For December 2015’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed its first international staff member, Sam Nester. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Sam is currently a D.M.A. candidate and the Artistic Coordinator for the Office of Educational Outreach. In addition to his work for Juilliard, Sam is a trumpet player and conductor and has performed in the USA, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He is a Teaching Artist, and is the recipient of awards from the the Kevin Spacey Foundation, the Australian Music Foundation, and the Dame Joan Sutherland Fund. In his interview, Sam discusses his experience as a former Fulbright scholar, his work with Ed Outreach, and his advice for Juilliard international students.
How old were you when you first started playing music? What was the initial impetus?
I was interested in music before I began playing an instrument. When I was young, I found cassette tapes in our house of Glenn Gould playing Bach. I really enjoyed listening to these recordings and was fascinated by them, despite not really understanding why they were so special at the time. I started studying music when I was in primary school (elementary).
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
To be honest, when I first became interested in music, I didn’t know what a career in music was or could be. From about ten or eleven years old I knew I was going to be involved in music but didn’t know what that was going to entail. I did have some very dedicated music teachers in primary school that I owe much of this to, and thought that I too would probably become a music teacher. I believe we owe much to gifted, passionate teachers.
If you were not a musician, what do you think you would have studied and pursued as a career?
I am fascinated by the study of history and the philosophy of social science. I think if I were not pursuing a career in music, I would have become a historian and focused on social philosophy. I have always been passionate about education and see myself teaching in some capacity, regardless of my area of study.
You came to the U.S. originally on a prestigious scholarship from Fulbright. For our readers who are not familiar with the Fulbright organization, can you tell them a little about it? What did it take to be granted a Fulbright?
The Fulbright is an incredible program of merit-based scholarships for international educational exchange. Founded by United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946, the program is open to students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists. It was established to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills. I was very fortunate to have been a Fulbright Scholar and had some truly wonderful experiences through the organization.
To be awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, I was required to complete a lengthy application, submit essays, a resume, biography, and then interview. The interview panel included a U.S. Consul-General, University lecturers, and a representative from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), among others (if I remember correctly).
What has been some of the greatest challenges of being an international student and performer in the U.S.?
The U.S. has some rather serious restrictions on foreigners with student and exchange visas, and working whilst holding these visas was tricky. As a musician, the restrictions can be especially frustrating, as our work is often under special circumstances that aren’t always considered when designing the rules. I am fortunate to have English as my primary language, so I did not face the same difficulties that many of my colleagues faced when arriving here in the U.S.
What has been the greatest benefit of having an international background as a student and performer in the U.S.?
Being exposed to a new culture and experiencing a new education style was certainly enlightening. I have found that the United States, and particularly New York, is receptive to foreign students and performers who want to immerse themselves in the culture. In my experience, people in the U.S. want to show you their country and culture and are interested in learning about yours. In addition to this, New York is a very cosmopolitan city with a diverse population of international citizens. The moment I arrived here, I was greeted by other young, and not so young, foreigners from a vast array of countries who have become close friends and colleagues. I believe that the international community, for the most part, sticks together. We share visa and immigration stories and offer advice for those first timers here in the U.S.
You have been living and performing in NYC for some time now. Do you have advice for the Juilliard international community? If so, what?
If you are an international student at The Juilliard School, obey the restrictions on your visa! It is extremely tempting to take a job without authorization, or agree to a last minute gig, but it can have serious consequences. I know musicians who have been sent back to their home countries for violating their immigration status, and this can remain in your immigration file well into the future. The same goes for professionals within the Juilliard community: if you are unsure about whether something is permitted within your visa status, ask the Office of International Advisement. If they are unsure, they will point you in the direction of someone who does know, and it could save you a lot of legal issues in the future.
How did you come to work in the Office of Educational Outreach? What drew you to this position?
I have been working with Educational Outreach at Juilliard for the past two years. When the position was advertised, I did not hesitate to apply. As part of The Juilliard School’s mission, there are seven goals to achieve the admirable duty of providing the highest caliber of artistic education for gifted musicians, dancers, and actors. One of the goals is as follows:
Juilliard will take an active role in shaping the future of the performing arts by providing exemplary arts education programs to the community and encouraging its students to serve as advocates for the arts in society.
I feel very strongly about offering high quality arts education programs to the greater community, and believe that all artists have a duty to advocate for the arts in society. It is wonderful that Juilliard prizes this so highly and offers students the opportunity for community engagement whilst pursuing their craft as world-class artists. Encouraging students to consider their role within society at this stage in their careers is truly remarkable, and opportunities through Educational Outreach contribute to this understanding. Part of my position helps shape how Juilliard achieves this. Working with students, designing and contributing to a crucial part of the Juilliard mission, is what drew me to the position and keeps me excited about my ever-changing role at the school.
What is your favorite part of working for Ed Outreach?
I must say that I have a few favorite parts of working for Educational Outreach. I am fortunate to design the interactive Young People’s Concerts for 4th and 5th grade students. It is wonderful working with Juilliard students, designing concert programs that engage young audiences and introduce musical concepts – and the audience is always excited to be here on our campus. It is also a privilege working with the Morse Teaching Fellows. The Juilliard students who are accepted into this program visit New York City public schools on a weekly basis, building a course of musical study in classrooms across the city. Among the many achievements of Educational Outreach at Juilliard is the Music Advancement Program (MAP). The program is a Saturday instrument instruction program for highly talented children from backgrounds underrepresented in the American performing arts. Working with this program is certainly a highlight of my position. A truly one of a kind program in the United States, MAP focuses on offering the highest level of tutelage to students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to be part of a world class conservatory.
You will be finishing your doctorate degree very soon. Is that correct? Where do you see yourself a year from now? How about five years from now?
I certainly hope to be finishing my doctoral degree soon! I am, for the most part, ABD. While I am dedicated to completing my dissertation in a timely manner, I also recognize that I only get one, and want to devote enough time and energy to researching and creating a significant thesis. As for where I see myself in a year/five years, I don’t know. There are always so many things that can pull and push you in one direction or another, and I try to stay open to new opportunities. I am certainly not someone you would categorize as throwing caution to the wind and floating along, waiting for things to happen, but whilst I pursue the professional artistic and educational goals I currently have, I am always prepared for change.