ArtsForce Asks: Micah Fleming, Co-Founder of Sinfonia Salt Lake

July 15 2020

,by Benjamin Drysdale 

Hello CFA students!

I have been taking advantage of this strange though important time of isolation to reach out to former mentors and teachers alike, one of whom was my high school orchestra teacher, Micah Fleming, now a doctoral candidate at The Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

Micah has played the violin from a young age, and received his bachelor's in Music at West Virginia University, and his master's in Music Education from Indiana University. While earning his doctorate, he worked as an associate instructor and teaching assistant to Stanley Ritchie. Locally, Micah was the orchestra teacher at Olympus High School, a co-founder of Sinfonia Salt Lake. He has also served on a number of boards for music and arts organizations. 

I came into this interview wondering what professional skills I lack, especially when it comes to finances. Micah, being one of my closest mentors, was one of the first people I thought of to give me guidance in this area.

“We do ourselves a disservice not knowing what business students learn,” he said. “You don’t need an MBA, but from my experience, the people who invest the time to learn even the basics are better off." This led me to reflect on my upcoming career which is sometimes daunting. However, this made me think that if I just learn a few more business skills, my career in the arts will not only be viable, but profitable as well.  

The strength of the artist’s spirit is what allows us to succeed. We are not just dancers, musicians, designers and filmmakers. We are marketers, accountants, salesmen, and our own human resource reps. In all, we are entrepreneurs.   

How do we get there? What do we need? It seemed to me that so little can be accomplished nowadays without at least a master's, considering the increasing competitive nature of the music world. So I asked him, “What is the balance between education and skills?” So much of what we do is preparatory to our careers, whether that is adding a new painting to your portfolio, a new piece to your repertoire, or a new addition to your film reel. Micah said, “Figure out what is required, and focus on that. The best musicians never stop learning and improving.” There is no set career path for you. 

Micah’s teacher, Stanley Ritchie, graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Australia and then took to the world recording and playing wherever he could, including Paris, New Yok City, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Seattle. Stanley is now distinguished faculty at the Jacobs School of Music and performs and lectures worldwide. Although he never pursued more formal education beyond his bachelor's, he has achieved extraordinary things through his experiences. It was Ritchie's personal drive that made his career successful. Define your goals, focus on what you need to learn to be where you want to be. That could mean another degree, an internship, an apprenticeship, whatever it takes. Start learning, and don’t stop.   

“Success is being able to live whatever dream you have in your head and whatever you enjoy the most.” -Micah Fleming

What makes your career successful is a personal decision, and it should be more than a destination. Your career is a tapestry of experiences that don’t have to be defined by a single role. Get creative. The arts are defined by the limits you give them, so dream big. As one of my favorite Walt Disney quotes says: “First think, second dream, third believe, and finally dare.”  

As we were closing Micah said, “There is no formula, because everyone is different.”  What is important is that we recognize now who we are and where we want to go. What we are is entrepreneurs, and that can take us anywhere.  

Take this harrowing time to work on your skills and lift others up.  

Until next time, may the ArtsForce be with you.  

ArtsForce Takeaways: 

  • Learn business principles! Think of yourself as a small business. 
  • Develop the skills to get you where you want to be 
  • Be an entrepreneur: developing yourself is developing your brand. 

*Author Benjamin Drysdale is an ArtsForce Emerging Leaders Intern and a cello performance major in the U School of Music.