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Creative Spotlight: The musical journey with Joe Monticello from New World Symphony

by Catherine Chiang  |  December 13, 2019

7 min. read

It’s not every day that you have a conversation covering everything from Bach and time travel to the joy of opening boxes; that is, unless you know Joe Monticello, part-time archivist at New World Symphony, and part-time professional flutist!

We sat down with Joe to chat about how he got his start in his creative career and the moving and mysterious power of music (and yes, Bach, time travel and boxes). Join us for the journey!

The logo of New World Symphony.

About New World Symphony

New World Symphony is an orchestral academy with over 1,100 alumni. NWS is helping to ensure a thriving future for classical music. The communications team uses Canto to organize their digital photo archives and stay in sync. Read their story here.

Joe Monticello, Archivist of New World Symphony.Hi Joe! I’m super excited to learn about your creative career path! Could you tell me about New World Symphony and what you do as an archivist there?

New World Symphony offers young musicians a three-year fellowship to gain professional experience and mentorship. It’s the first program of its kind, where young American musicians can sit in an orchestra of their peers and get started in their careers.

The archives tell that story in a really fascinating way by documenting the social events – concerts, annual galas – that went into ensuring NWS’s success. As the archivist, I am in charge of maintaining our photos, printed material and administrative records from our entire organizational history, from 1987 to now.

Part of the thrill is that you just never know what you’re going to find. Even though we can tell with some certainty what would have happened that year, that season, and who would have been there, you just never know if you’re going to find a candid photo that all of a sudden makes for the perfect social or blog post. That’s my favorite part of the job – the unexpected.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

As nerdy as this is going to sound, it’s opening boxes. I love the thrill of going on a hunt for a specific photo, opening a box that’s marked something unassuming like ‘General Photo Collection 1990’ and looking through it and then, all of a sudden recognizing a very young Yo-Yo Ma or Joshua Bell!

You’re like a historian, or a time traveler.

I wish! I suppose part of the thrill is that you just never know what you’re going to find. Even though we can tell with some certainty what would have happened that year, that season, and who would have been there, you just never know if you’re going to find a candid photo that all of a sudden makes for the perfect social or blog post. That’s my favorite part of the job – the unexpected.

I love that. So you actually have a background in music as well; I saw that you went to Juilliard and play the flute in the Florida Grand Opera! I was wondering if you could tell me about how you got into music and what motivated you to pursue a career in the arts.

I first started playing the flute in high school. I didn’t have any prior musical experience, but I was looking for a way to contribute and be a part of the school community, so I joined the band. They needed flutists, so that’s what I picked up – and I ended up really loving the instrument!

Music, arts administration, and archiving all work around a central theme of fostering and maintaining interpersonal connections. Whether those connections are between individuals and events, places, or experiences doesn’t make too much of a difference, but the emotional pull behind that is incredibly compelling! While nothing in the creative world is the easiest career path one can choose to take, connecting with people and wanting to foster those connections kept me on it, and eventually led me to Miami, where I am constantly striving to keep all of my fires lit.

A picture of a concert hall with orchestra and audience.How did you end up at your current role at NWS?

Being an archivist at NWS combines a lot of my personal interests. I went to undergrad at Oberlin Conservatory, where most of my academic coursework was in art history. At Juilliard, I studied historical performance, which is about playing the music of Bach and Beethoven on period appropriate instruments while using documents and sources of the period to inform your musical choices – a meeting of my academic and musical worlds, if you will. While I was at Juilliard, I worked in several administrative roles and found I had a knack for it. Once I left Juilliard, I realized that the life of a performer has a lot of downtime and I missed helping make things happen at the administrative level.

When I noticed that there was a job posting at New World Symphony for an archivist, it seemed like it was a perfect amalgam of my interests and my strengths. I’m fortunate to have flexibility enough to maintain a schedule that allows me to play modern flute in the opera and the symphony here one week, fly up to New York or Boston or San Francisco to play Baroque flute a few times a year, and open boxes at New World Symphony in between.

It’s certainly not easy doing all of this at once, you know, keeping all of the balls in the air. It’s not easy, but I’m very lucky to be doing it.

A photograph from the archives of NWS.That’s amazing and not everyone can say that they’ve created a career around their interests! What advice do you have for creative folks trying to build a career around their passions?

The most important thing is to never hide your creativity. As cliché as that might sound, seek out the opportunity to let your creativity shine and be heard.

Even though workplace environments are changing and employees have greater opportunities to be creative, I think we’re still reluctant to share our ideas because we’re afraid of scrutiny or what others might think. It’s so important that we try to explore our creativity and bring it to the table because it is an incredibly valuable asset, and organizations are beginning to realize that.

Yes, that’s really great advice! For me, music has always been an art form that I love to experience but don’t quite understand (or have much talent for). I’m curious about your perspective as a performer and student of music – what do you love about music?

Music can appeal to a higher consciousness than spoken or written word, in a similar way that visual art can. In the case of singers, they always have the help of text to convey a certain storyline to their audience. But for instrumentalists, it’s the physical and emotional cues, the tonal cues, the sound that we produce – that’s what we have to rely on to engage with our audiences.

You’ll hear musicians talk about the journey and bringing people along for the ride. And when an audience is there with you in that zone, there’s an energy that’s incredibly exciting.

The NWS playing in a concert hall.Whenever I see someone play an instrument really well, I’m moved to the point where I want to cry. So I totally understand.

I love that it’s 2019 and we’ll still go to a symphony hall and listen to this piece of music that was written in the 1800s. The human experience is so different between those two time periods, but we’re still drawn to a concert hall to hear this music presented as if it were relevant and fresh. And to me, it still is. Because at the end of the day, the music of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart – it’s never gone out of fashion because it still affects us and our emotions are still moved.

That’s what music is to me – to feel something that’s a little bit inexplicable. There’s a beauty in that obscurity. You know, that feeling of, ‘I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I know that it moved me to tears.’

Thanks so much, Joe! Learn more about New World Symphony here.