Creating a buzz in the Big Apple

From Carnegie Hall to The Flea Theater, all the way to Jazz at Lincoln Center, Mississippi State alumnus Alvin C. Taylor II is enjoying a fulfilling career in the New York arts scene, and he attributes his success in part to the faculty in his alma mater’s music department.

“The faculty with whom I worked at Mississippi State made me feel like more than just a number. They showed me that they really cared about me and what I thought. When I was in need of help or just wanted to chat, they all took the time to do so. They made me feel like I could do anything,” said Taylor, who graduated in 2011 with a bachelor of arts in music.

As the first Musical Connections fellow for the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall this past spring and summer, Taylor was one of three individuals in the legendary institution’s community and education department who organized more than 90 musical programs and workshops throughout all of New York. Lasting anywhere from two weeks to three months, many of the events often catered to individuals in justice, healthcare, education and homeless shelter settings.

“Our biggest goal was to engage and provide support to as many different people as we could, and we accomplished this by creating a safe, fun environment where they could express themselves,” he said.

For one such project, the Musical Connections Team promoted songwriting as a positive form of self-expression while visiting children at a juvenile detention center.

“A lot of the kids there felt they had to resort to negative behavior—fighting, cussing someone out, or acting up—in order to make their feelings known,” Taylor said. “We wanted to create an overall healthier climate within the institution, so we gave the children a project they could all work on and take pride in together.”

“We had one-on-one conversations during which we would ask them how they were feeling, and then with our help, they would each write out their feelings in the form of song lyrics,” he explained.

In addition to creating a sense of unity and providing a creative outlet for self-expression, Taylor said the project teaches participants another important lesson—change starts within.

“We wanted to instill in these kids the mindset that it is their actions—not their situation or where they come from—that defines who they are and determines who they can become.”

Taylor’s work with Carnegie Hall also afforded him the opportunity to interact with expectant parents—many of whom were single mothers—during a Weill Music Institute program called the Lullaby Project.

Over the course of two weeks, participants, with the help of Carnegie Hall roster artists, wrote and recorded CDs of original songs for their unborn babies.

“With the hustle and bustle of daily life, a lot of these parents may not have had the time to sing to their children, so this project was great because it provided them with a way to give a present to their babies while helping their babies get accustomed to their voices,” Taylor said.

“A lot of these individuals also may not have had someone sing lullabies or read stories to them while they were growing up, so this program gave them the opportunity to share that kind of experience with their children before they were born.”
Looking back now, Taylor said more than anything, his Carnegie experience taught him the value of having a good support system.

“I assumed so much about what others had; I figured everybody had a support system of some sort. This experience was really eye-opening because it taught me to really be in tune with other people’s situations,” he said.

“Rather than trying to change things immediately, I learned the importance of being a good listener and allowing people the opportunity to get their thoughts out, so they can come to some sort of self-realization.”

Residing in Manhattan, New York, the Mississippi native now serves as a development associate for the award-winning Flea Theater. His responsibilities include acquiring funds for productions and other projects by writing grants and maintaining relationships with theater partners.

“Playing the trumpet for three years as a member of the Famous Maroon Band definitely taught me a lot about discipline, community and integrity, but more than anything, it taught me to have confidence in myself,” said Taylor, who recalls being extremely shy prior to coming to MSU.

“Every Wednesday, students would play in front of the other music majors, and at the end of my last semester, I had to give a senior recital,” he says. “Both of these experiences were very nerve racking for me, but once I got through them, I felt good about myself and music in general.”

Taylor said he also has been able to combine his passion for the arts and helping others through his work at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Wynton Marsalis company. As a program assistant for WeBop, an early-childhood jazz education program, he caters to families of children aged 5 months to 5 years.

In addition to giving him the confidence to rise above any challenge, he said his professors at MSU also instilled in him the importance of never becoming complacent.

“During my time at State, I learned that even if you practice a lot, there’s always something new you can learn; you can always get better,” he says. “My teachers taught me to always be prepared for any opportunity that may come along, and I thank each and every one of them for that.”

While completing his master’s in higher education administration with a concentration in student affairs in 2013, Taylor interned at the MSU Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts in downtown Meridian. The positive experience he had serving as assistant to the center’s Education Director Charlotte Tabereaux, he said, ultimately helped him realize his passion for doing arts administration work.

“Dr. Tabereaux always was incredibly kind, supportive and welcoming of ideas. She kept her door open and was very honest, so I always felt comfortable asking her for advice,” Taylor recalled.

“Even if something may be difficult, she would give me the chance to take it on. Whether it was writing grants or developing educational programs, she did everything she could to present opportunities that would allow me to blend my appreciation for music and higher education.”

Working with Tabereaux also taught him about “the power of uniting people for a single cause and the importance of being very collaborative with your peers.”

When he’s not working, Taylor enjoys practicing his trumpet skills, listening to a wide variety of music and attending concerts at Carnegie Hall and other New York City venues. Attending football game-watch gatherings sponsored by the MSU Alumni Association’s New York Alumni Chapter also is among the proud Bulldog’s favorite pastimes.

“Some of the first friends I made here in New York have been fellow Mississippi State alumni,” Taylor said. “It’s nice to know that no matter where I am, the Bulldog family is always there for me.”

By Sasha Steinberg