Composer Q&A: Getting to Know Elizabeth Rose

After interviewing Militia Vox and Nathalie Bonin for our Q&A series on female musicians, it’s time to welcome our third guest. Elizabeth Rose is an extraordinary, multi-talented, and creative artist who’s really making an impact on music and society nowadays. Rose is a singer, composer, writer, guitarist, accomplished comedian, and author. She can basically do it all, and she’s not afraid to take risks and venture into new and exciting projects.

Elizabeth Rose was born into an artistic family with strong ties to the music and comedy worlds. She started playing music at a very young age, learning to sing, play guitar and master the keyboards. Throughout her extensive career, Rose has worked on projects for PBS, the Discovery Channel, and Nickelodeon, and has written and starred in her own musical comedy productions, including Relative Pitch, a one-woman musical show. But Elizabeth Rose’s passions are not all about music. She serves as an education specialist and assistive technology advocate in New York, striving to help adults and children with disabilities. Last but not least, Rose is an award-winning author; her hilarious memoir Yo Miz! recounts her experience of teaching at 25 NYC high schools in just one year.

Now, Elizabeth Rose took some time off her busy schedule to chat with us about her love of music, new projects that she’s working on, and her take on the current state of the music industry.

Elizabeth Rose

Can you offer some perspective on the current state of the music industry? Are there enough female writers/composers out there, or is it a male-driven industry, in your opinion?

Rather than try to evaluate the scope of the whole industry, I’ll stick to my areas: songwriting and composing. There have been many successful female songwriters over the last half century. However, it’s been challenging for female composers to get the highest paying jobs, especially in film and TV. Games are a relatively new area and more women, like Winifred Philips, have risen to the top. The good news is that with the ascendency of composers like Laura Karpman, who was recently invited to join the Board of Governors of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences, the emergence of the Alliance for Women Film Composers and the multiple-award winning concert film featuring eight top female composers “Women Warriors: The Voices of Change,” the brainchild of conductor/producer Amy Andersson, we are seeing a breakthrough moment. I was lucky to be present at Amy’s sold out concert at Alice Tully Hall, at Lincoln Center in NYC. The extended standing ovation from the audience, for me, verified this new era for women composers.

How hard was it for you to break through into this industry and achieve success? Can you tell us a bit about your professional journey?

I’m always “breaking in.” Mostly, I’ve taken independent roads, although I have had jobs producing for a small record company, touring with the cast of Beatlemania and such. I don’t think about how “hard” it is. I just keep moving. And, I don’t take rejection personally, even if it has my name on it. When The Cherry Lane Theatre in NY produced my one-woman musical, “Relative Pitch,” it was such a gift. It took 6 years from idea to production. But I didn’t start by saying “I want a show at The Cherry Lane Theatre.” I had a story I needed to tell. So I just started writing.

Did you have any female musicians or composers to look up to growing up? Who were your biggest influences?

My mother was a singer, musician and actress. My biggest early influences were in my family. My uncle, Ted Raph, was the conductor/arranger of several live TV shows in the 1950’s and 60’s: Name That Tune, Hobby Lobby, Stop The Music. I loved watching him conduct. He had played trombone in several well known big bands in the 40’s and wrote arrangements for one of the Dorsey brothers. The first jazz concert I ever saw when I was a girl was the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz band. My cousin, Alan Raph, played bass trombone in that group. My brother, Bob Rose, is a session guitarist (hits, ads) and of late, a mandolin player. We used to go to the daytime David Letterman show where he played guitar in the stage band.

Growing up, my house was filled with music. My father played cello in string quartets and quintets. I sang and read music in our family madrigal group from the age of 5 (uncle Ted always conducted). Alan was playing Broadway shows and he often let me go with him. I got to watch my brother play in recording sessions. All I wanted to do was make music. Although those higher echelons of the music biz were mostly reserved for guys as far as I know, I’m grateful to have grown up with these players. And, by the way, it wasn’t an easy journey for any of these great musicians – gender notwithstanding. Talent and skills are necessary but success like theirs is earned. Perseverance and luck play a big part.

Do you think it’s important for aspiring young musicians to have a mentor? Did you have a mentor in your early days as a musician?

I didn’t have a mentor, per se. My uncle Ted did praise my singing and playing, which meant a lot to me. I did have family support for music lessons. They came to my performances and allowed me to join their music making. I guess that could be considered mentoring. And I had good luck for being born into such a musical family.

I think that having a person who says “yes” to your dreams and helps you build your skill set is a gift. And, if you’re lucky enough to have advice and counsel about how to navigate a very complex music biz which is always in flux, bingo! By the way, I love to mentor younger musicians and writers. It’s so uplifting for me to be of service.

What do you want young female composers to know as they try to build a career in the music business? What advice would you give them?

Join groups like the SCL, the AWFC and volunteer! That’s how you meet people, find your tribe, learn more tech skills. Enjoy the journey. Learn how to bounce from overt rejection or folks who never call you back. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Have fun with it. Take care of yourself – body, mind and spirit. When the applause comes in, allow it in. Don’t let your mind take you back to “I missed that 32nd note…” If they loved you, just breathe and let it in.

How did the pandemic affect the music industry, as far as you’re concerned? Are you noticing any huge shifts or changes in the way things are done now, compared to 2 years ago?

I think Zoom collaborations and presentations created an international community for all of us that will continue to expand our horizons, network and creativity. In the SCL, we created the first SCL Global SongDemic. We paired up our composer/lyricist members, gave them an assignment to write a song for one of several top streamers. We had collaborations between music creators from across the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and China. It was amazing. We followed up with another pairing project, “Musical Storytelling.” Both projects had the most wonderful playback sessions. We made lots of new friends and fostered collaborators. We invited music supervisors to the party and solicited their constructive opinions on the songs. Looks like we’re going to do this annually. Couldn’t have done it without Zoom…and it brought light and creativity to a pretty dark time.

Can you name the most challenging or most exciting project you’ve worked on so far? Or is there a project that holds a special place in your heart?

Duke Ellington, when asked what his favorite tune was said – “the one I’m writing now.” It’s the same for me. When the pandemic hit, I took the Yale “happiness course” online, “The Science of Well Being.” A week into the course I felt I had to write a “happiness” album. So that’s what I’m up to these days. Got one song almost done. Horn section to be recorded in September together in the studio: Flugelhorn, trumpet, soprano, tenor, baritone & bass sax. Great players. I sketched the arrangement on Logic.

Last but not last, what were the biggest challenges you’ve had to face throughout your career? How did you overcome them?

One of my biggest challenges has been getting my music “out there.” I know I’m not alone here. So, again that’s the value of these organizations – and I should mention the PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). Like the SCL and AWFC, they hold informative sessions about marketing, the tech of distribution, monetizing and such. Also, Joel Beckerman founded a wonderful organization, “Your Music Your Future – A Community of Composers and Creators.” Go there. It’s an educational and service-oriented community.

Follow Elizabeth’s website for updates, listen to her debut album on Spotify, and order her award-winning book Yo Miz! here.

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