Pianist, Entrepreneur, Vocal Coach, and Mentor
Meet Kim Carballo, Project Jumpstart’s October Entrepreneur of the Month!
As a first-rate pianist and innovative project director, opera coach Kim Carballo offers important insights into building a not-for-profit arts organization and career preparation in the 21st century. Kim founded Reimagining Opera for Kids (ROK), a Bloomington-based opera company that serves the community by introducing opera to children and provides young professional musicians with an opportunity to hone their production and performance skills.
Read on for an inspirational discussion on what it takes to engage the world as a classical musician today.
Project Jumpstart: How did you transition into a career that includes more education? Were there and events along the way that helped you realize where your goals were?
Kim Carballo: I always had a sort of double track. My degrees were in music theory and vocal coaching. I thought I would be teaching and performing at the same time, but I didn’t see them interact in the way they are right now. That shift started happening when I got out of college and started to see the practical implications of what needed to happen for my students in order to better prepare them as emerging musicians. For example, in Reimagining Opera for Kids (ROK), it was really about supporting arts education in the schools, but also finding more performance opportunities for my students.
PJ: What were some of your inspirations to create and run an opera company?
KC: I never thought ‘I’m going to begin an opera company.’ It really just started as a performance space. Over time and because of interests on both sides of the equation, ROK started behaving more like an opera company, rather than just a volunteer group. The schools appreciate the support we offer in terms of the live music experience, interacting with the performers, and also the curriculum guide. The performers appreciate the chance to get their feet wet in a real and tangible way, but also the chance to have meaningful interactions with the community.
PJ: What are some the challenges and rewards of running a company such as ROK?
KC: The chance to learn about another face of the music industry has been interesting. I now know much more about 501c3’s, tax implications, volunteer management, and grant writing than I had any idea about before beginning ROK. This has been a great challenge, but at the same time a great opportunity to grow. The biggest reward for me is seeing the mission being fulfilled repeatedly. For example one of our performers was recognized around Bloomington by a child from a school where we had recently performed. It shows that things really registered with the child; they were engaged enough to be noticing, not just that they got out of math class for a day, but really were absorbing the performance. With these repeated interactions, our work is making a difference and that’s exciting. Seeing the bonding that happens within the cast is also fantastic; people are so busy, but still they will go to each others’ recitals and help each other with tests. It’s just a really lovely dynamic to see.
PJ: What are some of the challenges young singers face today entering and transitioning into the professional world?
KC: It used to be that a person could be very specialized and many times expect to make a reasonable living even down to a specific role for opera. For example Ms. Zeani sang around 650 performances of Violetta in her lifetime. Today it seems highly unlikely that someone could be able have a career in the same specialized manner. People today are expected to be much more multifaceted. Not only do you need to be very strong technically in your instrument, but you must also be a business person, develop a strong network, and have a web presence. These are all things that may have been present in some form in the past, but hardly as ubiquitous as today.
PJ: Do you have any advice for new emerging artists transitioning from school to the professional realm?
KC: Most of the time, for questions like this, it’s much more satisfactory to give an action verb like go ‘study’ your music and go ‘practice’. While all those are true, a quieter beginning can give a person a lot more direction. Of course, a person has to develop their repertoire and build connections, but also find the directions that all those things are going to go in and support you. I think it’s important to reflect on what your specific passions are, not just ‘I want to teach’, ‘I want to make music’, ‘I want to be an arts administrator’. It’s important to find out specifically what lights your fire. The answers to that question can help set up the foundation for everything you need to do.
PJ: How would you define entrepreneurship for the 21st century musician?
KC: It’s the chance to be creative in a setting that allows one to combine business and art. I think the real power and potential of entrepreneurship is that it can help take away the sense of terror that we may have as we thinking about what’s ahead of us. You don’t have to think ‘I have to fit in this particular box’ or ‘I have to take this predetermined path.’ Rather, you create a box or path that fits the shape of your passion and skills. This is extremely liberating.
PJ: What are some important traits for young singers and instrumentalists to cultivate in and outside the practice room?
KC: Of course you have to be technically proficient in your craft etc., but the strengths I see that are the most effective are in people who are well rounded and empathetic. So what does that mean for a musician? That means reading books that aren’t about music; read the great literature. It means going for a walk in Brown County this weekend to see the leaves and the colors. Learn about the world outside of where you are and where you’re from and, at the same time, learn about where you are and from. For example, Bloomington has so many opportunities and activities that are not campus related that students aren’t aware of. Also, extremely important is developing the skills to connect with people. I don’t mean in a clinical networking sense, but in an honest listening-to-each-other sort of way. This will make good working relationships, good teaching relationships, and just stronger relationships because you can connect and network in a real and meaningful way.
PJ: Are there any skills you needed in having a career in music that have surprised you?
KC: I have been glad to see so much practical overlap with vocal coaching and music theory. Much of what we do in music theory is about understanding and internalizing the meaning of music and it might surprise young musicians to know how useful theory can be in their music making.
What has really surprised me in my career is the whole logistical side of things such as book keeping, time management, taxes, grant writing: all things I use as a musician in addition to my work with ROK. The ability to think ahead, foresee what’s coming, and prepare ahead in an informed way is the best way to go about things. You will come to a point through experience where you know how an academic year or production process of an opera or other performance goes. You know where things will become busier, or your load might lighten a bit. Try to plan ahead as best you can and leave some wiggle room, because there will always be things that come up, both on the organizational side as well as the performance, that were completely unexpected.
PJ: How did your time in international locations such as Costa Rica affect you? What did you gain there that still affects your work today?
KC: Something I didn’t realize when I was younger was how much of a culture is embedded in a language. As opposed to learning a language in a classroom, you gain something much deeper by learning a language in the actual country. The time that I had outside of the United States has allowed and pushed me to reflect on certain assumptions that I’ve had. These can be assumptions I’ve had within the culture of the United States, assumptions about myself as musician, assumptions about myself as a person, assumptions about the way society and art interact; these have all been very enriching conversations. I’ve become a stronger musician and person for it.
Kim Carballo is the Coordinating Coach for IU Opera & Ballet Theater. She has worked as head coach, mainstage, and young artist coach for Compañia Lirica Nacional de Costa Rica; she was also an instructor at the Universidad de Costa Rica and the Universidad Nacional.