Lester Vrtiak ’09 is the Program Associate and Pianos Project Leader at an NYC-based arts organization Sing for Hope. This non-profit strives to make the arts accessible to everyone through hospital performances, after-school programs and the flagship arts initiative, the Sing for Hope Pianos.
Vrtiak joined the non-profit earlier this year, after spending three years at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO).
At Sing for Hope, Vrtiak has brought 50 artist-painted pianos to the streets of NYC for anyone and everyone to enjoy. “From watching these pianos come to new life through the hands of professional artists in our studios to rolling out a piano into the middle of Times Square to throwing impromptu concerts and sing-alongs in the streets and making new friends, this adventure has brought my musical career to a new level,” says Vrtiak. “I’m truly experiencing why I wanted to pursue music; bringing joy to as many people as I can just as music as done for me, and I am proud to say I am living that dream on a massive scale. Playing music, taking photos and making friends… all of my favorite things!”
Following their time in the public spaces of the NYC, the pianos are donated to schools, hospitals and other community organizations where Sing for Hope brings programming to the neighborhoods who need it most.
Before proudly living his dream, Vrtiak was a student at Montclair State University’s Cali School of Music, studying Music in Theory and Composition and Piano.
“From the beginning, Montclair State and the Cali School has always had a feeling of community and family. The Music School in itself is a built-in family; learning together, growing together and succeeding together,” says Vrtiak. “With fellow students, faculty and staff, that comfort of always having a sense of familiarity was essential in shaping me into who I am today. My time at Montclair State has taught me how important a sense of community is and I definitely take that mindset into my career.”
It did not take long for Vrtiak to learn that Montclair State’s community extends beyond the classroom and even beyond graduation.
“Montclair State has a strong, vast network all over New Jersey and I learned this first hand during my freshman year when The Cali School began its partnership with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with the performance of the Lord of the Rings Symphony by Howard Shore. Already in the early stages of my undergraduate career, I was thrown into a high profile and professional setting and meeting the top classical performers in the state,” says Vrtiak. “I eventually would end up working alongside these people full-time in 2011. My time at Montclair State constantly had me interacting with professionals – both faculty as well as visiting guest artists – which prepared me for working in the classical music scene as both a performer and arts administrator. Even years after I had graduated, it was great to see Montclair State continuing performances with the NJSO where I was able to see old friends.”
Vrtiak recalls in particular two faculty members who had an impact on him as a student. “While working with the Preparatory Division and Stokes Forest Music Camp of the Cali School, I met many faculty members. It was both Letitia Stancu and Marla Meissner who encouraged me both as a musician and as a growing arts administrator. They provided me with many opportunities in photography, graphic design, operations and management; all of which are incredibly useful in my work today,” says Vrtiak. “Their trust and faith in my work and in someone who was just starting out, really meant a lot to me and was pivotal in me finding my place and knowing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life after college.”
When ask what advice he would give to current students hoping to pursue a career in music, Vrtiak says to take advantage of what Montclair State can offer.
“Montclair State provides an abundance of opportunities for learning and growth and it is incredibly important to take advantage of that as best as you can. From French Club, American String Teacher’s Association, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the list goes on and on. These opportunities provided helped me to build a network of people that is absolutely essential to where I am today. Take advantage of the extra-curricular clubs and activities at Montclair State because our world is small and life is a lot easier down the road when you end up working with a friend.”