Coming Home to MSM

Stephen Jacobsohn (MM 03), Manhattan School of Musics new Vice President for Advancement, shares his MSM story, where hes been, and why hed love to hear from you!

Stephen Jacobsohn returned to MSM in January to join the administrative staff as Vice President for Advancement overseeing fundraising and alumni relations. His circuitous career is as much a story about how MSM’s alumni go out into the field and define their own way as it is, according to Jacobsohn, a tale about “coming home.” He continues: “Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to return to the School that played the most pivotal role in my own development as a musician and professional, to reconnect with fellow alumni, and to play a supporting role in helping the students and faculty achieve their goals.”

Immediately after completing his Master’s degree, Jacobsohn actively freelanced in the New York metropolitan area as both a cellist and orchestra librarian, and continued working in the MSM Performance Library – an interest he had pursued throughout his studies. But a persistent hand injury ultimately led him to do a lot of soul searching about the role performing music would have in his professional life. “I knew I wanted to stay in the performing arts because one of the things I most enjoyed about my time at MSM was the sense of discovery and awe of the talent around me,” says Jacobsohn. “I spent a lot of time networking with the students whose musicianship I admired most and thinking about ways I might be able to help them on their own path and get them in front of the public. This, and my fascination with the business of music, formed the foundation of my continued life in the field and have been the cornerstones of my career.” 

After deciding to step back from playing, he says that he considers himself fortunate to have been offered the position of Artist and Operations Manager for a boutique artist management agency in New York. “The president of the company recognized that through my education at MSM I had achieved both a depth of musical knowledge and an understanding of how to collaborate with a range of personalities, all of which supported my goal of being involved in creating an environment that would enable performers to bring their best possible performances to life. In essence,” Jacobsohn adds, “my MSM degree propelled me into a fulfilling non-performance career.”  

Soon thereafter Jacobsohn was invited to join the staff of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as the Manager of Artistic Operations where he worked on artistic planning, booking conductors and soloists, selecting repertoire, and mapping out production needs. “I didn’t know a soul in Baltimore, as I’d spent my entire life in the metropolitan New York area, but I jumped at the opportunity to work in the BSO’s Planning and Operations Department.” 

Early on during his time in Baltimore, the great recession hit, exacerbating  structural financial problems at the BSO, and Jacobsohn, unwittingly, was thrust into a variety of roles. “Six months into my tenure, 30 percent of the staff was laid off. I think I escaped unscathed only because I was still so new!” The resulting staff depletion became an opportunity for him to develop quickly, as he was asked to take on work that was formerly the purview of vacated administrative positions. “While continuing to be responsible for my own role, I served as the Interim Director of Personnel, and then as Interim Director of Operations,” Jacobsohn says. “It was thrilling and terrifying stepping into these leadership roles and learning by the seat of my pants. But in time, I earned the trust and respect of the musicians and staff, and by the time I decided to leave, I found myself in a central role, working with the Artistic, Development, and Marketing departments.”

Jacobsohn’s career next led him to Shriver Hall Concert Series, Baltimore’s premier presenter of classical chamber music and recitals at The Johns Hopkins University where, as President for six years, he presented many of the world’s preeminent performers and made significant strides in growing the overall operating budget, ticket sales, and fundraising program. “It was at Shriver Hall that I really took a leadership role in and fell in love with fundraising,” recalls Jacobsohn. “Like playing notes on a score, fundraising is work that is best accomplished when it is informed by curiosity, openness, and flexibility. Most importantly, it is about building relationships with people – exploring what ignites their passion and finding the right organizational need to excite them.”

Jacobsohn recently returned to New York with his wife, a physician, and their two young children. He says he is eager to connect with MSM’s alumni and find new ways to engage them while fostering an ever increasing baseline of support. “After graduating, I always wished for more connection to the School and other alumni. I’m so pleased that the School has recently begun making great strides in reconnecting with generations of graduates, and I join MSM’s leadership in feeling strongly that we want to hear from and celebrate the stories of all alumni – not just those who achieved careers in musical performance.”

“The changes the school has undergone since my student days are so impressive,” Jacobsohn continues. “The facilities are top-notch, and MSM is now a true ‘campus,’ one that would make most alumni proud. Most importantly, the quality of the education at MSM seems to be higher than ever and includes programs, like the Center for Music Entrepreneurship, that are having a deep impact and would have been so meaningful to me during my time here as a student.”

Jacobsohn concludes: “I hope that, as we share the story of MSM and its graduates, alumni will reflect on their own experiences and think about what the school has meant to them.” And while he recognizes that not all alumni will share the degree of enthusiasm he exudes, Jacobsohn says, “I think most alumni would agree that there are skills and attributes that anyone attending MSM comes away with – things like resilience, listening, collaboration, and intellectual curiosity, all of which contribute to a successful life no matter what your path. These are just a few of the many reasons I believe institutions like MSM are so vital and, one of the most important reasons we should support them,” he says. “I think many alumni ponder making a gift to the School, but, for whatever reason, they think their support won’t make a difference. If every MSM graduate from the last 25 years gave just $25 next year, we’d have a quarter million dollars in new donations,” Jacobsohn says. “The impact of that would be huge for MSM!”