The Treble and Bass of a Balanced Life
In music, balance is the harmonic poise, the requisite equilibrium given to a chord, a melody or a group of instruments. In life, balance is the constant recalibration of obligations and passions. Quarter Note spoke to two graduates from the Blair School of Music—Bzur Haun, BMus’93, who chose to pursue a career away from music, and Jonathan Chu, BMus’03, who is a professional musician—to discover how divergent paths could lead to a fulfilling euphony. Both alumni noted that it was the entire Vanderbilt experience that prepared them for life beyond college.
“I got to the point in my life where I thought, ‘Wow. If I don’t diversify my experience, I’m going to become pigeonholed.’”
Bzur Haun, who graduated in 1993, was a well-known figure around the Vanderbilt campus. Double-majoring in musical arts/piano at Blair and in human and organizational development at Peabody, Haun was involved in many campuswide activities—from leading orientation tours to performing in musical ensembles and involvement in student politics. After graduation, he made his way to California where he worked in several “starter jobs” in the hospitality industry while playing piano for the random paycheck. He eventually realized, however, that what he really needed was a career.
Using some Vanderbilt connections, he landed a job with Andersen Consulting (later Accenture), where he developed expertise in human performance management or “performance technology.” Right about then the 1990s high-tech boom hit the nation. Fortuitously living on the West Coast in the nerve center of the industry, Haun was primed to ride that wave.
“I basically had a 10-year runway, where it was textbook,” Haun explains. “You got your experience in a big company, then moved to a small company, which went through a dot.com phase and eventually sold.” He ultimately wound up as an authority in distance learning, or e-learning.
By 2003, however, he was ready to hang up his e-learning spurs to try something different. “I got to the point in my life where I thought, ‘Wow. If I don’t diversify my experience, I’m going to become pigeonholed,’” Haun says. “I just wasn’t ready at the age of 33 or 34 to say that the rest of my life would be e-learning.”
Since leaving e-learning, Haun has been focusing on the world of enterprise mobility at two different companies. He has been with Visage Mobile since late 2008. At the time, it was a midstage wireless technology start-up that hadn’t yet launched a product and didn’t have a single customer. Fast forward, and today he is the president and CEO of Visage, which now has more than 200 customers, including members of the Fortune 500, and 50 full- and part-time employees. The company weathered the recent economic downturn and continues to do well.
Haun is married to Page Shaper Haun, BA’92, whom he dated briefly in college, lost touch with and then reconnected to 14 years later. They have three children, 4-year-old son Hamer, 2-year-old daughter Tempo, and daughter Zigi born in November. After a long stint away from musical performance, Haun is now planning a piano recital jubilee for friends, family and colleagues to celebrate his 40th year. He’s also involved with Blair as a member of the KeyBoard.
“Little creatures who look like you do strange things to your mind,” he says with a laugh. “All of a sudden I thought about the impression I want to make on my children and what’s important to me.
“No one in my professional network has any idea that I’m a musician. But if I can get my hands back, [the recital] might actually sound good. I need music for balance in my life, and I’m excited to share it with people.”
“I was concerned about basic supply and demand. The demand wasn’t growing and the supply [of opportunities] was shrinking.’”
Jonathan Chu wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be a musician or a financier. After graduating from Vanderbilt in 2003 with a double major in violin performance and economics, he went on to earn a master’s degree in violin at the Juilliard School, thinking he’d like a career with a chamber music quartet. That is until his mentor, famed Juilliard violinist Robert Mann, warned him off. The music world was changing, Mann said. Venues were cutting budgets, searching for different types of music ensembles and canceling concerts. Chu, who had performed and toured with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, decided to cast his lot with a symphony.
“I was concerned about basic supply and demand,” says Chu, his economics background coming into play. “The demand wasn’t growing and the supply [of opportunities] was shrinking.”
He joined the St. Louis Symphony that year, and although the pay was satisfactory and the job was stable, something about it didn’t feel right. At Vanderbilt, he’d studied violin under Chris Teal, but for one year had also played viola in a string quartet under the tutelage of John Kochanowski. He went out and purchased a viola “just to have.” Chu left the St. Louis Symphony and moved to New York City to freelance and explore career opportunities on Wall Street or with a hedge fund in Connecticut. In the end, however, he chose to stay with music.
Basically, he says, “I love playing more than I love banking.”
He took odd jobs, such as playing violin and viola on the debut album of a then-unknown, now hit-maker indie rock band Vampire Weekend.
In the summer of 2008, he migrated to Vermont to audition for the Marlboro Festival on the viola, simply because there were no violin openings. He won the tryout and spent a full three months playing viola. That fall he heard that the Philadelphia Orchestra had an opening in viola, and importantly, anyone who made the finals of the auditions was automatically placed on the “sub list.” Aiming for a spot on the sub list, Chu instead was hired as a company member after his audition.
The Philadelphia Orchestra is considered one of the top five orchestras in America, and one of the best in the world. Chu says, “The sound of the orchestra is very distinct. The strings sounds are rich and warm and lush. We have a thing called the ‘Philadelphia Sound.’ You can hear it in the audience, and you can feel it on stage. It’s very edifying and fulfilling to be a part of that.”
Unfortunately, the most recent Philadelphia sound was that of lawyers and union negotiators arguing in backrooms. In April 2011, the management of the Philadelphia Orchestra filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy after disagreements with the players’ union over salaries and pensions. Even though he was one of the newest and youngest members of the orchestra, his colleagues respected his dual degree in economics from Vanderbilt and elected him to the negotiations committee. After months of slogging through 12-hour days during the negotiations, Chu says that the two sides have reached an agreement, and he hopes the orchestra will emerge from bankruptcy in the next few months.
“Despite the dispute, we have a full season. No concerts were canceled and we’re going on a China tour in the spring,” he says. “Every article written about us says that in spite of having filed Chapter 11, the orchestra never sounded better.”
In 2010, Chu married violist Beth Guterman, and their son, Apollo, was born in 2011. “I’ve been happy with the way my life has gone,” he says. “Vanderbilt prepared me for what I’ve been able to accomplish musically. And having a broader education has enabled me to do other things—like working on resolving problems during times of uncertainty.”