as “the serendipity story.”

Three months after the Mentorship program ended, Laura received a call from her friend and colleague Christopher D. Littlefield, an accomplished music director, conductor, pianist, and arranger who worked with her several times as an Associate Music Director for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ “Broadway Backwards” concert. While catching up, he mentioned his search for an Associate Music Director/Keys 2 position for a 2021 production of “Kinky Boots” at The Arts Center in Coastal Carolina in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Christopher went on to ask if Laura had any connections who would be right for the job.

“After having worked with Meg, I knew that this was a desire of hers to move into the next level from where she had been working, which was high school, and collegiate, and some community theatre. I knew she was ready to have her first real professional gig, and I knew Christopher would be a great mentor to her,” says Laura.

Christopher recounts he was looking for someone with enough professional experience to be able to jump into the playing, teaching, and conducting aspects of Kinky Boots to help give the show shape. However, he was also looking for someone hungry for more industry experience who would benefit from learning from the environment of a regional theater production. 

After getting connected with Meg and hitting it off over a Zoom call, Christopher started to realize he had found the right person to help build and maintain this production over several weeks: “I just immediately felt this little voice [saying], ‘This is the person to ask.’ I was really impressed with her resume, her CV, her work, but as a person, she just had exactly the energy that I was looking for.”

“We communicated really well, we got along really well, we kind of spoke the same language when we’re talking about, ‘How do you work with a cast? How do you work with an orchestra? What type of management skills do you use? How do you deliver notes?”

As if that isn’t enough, here’s the kicker: Meg’s family has had a beach house right across the street from the Arts Center for over 20 years. Meg says, “I’ve always wondered what went on within those walls… serendipitous!”

“So it was just meant to be,” continues Laura. “With a very supportive family to help, [Meg] loaded up her car, and down she went. Christopher was texting me every day the first few days saying, ‘She’s so wonderful, she’s so great, she’s one of our people.’ Everybody loves her, and she’s just done a great, great job.”

Meg in-action in Kinky Boots rehearsals as the AMD/Keys 2 at The Arts Center in Coastal Carolina from September to October 2021.

The production, between its 2019 closing on Broadway and its 2022 return to Broadway at Stage 42, rehearsed for three weeks and ran for five weeks. Not only was the show counted as a huge success, but an indispensable learning experience and official re-entry into the live theatre world for Meg.

After Kinky Boots, Meg went on to receive a North Carolina Artist Support Grant to attend the Yale Women’s Leadership Conference in June 2022, which she counts as another life-changing experience empowering women in leadership roles.

A glimpse at Meg’s setup while attending the Yale Women’s Leadership Conference in June 2022.

A Mentor’s Remarks

Looking back on their six months together, Laura was both surprised and delighted by what she learned along the way: “I didn’t know how that would feel on Zoom. And it really works beautifully. It’s actually quite wonderful and I didn’t realize I would enjoy that as much as I did working with Meg. So I learned a new side of me and then I thought, ‘You know – I can work with more young conductors. I would totally do that.’”

Additionally, Laura found joy in the way her relationship with Meg evolved over time. 

Over the course of six months, she recalls how they went from talking in their scheduled times to Laura calling Meg up every once in a while with questions of their own like “How do I do this on Garageband?” or “What’s the shortcut on Finale?” Over time, what was originally a mentor-mentee relationship blossomed into a reciprocal learning resource and personal relationship.

The pair spent over a year building their bond until they recently (and finally) met in person for the first time! Meg made the trip to Washington DC to see Laura conduct Catch Me If You Can at the Arena Stage in the spring of 2022, and had the added benefit of connecting with Laura’s current mentee Leigh Delano.

To any Maestra considering mentorship, Laura says, “[You] just have to do it… The more of us [mentors] there are, the more specialized we can be for what the mentees really need. [Some] just really need to dig deep into orchestration or composition or technical things, and I am not the person that’s gonna be able to mentor someone through Logic or Mainstage or Finale. But, I can sure teach you how to conduct on the podium or at the piano, or run and plan a rehearsal or work with a music staff  and creative team, or teach voice, or manage a family or make sure you are volunteering somewhere.” 

At the end of their time together, Meg and Athena got together and gifted their shared mentor a wine-, cookie-, card-, and flower-filled appreciation celebration Laura can only describe as “just lovely, lovely, lovely!”

Laura describes that her dream is for all of her mentees to one day come together and create a community through their shared experience, as well as pay their mentorship forward to future generations of musicians.

Undoubtedly, Laura’s well-spoken wisdom will give a room full of her past, present, and future mentees a lot to celebrate. Her holistic mentorship is impactful because it values her mentees’ positions as both professional musicians and people. 

“Our jobs as musicians are just that – jobs,” says Laura. “It is what we do. It is not who we are and the job has the same value and importance as the barista at the coffee shop, the maintenance folks in our building, or the crew at the theater. It cannot ultimately define us as people or when we’re not working, we’re lost.”

A Mentee’s Remarks

For every Maestra considering applying to be a mentee this year, Meg would like to leave you with this encouragement:

“Maestra Mentorship has opened the door to step out of your comfort zone and learn from incredible women who have once been in your shoes.”

“New connections and friendships will become your support system; renewed confidence and validation will inevitably bring out the best in all you do. I can think of no better way to thank Georgia, Laura, and Maestra for this life-changing experience other than to pay it forward to other women – in whatever ways possible – as I continue on my journey. 

“I am truly grateful. It has exceeded any expectations I could have possibly dreamed up.”

This Time Around

We encourage any female or nonbinary prospective composers, music directors, orchestrators, arrangers, copyists, instrumentalists, and lyricists over 18 years old to apply. The application closes at 5 p.m. EST on Friday, October 7th, 2022. Please email [email protected] with any questions on the application process.

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