When Kelly Bryan was 5 years old, she picked up a bow and a violin and started gaining valuable skills that would last her a lifetime. 

“When you make a life decision at 5 years old, you learn perseverance and commitment,” Bryan said. “That instrument takes you through all the phases of development — awkward middle school, super busy high school and figuring out college. It’s so useful to fall back on that skill and know that you have tenacity and grit.”

Both of Bryan's parents were teachers, and she was inspired by the creativity of music education, which led her to pursue a degree in instrumental and general music education at Ball State, where she graduated in 2006. 

“I loved the experiences and life lessons through my experience in school music, so it was a great opportunity to be able to create those types of environments for others,” Bryan said.

Now, Bryan expresses her passion for music education as the executive director of the Midwest Clinic, an international band, orchestra and music conference held in Chicago every December, where she “coordinates all of the details necessary to plan and run the event.” 

“Being [executive] director, it’s a lot like teaching, to be honest,” Bryan said. “Just understanding the scope of something and creating a plan to ensure you will get it done by the deadline. At school, you’re preparing for a concert, and here, it’s for an event instead.”

During her interview for the position, Bryan said, she walked into a room of 18 interviewers, but she was not nervous. One of the interviewers was Tim Lautzenheiser, who Bryan had met while he was teaching a class at Ball State. The two had worked together at the Conn-Selmer Institute, another music professional development conference, where Bryan held four different positions over six years.

“In our interview while she was still a finalist, Kelly was extraordinarily professional as always,” Lautzenheiser said. “It was like the NFL draft, and Kelly was the first pick.” 

Bryan received the job offer in late December 2019 and began her new job in early February. Some of her job responsibilities include booking venues, marketing the event and running social media pages for the Midwest Clinic.

Midwest Clinic attendees line up at the gates before the December 2019 conference. The international orchestra conference draws approximately 17,000 attendees each year. Jolesch Enterprises, Photo Provided.

“Kelly is positive, brilliant, smart, nice — any positive superlative you can think of, that’s Kelly,” Lautzenhesier said. “It's great to be around people like that because you can pass the ball blind to them, and you know they’re going to make a basket.”

Although Bryan was the youngest and least-experienced of the four finalists for the executive director position, she said, her experiences with Ball State’s Symphony Orchestra and her previous jobs as a teacher and conference organizer prepared her for her responsibilities as executive director. 

“Some professors that I had and the relationships that I built through my experiences at Ball State were instrumental in paving the way for this opportunity,” Bryan said. “This job is definitely one of my proudest moments, and I can say with 100 percent certainty that the connections I made at Ball State were critical in getting me to this point.”

After graduating from Ball State, Bryan moved to Las Vegas for her first job as assistant orchestra director at Clark High School. 

“I miss not being able to make music every day, and I miss the interaction with students,” Bryan said. “It was such a great experience, and I miss the good things.”

While Bryan said she loved her first job as a high school teacher, she struggled with taking care of herself.

“Sometimes when I was teaching, I would realize it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and I hadn’t eaten anything all day, so I would go wherever and get unhealthy food because I wanted something immediately,” she said. “I now recognize that if I don’t take care of myself, I will get burned out very quickly … and have nothing to give others.”

Bryan said she now plans out her meals weekly and exercises regularly to ensure she stays healthy.

“It’s very easy with a new job to get overwhelmed and not take care of yourself,” she said. “There’s so much to learn. Every day, I’m learning something new, and it’s challenging but also exciting.”

As executive director for the Midwest Clinic, Bryan said her favorite part is working with people she has looked up to all throughout her career.

“I have so much respect and regard for this organization, and everyone who I’ve gotten to work with has been incredible,” Bryan said. “I’ve been to the [Midwest] Clinic before as a professional, and I’m still giddy with the idea that I have this position.”

Contact Grace McCormick with comments at grmccormick@bsu.edu or on Twitter @graceMc564.