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Music Taught Me Everthing: Dance Costumer Erin Heintzinger

Music Taught Me Everthing: Dance Costumer Erin Heintzinger featured image

Photo: Erin’s work along with one of her students, Catherine Huffman, in “An Ideal American Family”. Choreography: Mark Burrell. Lighting: Andrew Ostrowski. Conservatory Dance Company of Point Park University. Photo: Katie Ging.

I love writing about the “stuff you don’t think about” when it comes to life as a musician, but in this ongoing series, I wanted to investigate something a little different: those who aren’t classical musicians, but studied it enough to reap the benefits in other aspects of lives. One reason I chose this topic is very basic: “studying classical music is good for you” and while that’s a given, I wanted to personalize why. The other reason was to sort out my own personal experience with studying music to a certain level, which sometimes conflicted with my knowledge I didn’t want to be a performer. I didn’t realize the advantages until much later.

In this ongoing series, posted every week or so, I’ll be speaking with doctors, lawyers, marketing professionals, accountants, actors, arts administrators, and people in all kinds of fields who studied classical music and are thankful they did. I’ll keep this going until I run out of participants. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

Today, let’s meet Erin Heintziner, who wears a few hats in the costume industry (see what I did there?) – she is the Dance Costumer, Shop Supervisor, and Costumer Designer for Dance at the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I am the Dance Costumer at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. I am the only full time staff in the shop, so I am designer, shop manager, cutter/draper, fitter, and supervisor. I employ three part-time/overhire stitchers that work as needed on construction for shows. I have one part-time Designer that handles two shows a year out of six; I handle the other four. I have student employees that work as shop and office assistants, anywhere from nine to twelve people, depending on the skills and schedule. Most are dance students, but I do have a few costume design students that work for me as well.

What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
-Viola: Age 8-22 (Primary major in college—Bachelor of Science in Arts Management—music emphasis with additional costume design studies)
-Violin: Age 14-22 (Freshman year in high school there were no viola parts for “Sweet Charity”, so I learned to play violin to play in the pit orchestra) (*Editor’s note: a high school “freshman” is what Canadians refer to as “grade 8”.)
-Trumpet/Mellophone: Age 14-16 (Purely to join Marching Band)
-French Horn: Age 14-21 (Concert band during non-marching season)
-Guitar: Age 12-22 (Self-taught)
-Piano: Age 18-21 (Required Minor in college)

My goodness. More like, what instruments did you NOT play … that’s quite a list! Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
My parents got me started, and I honestly don’t know that they had designs on a career so much as they were trying to keep an overactive kid busy and out of their hair. My mother studied voice in her youth, so music education was something that was important to her. Once I was in Jr. High (7th-8th grade) I had decided that was what I was going to school for.

Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
I stopped lessons when my college career ended; while at the time, I was relieved, it ultimately became a source of sorrow for me. I injured my left wrist in a devastating fashion, and it became clear that I would never be able to truly get back to what I once had. I was working for a ballet company as a costume assistant and severely injured my left wrist so that it had to be rebuilt with a surgery that they actually made up on the spot. The traditional repair would have been fusing my wrist, but the doctor knew of my musicianship, and altered his approach in order to save my range of motion. While I can still play, the severe angle of the wrist required limits me to about 30 minutes before I am in intense pain. This is the 15-year anniversary of the surgery that saved my wrist.

Oh, that’s a difficult story to hear … most of these interviews don’t involve injury. How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
Performing in an orchestra/concert band setting taught me the art of collaboration and working as a group. This is exceedingly important as a collaborator with choreographers and other theater technicians. As a section leader, I learned leadership skills, which I apply as the Shop Manager in my costume shop. Having the music education that I possess, I am often asked by choreographers to suggest new music for their pieces. I also have a much quicker understanding of their work because I have such a wide knowledge of compositions and composers, so when I am told what music they are using, I can immediately react to it instead of needing time to listen and absorb it.

Is classical or music in general (playing, listening, attending concerts, getting your kids to practise) a part of your life today? If not, do you think you’ll return to it?
I wish I could attend more classical music concerts, but have developed the bad habit of listening to it to fall asleep, so I frequently nod off in performances, and I don’t want to be that rude, so I tend to stay away for that reason. However, I do attend live music on a regular basis, it just mostly has words, which keeps my brain more active and less likely to fall asleep! I am an advocate for music education, and found myself published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra strike. Prior to getting back into costuming, I was working as the Marketing Director for a regional symphony in Western Pennsylvania, and I acted as a “ringer” in the viola section of the youth symphony due to a lack of bodies. I have been contemplating acquiring a mandolin or mandola, as the strings are going to be familiar and the angle far easier for me.

(*Editor’s note: I had no idea what an orchestra “ringer” was, and I was pretty sure Erin wasn’t referring to actual bells. Turns out a “ringer” is a professional musician, dancer or actor hired to bolster the quality of the performance and increase the pleasure of performers and audience alike, especially in amateur groups.)

Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?
[email protected]

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