2min readLifestyle 09 August 2019
My earliest memories of wanting to be a conductor were of me as a 10 year old, grabbing the chopsticks from my parents takeout Chinese food bag, tearing off the paper wrapper and standing in front of the TV waving my "baton" at the screen while the Boston Pops played a concert. I was fully convinced that I was in control of the music, conducting before a large crowd and fully immersed in the glorious sound of violins.
Now years later, having conducted concerts in 22 countries and with over 90 different orchestras, I look back and wonder how I persevered in a male-dominated field and found the courage to rise through the ranks. Encouragement did not actually come fully from my parents. Although we were a musical family, enjoyed music at home and were encouraged to take piano lessons, supporting me in pursuit of a professional conducting career was something my parents were not fully equipped to do. My dad had particular worries about how I would ever make a living, and his notion of a conductor was an older white male, with a mane of silver hair who stood commandingly on the podium.
But something in me lit on fire as I waved those chopsticks at the TV screen, and it never left me. I started conducting my high school choir and ensembles at the local community college and eventually went on to study conducting as an undergraduate and graduate student. It was not until I moved to Germany right after receiving my Masters of Music degree in conducting that I fully understood the prejudices toward women on the podium. I had a few lucky breaks when I landed in Germany and soon after jumped into leading full scale opera productions. But people, and surprising numbers of women, would ask me, "Why are you conducting? You should be home having kids and polishing your husband's shoes."
Once I had an interview in Germany at a large opera house where I was hoping they would engage me as guest conductor or staff conductor. An older gruff, male artistic director of the company proceeded to sternly instruct me, two minutes into my interview, to go home and write a 15 page essay explaining why I wanted to be a conductor and why I felt I deserved to be a conductor and return it to him. I was speechless, my face flushed with anger, as I asked him over and over again to explain why I should have to do this. I was ushered out of the interview and in a state of shock, went home and actually took out a legal yellow pad and began to scribble notes. I threw it down after a short time and decided that if my resume did not speak loudly enough to my many accomplishments, then that particular opera house was not the place for me. I also was pretty sure that being a young aspiring FEMALE conductor was the reason for this experience.
I worked for more than a decade in Europe, conducted productions in opera houses, toured with top youth orchestras, taught at the University of Berlin and continued to advance my career. It was when I decided to start a family that I heard comments like, "I feel sorry for your children." Or "I bet your kids miss their mom." I realized that it was a veiled way of saying that women really don't belong in this type of job, and that it takes too much time and energy to do a "man's work."
But my inner strength was never in short supply in my mind, and I conducted festivals and concerts with great successes. Looking back I realize that every stone that was put in my path only energized me to be better, work harder, be stronger and to never, ever give up. It served me well through the years. I toured for two years to 14 countries doing a live to picture show and encountered fierce sexism from the producer who hired me. He would inspect my clothes, come into my dressing room, examine my shoes, comment on my makeup and warn me not to be too strong, but to be sweeter. That fueled my desire to become my own producer.
After two years of international touring, I wanted to be the captain of my own ship, do my own projects and not be hassled for my eyeliner. So, after retiring from that tour I founded Orchestra Moderne NYC, a top level ensemble in New York City that plays culturally relatable music with a focus on social justice. Our first debut was a Carnegie Hall concert honoring immigrants called, The Journey to America: From Repression to Freedom. The topic of immigration was a hot button issue during the 2016 presidential campaign. I felt so passionate about honoring immigrants who have come to this country that I constructed an entire concert devoted to the subject. From that successful launch, I realized that the only thing that would ever hold me back, would be my own doubts, not anybody else's. And I had no doubts.
Our upcoming concert is September 20th, 2019 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center in NYC. After the immigrants concert, I began researching the lives of strong women from the past eight hundred years, and found activists of uncommon strength, courage and valor whose fearlessness changed the course of history. I wanted to honor the strength and heroism of activists past and present who have fought for civil and human rights, against climate change and gender equality and for the right of every girl to an education. Thus Women Warriors: The Voices of Change was born.
I teamed with award-wining Hollywood female composers to create a timely and
inspiring concert. With moving documentary footage and rich and emotional symphonic music, the concert will give hope and voice to women and girls around the world. The project that has taken nearly two years; I am in charge of hiring, fundraising, programming, producing, conducting and just about everything else. I gladly carry the stress of doing everything myself because I know women are strong, women are courageous, and women get the job done.
I am the sum total of all of the experiences in my life. Every difficulty, challenge, loss, pain, as well as victory, joy and success has shaped me into the strong and confident woman I have become. Women Warriors: The Voices of Change is the result of perseverance, resilience, and mental tenacity, coupled with the belief that I am as good as any man. If I encounter any resistance to what I am doing, I just remember that I am captain of my own ship.
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Determined to help my father overhaul his lifestyle and overcome the sudden obstacles he faced, I began prepping healthy, homemade meals. When friends and family members noticed the remarkable recovery he made, they became interested in the plans too.
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I'm often asked why Fresh n' Lean has continued to grow while other food delivery services struggle. I believe it comes down to many interacting variables that I wish to share with you today, with the hope that they might someday help you as you embark in your entrepreneurial journey too.
Know Your Values: Fresh, Convenient + Delicious
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Our mission has always been to achieve three things: to make food that's healthy, accessible and delicious. It's about getting that balance between each component. If any one of them is missing, the formula doesn't work.
Sure, it would be easy to cut corners with the quality of our ingredients to save money, but that's not the point! I have a strong desire to impact people's lives in a positive way - a 'reason why' that directly ties into the work we do. I'm also surrounded by a tribe of inspiring individuals who believe in the vision, which helps massively.
The collective understanding of our value system helps us stay true to the mission and to be completely transparent with how we operate the business. This creates trust and brand loyalty amongst our customers - a key component for future growth.
Taking Risks: Bootstrapping to Nine-Figures
Anyone who has started their own venture can attest that the early days are a little shaky. There are always going to be problems that pop up (usually at the most inconvenient times), and key decisions that need to be made.
One of the latter that I was faced with at the very beginning was whether or not to turn to investors for capital, or to bootstrap Fresh n' Lean. I went with the second option and committed my life savings to self-fund my venture. Looking back, it was a bold move. I put it all on the line to make my dream a reality, and thankfully the risk paid off.
Sure, initially it meant that we had certain restrictions when it came to funding, but I like to think those restrictions lead to innovation. Because we had limited options, we were forced to be creative and to come up with novel solutions to challenging problems.
It has also meant we've had a much easier time when it comes to choosing the direction of our business. Because we don't have to answer to a board of investors, we're able to explore various avenues with a degree of freedom - like our recent move from online to in-store.
Be Creative: Leaping From Online to In-Store
The latest evolution of Fresh n' Lean has been a dive into the brick and mortar sector, with the recent opening of our first On The Go store in Santa Monica.
Though many people believe brick and mortar is dying, we still feel that there are various opportunities to pursue. Grab-and-go healthy food near business centers is still something that's lacking in many areas. We're also in the process of partnering with Hak's Foods to bring ready-to-eat meals into grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Gelson's, and Costco.
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Sue, we could have listened to the naysayers, played it safe and stuck to what we know. But if we always take the comfortable route, how will we ever know what we're truly capable of?
If I could sum up the main things I've learned over the past ten years, it would go something like this: the key is to never stop learning, growing or innovating. Know your mission, keep moving forward, and always be ready to adapt.