David Siegel – Conservatory Alumnus, Executive Director of Ent Center for the Arts, and Local Musician
In its 28-year history, the Colorado Springs Conservatory has served as a “home away from home” to countless talented young people. It continues to be a “home” where students can be themselves without fear of judgment, a “home” that provides trusted adult guidance and experiences that build character and discipline, and a “home” with “siblings” and mentors who share their passions and pursuits.
Many Conservatory alumni have embarked upon careers that include medicine, engineering, law, history, literature, and education. Additionally, we celebrate the numerous Conservatory graduates who have gone on to professional art careers, which include national touring companies, Broadway, New York City Opera, international opera houses, and arts organizations.
This month, we are proud to shine our spotlight on one of Colorado Springs Conservatory’s accomplished alumni turned Colorado Springs arts community leader, David Siegel. David recently took some time to share some thoughts on his time as a student at Colorado Springs Conservatory, as well as a bit about his professional journey, his vision for the Colorado Springs arts community and more!
What initially made you want to attend CSC? How old were you when you started?
My first Conservatory experience was playing violin in the Pit Orchestra for Brudibár, which was an opera written during the Holocaust in a concentration camp, and I think I may have been 10 or 11 years old at the time – totally out of my depth – but was really taken by the whole structure of the Conservatory… Placing students in a professional setting and with the expectation of professionalism. I enrolled full time when I was about 13, in middle school, and you couldn’t drag me out of the Conservatory until I graduated.
When I enrolled in classes, I showed up and wanted to sign up for string quartet, but there weren’t enough students enrolled for a quartet or a chamber music program, so I was encouraged to check out the jazz band, which was rehearsing at the time. Jazz Violin is not a “usual” thing – and I think back on that moment all the time – and how the Conservatory was absolutely willing to just “try something out” and see if I could fit, as a violinist, into the jazz band. And now, almost exclusively, what I do as a violinist is improvise. I’m far more employable as a musician because I have skills beyond just classical music. That sort of happen-chance meeting has had innumerable positive ripple effects.
Do you remember any of the mentors that may have had a particular positive impact on you and your lessons?
There were honestly so many, but certainly Mark Arnest who taught music history and theory. And Mark’s approach to teaching was really to understand “THE WHY” behind the music. It wasn’t just notes on a page – there was always “something more.”
Certainly (Colorado Springs Conservatory Founder) Linda Weise’s impact goes without saying. Linda has this ability to expect professionalism, and she treats her students as adults in a really amazing way. So those experiences, studio classes and private lessons – those are the lessons I remember. It’s not really about learning to play the instrument or learning technique. It was more about learning how to function in the world – how to function as a professional musician. It is without question the life skills that made the most impact – as much as the technical skills I learned.
Do you still play violin as an adult? Do you play in any bands in the Springs? What are your favorite venues to perform at?
Yes! I still play violin – I play mostly bluegrass, jazz, and a little bit of country and alt-rock, but I am performing all the time, and I am so lucky I still get to do it because it is a piece of who I am and meshes well with what I do professionally.
I currently play in several bands – a bluegrass band called “Grass it Up,” a gypsy-jazz band called “Mango Fan Django,” and an original alt-folk band called “The Jeremy Facknitz Band.”
Not many violinists improvise, so I do a lot of one-off studio/session work for various singer/songwriters in town and even country musicians who would like some fiddle music on their tracks. The progression of having a foundation of classical music with education in jazz and improvisation opened the doors to learning many more styles and genres and ultimately made me a more versatile musician.
What are some of your favorite memories of your time as a student at the Conservatory?
So many of the best memories are of driving with mentors and band-mates to gigs and being out in the community, performing. But also, as a student, just sitting at the front desk and learning how to be an administrative professional is one of the best.
Another great memory that comes to mind is when my friend Jacob Eichengreen (former Conservatory Board Member) and I organized the Battle of the Bands at Norris Penrose Event Center. I was around 16 or 17 years old – and we had so much support from the Conservatory staff, but there was also this attitude of “you guys just go make this happen!”
So we booked a staging company, a video production company, we developed and bought ads with radio stations, and we booked the bands. And being able to pull that event together, that certainly stands out – and looking forward to what I do now, what a great lesson that was. And I think of Linda’s trust and the Conservatory’s willingness to support Jacob and I as we created Battle of the Bands as a pivotal moment in making me interested in arts administration, which has turned into my career.
In your opinion, is that same mission to provide trust and autonomy to the youth of this community, to create and to lead, still being carried out?
Without a doubt – the Conservatory is a critical piece of the pipeline for creating educated, worldly, interested artists – who can either become artists themselves or can come back and appreciate the arts as they get older – at a time in life that makes the best sense for them.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building a professional network in Colorado Springs during my time at the Conservatory. This network was a big reason I chose to move back to Colorado Springs after studying in New York City, and to this day I work with and rely on colleagues I met as a high school student at the Conservatory. But most of all, the Conservatory taught me to LOVE this city and how to understand the intricate ecosystem that is Colorado Springs. It gave me an exciting place to come back to.
Did you attend high school in Colorado Springs? Did you participate in music in high school?
Yes, I attended Palmer High School in Downtown Colorado Springs, and I did as much music as I was possibly allowed to. I played in the high school orchestra, was active in Colorado Springs Youth Symphony, and played in a string quartet. I was definitely active in the arts beyond the Conservatory, but the Conservatory provided an immersive experience which complimented my other musician education in a really important way.
You are the Executive Director of Ent Center for the Arts at UCCS. Tell us a bit about how that came to be and some of your favorite aspects of directing such a robust arts program in the Springs?
The Conservatory planted the seed, for me, that arts administration was a career. When I was in college at Manhattan School of Music, studying violin, the program was really geared toward creating orchestral musicians. And really, that path wasn’t interesting to me.
I thought back to all my time at Colorado Springs Conservatory and told Linda that I believed I really was interested in a career in Arts Administration, and so she connected me with Nathan Newbrough who runs the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. I asked if I could intern for the summer with the Philharmonic, and then reached out to the Bee Vrandenburg Foundation and asked if they could provide a grant to turn the internship into a paid experience, which they provided.
I really loved my work experiences at Philharmonic and at the Cultural Office of Pikes Peak Region (where I also interned), and as I was closing out my internship, Susan Edmondson (executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation) suggested that I look into a nonprofit leadership fellowship at El Pomar Foundation. It ended up being exactly what I wanted to do and learn. The experience was transformational.
While I was a Fellow, Susan left the Bee Vradenburg Foundation to lead the Downtown Partnership. On a whim, I decided to interview for the Bee Vradenburg Foundation opening (mostly as practice for future arts admin positions) and got the job! I was with Bee Vrandenburg for over nine years, and while there, relatively early on, the Foundation met with the then Chancellor of UCCS, and she shared her vision of building an art center that would serve both UCCS students and the broader community. So long story short, we made a grant to support the capital campaign to build the Ent Center while I was at Bee Vrandenburg, and I stayed very close and connected with what was happening at UCCS.
I believe higher education is a really critical partner for the arts. And I became really interested in that connection between higher education and the arts. When the Ent Center position became available last year, it was a program initiative that means a lot to me in a community that means a lot to me. So I threw my hat in the ring and was lucky enough to be selected. I started in January of 2022.
Any advice to parents or guardians who are on the fence about committing to sending their kids to Colorado Springs Conservatory?
My advice is something that I learned from Linda Weise – and it’s the same advice I’d give to parents – And it’s to JUST SAY YES. You never know what the outcome is going to be – but say YES. The Conservatory made me a far better artist, a far better musician, than I was before attending – and I continue to use THOSE technical skills in my own music making. But, truly, it’s the wraparound life skills, that I had no idea I was learning at the moment, that have paid dividends year-after-year in my career and in my life. So yes, just do it!
What are some of your favorite places and things to do in Colorado Springs?
My favorite place these days is the Ent Center (wink wink)! I also love being outside and love the Colorado Springs park system, and currently serve on the Colorado Springs Parks Board. I love to mountain-bike in Red Rock Canyon or Stratton Open Space. It’s all a joy for me and is my happy place, outside of the arts.
Are there any particularly-exciting performances coming up that you’d like to share with our followers?
Theatreworks is the professional theatre company in residence at the Ent Center. It has a tradition of performing Shakespeare outside during the summer. This year, we are presenting Twelfth Night on the lawn outside the Ent Center until July 31. Get all the performance dates and details at: https://entcenterforthearts.org/
What is your vision for the arts/music/performance scene in Colorado Springs over the next decade?
I want the arts community to better reflect our community. We need to do a better job at ensuring that everyone across the community has access to the arts and that we’re creating relevant artistic work for audiences across the community. I’m always pondering how we can make the arts relevant to every last person in Colorado Springs.
I was co-chair of a 10-year cultural plan for the Pikes Peak Region, which was released in October of 2021. We worked with the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region and laid out exactly where we’d like to see the arts development in the region go. We had input from hundreds of stakeholders/sharing ideas/steering committee – boiled down to create Arts Vision 2030. I’d encourage everyone to check it out at: https://www.culturaloffice.org/artsvision2030/
What is David Siegel’s road trip playlist?
- NPR News
- Sports Talk Radio – (I’m into all Colorado sports – Rockies, Broncos, Avs, etc.)
- Music (of course!) Ideally, created by real humans playing real instruments. (Basically anything that doesn’t have a drum machine.)