Published: Sept. 15, 2020 By

Rarely do wishes materialize without a great deal of work, but as Entrepreneurship Center for Music (ECM) Director Jeffery Nytch can attest, sometimes they fall right into your lap. While contemplating how he could best serve students during the COVID-19 lockdown, Nytch got a call that would change everything.

“My cousin, Mary Lou West, called me up one day just to ask if she could do anything to help my students,” Nytch explains. 

It turns out that this simple question ended up constituting more than $15,000 worth of student grants. Nytch invited students to submit proposals for how they would use the money to support a project or business over the summer. He wound up receiving 27 excellent ideas—all of which received some amount of funding.

“I had always had this idea of giving out mini grants to students as a way of encouraging them to create a project or business on their own,” Nytch says. “I had no idea that I would be lucky enough to implement it during the pandemic when so many artists have lost jobs and need to create new opportunities for themselves.”

Tech, instruments and the business of dreams

Social distancing has made being able to make at-home quality recordings an imperative for students. Many summer festivals have moved online, and auditions require recordings with high-quality audio. In response, many applicants, such as current junior and classical guitar major Isabella Fincher, used their funding to set up an at-home recording studio. To stay on task, Fincher even signed up for an online accountability group set up between the ECM and Michigan State University.

“I knew that the best way for me to realize my goals would be to have others around who supported me and who were also looking for that support and intent in their own work,” Fincher explains. 

It turned out to be a good idea, as Fincher was able to use her grant-funded equipment to make a recording of herself playing Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Serenade.” She also intends to record the 20-minute “Histoire du Tango” by Astor Piazzolla with flutist Erika Gossett as the Ikigai Duo, helping to bolster their social media presence and visibility as a guitar-flute duo.


A grant of purpose

Another grant went toward a new business and performance organization called the Something’s Happening Ensemble, or SOHAP. The group’s founders, Sabina Balsamo and Chas Barnard, both graduated with master’s degrees from the College of Music in May and are looking for a way to give back to the community they’ve come to love. 

“With everything that’s happening to the arts industry during the pandemic and seeing even more clearly the need to give voice to underrepresented composers, we felt that it was important to start an organization that addressed both of these issues,” Balsamo explains.

SOHAP will focus on outreach in schools, helping introduce young musicians to new music through lessons and performances. The group recently performed current DMA student Ben Morris’ piece “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” based on the children’s book by Eric Carle, which they hoped would bring joy to kids who might be struggling with big changes in their worlds. 


“The ECM grant helped us to commission two new pieces, but even more than that it gave us access to mentorship and the ability to say that we’ve already won grants as an organization,” Balsamo says. “Dr. Nytch has been so generous with his time and expertise and we’re grateful for that.”

When it officially launches in November, SOHAP will feature performances of underrepresented composers and new music, a listener’s club and private lessons taught by Balsamo and Barnard.

Commenting on the future of the grant, Nytch says, “It has been a fantastic way to realize a new avenue of providing accessibility and mentorship to students. The ultimate goal is to be able to provide students with something like this every year so that they can continue or begin in whatever endeavors they choose to pursue.”