Meet the Musicians: Abby Young
from the desk of Zach Manzi
In addition to playing violin in Nu Deco, Abby Young is the fearless personnel manager of the group, which means she serves as the liaison between musicians and staff. She makes sure the musicians know everything we need to know in order to make the rehearsal process efficient. It may not sound like a glamorous job––and Abby admits that some days are easier than others, but we absolutely could not do what we do without her. Our shows are a culmination of months of planning and hours of rehearsals, and Abby is a good portion of that glue holding us together. The other day, Abby invited me over to talk about her life and work as a musician, just days before our first rehearsal for the New World Center program in March. I was surprised that she could make time to see me amid printing music and answering emails, not to mention learning the violin parts, but as I found, she is just as efficient with organizing her own time as she is with organizing the musicians.
Born and raised in Ashland, Oregon, Abby attended University of Oregon to complete her undergrad degrees (yes, degrees, two of them…and a minor). She began to develop a keen ability to juggle several kinds of work, which she says began to serve her well as she proceeded through her education. She attended the Frost School of Music for her graduate degrees––also two of them, a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts––during which time she began playing with Nu Deco at the end of its first season.
Z: Where did this interest in managing people start for you?
A: During my time at Frost, I was offered a fellowship with the Henry Mancini Institute (HMI) Orchestra, and the director of that group had told me that based on my personality and non-musical skills, he thought I would be good at managing personnel. So I tried it! It was just so easy for me, and I liked it. Then the job actually blossomed into the subject of my doctoral paper.
Z: Oh yeah! You told me about it once…can you talk more about it?
A: Yeah, so I looked at the job satisfaction of orchestral musicians and how the level of involvement within their organization changes their satisfaction. I looked at people who just play their instrument, people who have a role within the orchestra outside of playing, and people who have other pursuits or income outside of the orchestra. It turned out people who just played their instrument were a lot less happy, and that’s something I noticed change within myself when I was managing HMI. Very clearly I had a lot more patience and tolerance for the people on the other side of the fence, the administration, which is a huge issue in the orchestra world. I would guess that the majority of issues that arise in orchestras stem from disagreements or misunderstanding between musicians and admin. I saw that being involved in both the admin side and the orchestra deepened my investment in the group overall. For example, when the HMI musicians were frustrated at the librarian for not getting the music on time, I would know that it was backordered. People might rush to blame or have an emotional reaction, and if they just took a second to understand why, then maybe they would understand that it’s actually no one’s fault in the administration. I would guess that most administrators have a background as performers, but I would also guess that most musicians don’t have much experience as administrators––I believe that even a quick shadowing or brief stint on that side of the organization is really important. So I went into that for my research mainly because I’d seen that change within myself, and wondered if it was something other people experienced.
Z: And then you ended up hearing about this job with Nu Deco?
A: Yeah, so I had just graduated and Nu Deco put this email out to their entire roster of musicians, and I was actually in France with my brother celebrating my graduation. I remember we were sitting there in our Airbnb, and I knew I had to apply for it. I was like, how am I going to do this from another country without my materials or laptop? Derek ended up interviewing me when I got back and it all worked out really well.
Z: So with all the work you’ve done in understanding people through your work and studies, what’s your philosophy on being a good personnel manager?
A: Truthfully, when I send an email, I imagine that I’m Abby the violinist receiving the email. I think about what I would need to know when showing up for a gig in order to streamline the process as much as possible. I am a violinist in Nu Deco, so it’s true, but that’s the number one thing that I always try to do. You find a balance between being too nice and too strict because a lot of these people have been my friends since before Nu Deco, but if I’m just everyone’s friend, it’s hard to enforce things.
Z: Outside of Nu Deco, what are you up to professionally?
A: I play with the Florida Grand Opera Orchestra, Naples Philharmonic, Palm Beach Symphony, and recently the Atlantic Classical Orchestra. I take one-off gigs, and there are a few churches I play at regularly. I also teach a private studio of twelve students. That part gets difficult during Nu Deco concert weeks, but thankfully the families are really supportive of my performances. I’ve thought about whether or not the teaching part is sustainable, but when I think about not seeing the kids or being a part of their growth, I get sad. I do my best to make it work and am really grateful to all of the families for being patient with my crazy schedule.
Z: So when you have time left outside of all this, how do you spend your time?
A: I start every morning with a barre class…
Z: Every morning?!
A: I should say Monday through Friday. I go to the Bar Method, which I can walk to––I despise being in the car and looking for parking, it’s the worst part about Miami. If I’m not teaching until 4 PM on a given day, it helps delineate when my day starts, and I hold myself accountable to get up. I also like cooking, health is really important to me, so I try to make food that’s close to the source. My crock pot is my best friend.
Z: And you manage to balance all of this on top of three distinctly different kinds of work!
A: The longer I live the life of having these three avenues of work, I feel like I’ve gotten better at self-care and anticipating what I should do ahead of time. I think there is a judgment among musicians that it’s selfish to take time for ourselves, and I get it, how can we afford to take time away from practicing or taking gigs? But I think if we don’t take that time, our quality of work is going to diminish. I have learned the hard way through experience that it’s so important for we musicians to protect our time and use discretion in saying yes to opportunities. Additionally, even at the worst of the worst days for me, I try to find a moment in that day to say, “Yes, I’m exhausted. Yes, I haven’t eaten a single meal today. Yes, my body is killing me because I have been playing for five, six, seven, or eight hours today. But how lucky am I to have a chance to be playing music full time?” I try to lead with gratitude because I am incredibly grateful, and I take my commitments really seriously because even if opportunities come by chance, they won’t remain unless I continue to earn them every day. I do my best even on the rough days to see that it is worth working seven days a week some weeks to work with these awesome musicians to get this music out into the world.
Z: It is worth it. So what’s been one of your favorite Nu Deco moments from this season?
A: I think the end of the Macy Gray concert at Arsht was really special for me. It’s always exciting to play music that was a soundtrack to a younger part of your life, but I looked out in the audience and from the back of the audience to the back of the stage it felt we were all in the same moment together. There has been few times in my life that I felt a space as big as the Arsht Center (in which audience can feel so separate from musicians) feel so intimate. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced something like that before. It just felt like everyone forgot where they were for a second. And, I doubt it’ll be the last time Nu Deco makes the Arsht feel like that––every time we perform, I wonder how we can top it, and then we do it again.
See Abby perform with Nu Deco on March 29 & 30 at New World Center.