Crystal Carlson, Director of Operations, is among 30 individuals nationwide named as Musical America magazine’s 2019 Professionals of the Year. This honor recognizes “the often behind-the-scenes individuals who keep the performing arts alive and well and relevant.” With 14,000 performing arts organizations and 6,000 artists in more than 95 countries, Musical America is regarded as the definitive source for international performing arts contact information. Cleveland is one of only a handful of cities with more than one honoree–Johnnia Stigall, Manager of Pre-college and Pathway Programs at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), was also named. Both women have ties to CIM.
Carlson grew up in Caldwell, Idaho, and became a singer by accident in a very literal sense—at age 11, she was in a car accident with her father. As she recollects, “I was injured enough that I had to give up playing soccer and dancing, which were my two passions at the time. My dad saw that. One day he said to me ‘I’ve heard you sing in the shower and you’re not that bad. Why don’t we look into voice lessons?’” Her first voice teacher was immediately impressed with Carlson’s natural ability. A reaction that “delighted” the 11-year-old. She adds, “I sang at a senior living center almost the next day, and their reaction gave me the bug.”
At age 14, she saw a live production of Don Giovanni. “That’s when I turned to opera,” she says. “That’s when I started being more serious about classical music.” She majored in Voice at Capital University in Columbus and, at the suggestion of her undergraduate voice teacher, came to Cleveland in 2007 to study at CIM. After earning a Professional Studies certificate in Vocal Performance from CIM, she had dreams of being a performer but notes “I knew I still wanted to be within the music industry, even if I wasn’t performing. I saw this job. Even though it was supposed to be temporary, I wanted to see what it was like to work behind the scenes. It turned out that I absolutely loved it. I wasn’t supposed to be here at the 2011 competition, but because of the changes and the work I had done, I was asked to stay. I’ve stayed and kept working and gaining more responsibilities.”
Carlson has become an enthusiastic Clevelander and sees this honor in the larger context of the city’s reputation as a classical music mecca. When she moved here, she had been told it had a strong arts community and found this to be true. “There really was a sort of renaissance when I got here in 2007. The city ended up feeling like home, which I didn’t expect. There are so many concerts everywhere, from the halls to churches to bars, there’s so much to take in. It’s incredible. I used to live in the Coventry neighborhood, and it was shocking that I could walk to three different performances from my home. Where I grew up, you’d have to drive 45 or 60 minutes just to get to one performance. I got all of my cultural experiences from PBS,” she quips.
The behind-the-scenes nature of her work as Director of Operations at CIPC makes the honor from Musical America that much sweeter. “The work that I do is very background,” Carlson explains. “It’s what people see because the event was a success but they don’t see on a day-to-day basis. It’s nice to be recognized.” She notes the award indicates that CIM “turns out well-rounded musicians. At one point, I thought that if I took a “real” job it would mean that I couldn’t perform. If you stay within the music industry, you can still have opportunities to perform. For instance, I’m an outreach performer with CIPC and a church musician. My training from CIM means that I get to utilize all the things that I love about music instead of being defined as one thing.”
Read more about Carlson, CIM’s Johnnia Stigal, and the other 2019 honorees in the December issue of Musical America.