The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. She has big plans to help the school, from securing a new s concert hall to overhauling the website, starting a blog and connecting with other local music groups and media outlets.

September 3, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bascom Hall

That makes it a perfect time for students, both music students and others, to make the acquaintance of Kathy Esposito. Esposito is the new concert manager and director of public relations for the UW School of Music. (That also makes it a good time to subscribe to this blog and to the UW School of Music’s “Fanfare” blog if you are a new or returning student or faculty member.)

Esposito was hired toward the end of last season and has been furiously and energetically on the job all summer, preparing for the fall by redesigning the website at, producing a season brochure and starting the blog “Fanfare” among other accomplishments. This promises to be a year of big challenges, from a new department director to new teachers, at the School of Music.

I asked Esposito to give an interview and to introduce herself.

Here is the introduction she wrote:

“I guess all I would say about me is that I developed my music appreciation through my two sons who are now classical musicians.

“I was a freelance journalist and communications specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for years, but while doing so, we three immersed ourselves in music and theater.

“We listened to CDs at home, attended productions in Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, and the two boys took violin lessons. They eventually auditioned into the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO, below, in a photo by Cheng-Wei Wu).

Thomas Buchhauser  conducting WYSO Philharmonia Cheng-Wei Wu

“Music for me is completely cathartic. I understand well the intense dedication required to excel, and I am always impressed by the maturity of these young players who by some miracle develop an appreciation of something fairly sophisticated.

“I love the classics and believe these should be our foundation, but also understand that some are interested in taking their passion to a different, more contemporary place (whether composing or performing), something untried and not wholly formed, and the university is a perfect place to do that.

My goal is to present their efforts before the Madison community and beyond, not only to bring bodies into our halls (it’s no fun to play to an empty hall) but also to demonstrate that the music school is as deserving of donor support as any other program on campus.

And here is the lengthy and detailed email Q&A that Kathy Esposito (below, in a self-portrait) did for The Ear:

Kathy Esposito

Why did you want the job of concert manager and director of public relations?

My two sons, Ansel and Alex (below), were in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and my elder son Alex graduated from UW as a violinist studying with Professor Felicia Moye and is now at Texas Tech. (As a high school student, my younger son Ansel studied with UW-Madison trumpet professor John Aley. He is now a senior at Northwestern University and also studies with the principal trumpet player of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.)

We made a point of attending music and theater performances in Madison and elsewhere, and I am quite passionate about the marvelous impact that it has had on all our lives. Both are continuing in music and have promising lives as people, not just musicians. That’s what music can do for people.

Alex and Ansel Norris CR Kathy Esposito

Because of these connections, I knew there was much good stuff going on under the roof of the Mosse Humanities Building that others didn’t know about, and it bothered me.

When people think of classical music in Madison, what comes to mind? The Madison Symphony Orchestra. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Concerts on the Square. The Bolz Young Artists Competition. Why is that? It’s because of marketing — plain old honest “getting the word out” any way possible. In this regard, the UW School of Music can do much better.

We offer a hundreds of mostly FREE concerts each year, often featuring the exact same musicians and guests artists who appear elsewhere in town, plus college students about to launch professional careers of their own. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Beverly Taylor performing “He Watching Over Israel” from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”)

But we don’t have a budget for paid advertising, which means we need to be more creative with our publicity: telling people about the accomplishments of students and faculty and offering them a reason to care and be excited about what they will see.

Meanwhile, the School of Music (SOM) offers great training and opportunities for music students, within an environment that is friendly and supportive, allowing these high school grads to mature as people while improving skills. That’s an important point, as some schools are so competitive that students can actually be damaged in the process.  (Below is Music Hall, where the University Opera stages its productions, at the foot of Bascom Hill.)


I felt that I could help. I have a background in journalism and more recently in business marketing and digital media, and I know the importance of telling stories and being creative, which, nowadays, includes the Internet world as well as print. This new world is a huge, huge area, and I don’t claim to be able to do all of it well, but the truth is that many people who grew up in the world of print are totally overwhelmed by what’s needed now.

So the upshot is that I felt strongly that I had an overall resumé that matched what the SOM needed, and I wanted to help.

What major projects and changes do have in the works, including the website, web streaming for audio and video, spreading the word about the new building and outreach programs, and the like??

We plan to completely overhaul our music school website and will feature prominently the audio tracks that we’ve accumulated over the years, so that when you arrive at our site, your eye will fall upon a “Hear our Sound!” display box that will invite you to listen to one of several performances.

That might include an orchestra, the Perlman Trio (below), the wind ensemble, a jazz septet, a concerto competition winner, or a new piece by one of our resident composers; so many I don’t know how we can possibly choose among them. This is blow-your-socks-off great music.

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

Our current website has never had a page for news; it was fairly “static,” as web designers say. To address this in the absence of a new site, I recently started a blog, “Fanfare,” that provides a place to publicize recent accomplishments, and we also are making great use of our Facebook page. I invite all your readers to sign up for the blog (it’s a free subscription) and to become our Facebook fans.

Future plans include acquiring equipment to video-record and live-stream some concerts, so that parents and alumni (and possible donors) around the country and world can watch in real-time. I know how special this is because my sons perform out-of-town, and I have been able to watch them play from the (relative) comfort of my computer chair. It’s the next best thing to actually sitting in the concert hall seat.

Regarding the new music building, to be located on the open lot on University Avenue most recently occupied by several bars: We are about half way toward our goal of raising about $46 million. The project is actually part of a bigger UW plan that includes the entire East Campus Gateway, so the UW Foundation is in charge of the lion’s share of fundraising, which includes soliciting the largest donations. My role now is to continue to raise the school’s profile so that prospective donors can feel their efforts are going to very good use.

Of course, anyone is welcome to donate to the new performance fund, no matter the size of the contribution.

What are the major challenges you see confronting you and the UW School of Music?

Our biggest challenges right now are securing more money for tuition scholarships and for our new performance space. Of course, better publicity will help here; people are more likely to donate if they see their money being put to good use.

College scholarships are critical. A young violinist may want to study with Felicia Moye (below top), or a young percussionist with Tony di Sanza (below bottom with UW piano pedagogue Jessica Johnson), but if she or he gets an offer from a competing music school that includes funding, and we can’t match it, where do you think that student will go? And yet we want to be considered a top music school, just as UW is tops in so many other ways. And graduating with a degree in violin or trumpet performance but with $30,000 in debt is extremely unwise.

Felicia Moye color

sole nero Jessica Johnson piano and Anthony Di Sanza percussion

The School’s mission is not just performance, but educational. And providing music education is expensive. We have many faculty who don’t play instruments but study the music of other cultures, or study the history of composition, and then we also have many classes that are very small: there is a faculty-student ratio of one. (These are called studio classes, where, for example, a college student studying the cello has a weekly lesson with Uri Vardi (below), one of our cello teachers.)


We have several wonderful patrons who understand this and have donated money to fund talented students through their undergrad and grad years. We’d love to discover more people like those. These grateful students have advanced to successful careers as performers and university faculty, and while still here, are more than happy to repay their patrons with private concerts.

Meanwhile, our concerts are presented in a building that is simply worn out, dated and dingy. We have one large hall, Mills Hall (below top) that seats over 700 people, too large for many concerts; and one smaller hall, Morphy Hall (below bottom) that seats about 150, too small for many concerts; and one hall (Eastman) that we don’t use because of problems. We have furniture in the basement Strelow Lounge that I refuse to sit in because the upholstery is so dirty. We have windows that are streaked with grime and cannot be opened or cleaned. It is a distinctly uninviting building.


Morphy Hall 2

How do you think you can get the concerts, master classes, etc. at the UW to draw bigger and younger audiences?

Well, there are many things we can do, all of which I am confident would have a cumulative impact.

The most difficult but also the most helpful is a successful story pitch to traditional media outlets like newspapers, TV and radio. We had great crowds here for two concerts this spring that made it into traditional print media: The 40th anniversary of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and oboist Marc Fink’s farewell concert (below bottom). But media space has shrunk, and there’s a lot of competition. So we need to market ourselves, first and foremost, using all the tools of new and old media.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet Cr Katrin Talbot

marc fink big

That means more fully utilizing the venues already available, such as this blog and others like it that are happy to announce or discuss our events. We also are now more active in the area of social media, especially Facebook, and have gained a hundred new fans in just the last month.

Second, I am interested in forming new partnerships that would bring SOM performers into new spaces, place them in front of new audiences, and send concert announcements to new venues.

Some of my ideas are probably crazy, but you have to start somewhere.

–I’d love to see joint WYSO/UW concerts of some sort: perhaps preface a WYSO concert with a UW piano trio or jazz octet.

–I’d like UW ensembles to perform outside of the music building, especially in the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below)/Town Hall.


–I’d like to start an annual fall music concert that showcases the entire school, including recently written, more avant-garde works, jazz and vocalists.

–I’d like to partner with Wisconsin Public Television to tell a story about our school.

–I’d like to see the new music building include a family-friendly audience space, in the rear of the hall, with a one-way mirror and piped-in sound that would allow the children to watch a concert while being normal children: not always quiet! I’ve never heard of such a space in a concert hall, and we could make our mark here and bring lots of Dane County families in for free performances.

Little pianist

–I also would like the new music building to include a lighted marquee that announces the next night’s concerts, just as we see in larger cities. Now that would attract some notice!

–I’d like our local radio stations to update listeners about concerts just as a friendly service, not as paid underwriting (because we can’t afford it). Minnesota’s public classical music station has a host, John Birge, who very kindly will mention upcoming local concerts just as a part of his between-music banter. That’s part of how we as music lovers can support each other, just by being enthusiastic. (Below is a photo by James Gill of Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom in his studio.)

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

–We also can send concert announcements to school newsletters and music teachers, and emphasize the fact that 99% of ours are free.

–What ideas do you listeners have? I sure can’t think of everything!

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

Well, I’m only one person, so I can’t say that I’ll be able to pull all of this off. However, I do feel committed to UW, committed to music in general as it has done so much for me and my sons, and I enjoy a good challenge.

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