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Alumni Success Stories

Marybeth Kern '09 M'19

Marybeth Kern holding a saxophone

A multiple woodwind instrumentalist and composer, Marybeth Kern is a triple threat who can play the flute, saxophone and clarinet, and believes that creativity and collaboration, not competition, form the foundation of the most compelling art.

“There’s great power in collaboration,” Kern explained. “The best art I’ve experienced has come through multiple people: their ideas, their creativity, and the harmony of making something together. It’s rewarding when you experience other’s ideas, and learn and grow – you don’t get that from working alone.

Kern began to see the appeal in collective art after joining Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s online platform, HITRECORD, in 2012. The site, which aims to connect likeminded creators, serves as a virtual community for members to work on videos, songs, text pieces and artwork together. Users can build on each other’s content, or access it as inspiration for their own – it’s about being creative together, in a nurturing online environment. While writing a paper for one of her graduate classes, Kern noticed one of Gordon-Levitt’s tweets announcing a joint venture with global phenomenon Logic, and inviting people from around the world to contribute. Heeding the call, she listened to James Brown songs for inspiration, and recorded some tracks. That was just the beginning.

“Two other musicians (HITRECORD username FoxandMew) took my horn lines and integrated it into a fun and interesting track,” Kern recalled. “Logic hand-selected by ear what he would put in a song, and built it up from there. I received a call about my availability because they wanted to bring selected musicians to listen to the track in Los Angeles. When we got to L.A. they surprised us! We were making a music video, we were making it today, and they were using Logic’s videographer, Andy Hines.”

 Along with appearing in the “Do What You Love” music video, Kern was featured in the YouTube Originals special “Band Together with Logic,” which documented the creative process leading to the culmination of the video. She was also chosen to join five other collaborators and Gordon-Levitt at the South by Southwest Music Festival, where the video premiered. Although her meteoric rise as a freelance musician seems extraordinary, it’s part of an organic process: do what you love, say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way, be humble and stay grateful. With a lot of talent and a little serendipity, dreams do come true. It’s how Kern became the only student to ever work with jazz legend, David Sanborn.

A Dream Come True

After graduating from Kutztown, Kern was on tour with Cirque Dreams [Illumination] when her former professor, Dr. Jeremy Justeson, got in touch with an invitation to attend a master class on campus with esteemed musician Allen Won. During a break from tour, Kern seized the occasion to return and listen to Won play. Awestruck with his performance, she took a chance and asked to study with him. Won agreed, and later recommended she purchase an exquisite vintage Selmer Mark VI saxophone. She did. New York City based saxophone repair artist Bill Singer was overhauling the horn for Kern when Sanborn gave it a test run. Then something unbelievable happened.

“I was just sitting and drinking a coffee, when he called and asked to purchase the saxophone, because he loved it,” Kern recalled. “After a lot of thinking I agreed, and he graciously agreed to trade his saxophone for mine, and take me on as a student! It’s been a great relationship – he’s sent tickets so I could see him play, and invited me over for lessons – that’s mind blowing to me.”

When Opportunity Knocks, Answer

According to Kern, it’s imperative to constantly juggle projects – if you don’t get an audition after a callback, or secure a gig, there will be something else to fall back on. She takes her own advice; and is currently in two different wedding bands; records remotely from her home in New Jersey; and is working on a pop music workout cd with a producer in Los Angeles. It isn’t only luck which has landed Kern a multitude of spectacular gigs, including a position on the National Broadway tour of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and as the baritone sax for the major motion picture “Buffaloed” score, composed by Matthew Margeson, of “Rocketman.” When opportunity knocks, she answers, and the response is always ‘yes.’ Versatility and skill won’t mean much if you miss out on your ‘big break’ because trying something new was intimidating. Saying ‘yes’ to Cirque in 2009 took her around North America on a national tour, to a Norwegian Epic cruise ship with the Blue Man Group, and lately to Japan, performing at United States air bases as part of Armed Forces Entertainment (Cirque Dreams Stars & Stripes).

Forging Ahead

After becoming a member of the first cohort to earn an online master’s degree in music education from Kutztown, Kern is eyeing another KU degree for the future, perhaps this time a Master of Fine Arts in communication design (CD). More than a decade ago, Kern was at an educational crossroads, intending to major in CD, but switching to clarinet right before school began. Recently, an individualized instruction with KU professor Dannell Macllwraith reignited her passion for design, and revealed how crucial photography, typography and Adobe Illustrator can be in cultivating a brand. One thing is certain – there’s a world of possibilities ahead – and it all began with choosing Kutztown.

“I absolutely attribute Kutztown, my professors, and my time at the school to succeeding as an independent artist,” Kern declared. “They taught me so much. If I had gone to a different school I’m not sure I would have gotten the one-on-one attention I received. I felt like all of my professors really cared about my future and prepping me for a freelance career – I loved it.”

By Esther Shanahan for the Summer 2019 Tower magazine.

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