We asked Niccole Modell about her music career and the impact that music has made on her life.
Editor – Niccole, everyone knows that people don’t just become accomplished musicians overnight. Tell us about your journey. When did you first realize that you liked music enough to want to make it—and eventually pursue it as your life career?
Modell – Music is in my genes. My parents and siblings are musicians, and my father’s side of the family has a long lineage of professional musicians, dancers, and artists. I began piano lessons at age five and continued with them until it was time to go to college. Although declaring a music major was the obvious choice, I had reservations about a music career’s competitiveness and instability. Fortunately, my parents never discouraged me from being a music major, but they strongly recommended I find myself a “backup” career like pharmacy or business. I conceded and took pre-med courses, but music remained my primary focus.
I first started as a piano performance major, and later added a flute major as well. It wasn’t easy juggling two instruments; when preparing for recitals, I practiced up to eight hours a day. Although practicing requires intense concentration and lends itself to being a rather isolating process at times, I never felt lonely. Making music and perfecting my art was a deeply personal and fulfilling experience. During my undergraduate experience, I realized that music was truly what I wanted to do as a career. At the completion of my bachelor’s degrees in both piano performance and flute, I pursued further schooling and obtained a master’s degree in flute performance.
Editor – So, your parents encouraged you to have a backup career—just in case you couldn’t find a job in music. That was probably smart, but your heart was in music. What did you do after you graduated? How long did it take you to land a music-related job?
Modell – After I graduated, I took on a full-time job outside of the music industry, while simultaneously trying to build my private music studio in the evenings. Although the stable paycheck was appreciated, I ultimately decided to give up the “day job” to focus on my music passion. I joined my local chapter of the Music Teachers’ Association of California and the National Flute Association so I could connect with others in my area who are running successful music businesses. To keep up my performance skills, I began playing piano for several churches in the area as both a worship leader and choir accompanist. I later recorded my first CD which is now available through CD Baby and iTunes.
Currently, my private studio continues to grow, and I love working with promising students. In addition to teaching, I serve as the Protestant Music Director for Naval Base Ventura County worship services. The congregation is a unique mixture of young single sailors, families, and retired veterans alike. I believe God has placed me there for a purpose, and I pray that God will use me to touch the lives of those who attend positively.
Editor– So, where there’s a will, there’s a way. You followed your heart and ended up teaching private lessons and leading out with a Protestant service on a military base. That’s a very intriguing venue to be working in. When you lead worship, do you do so with a piano or an electronic keyboard?
Modell – I prefer the touch of a real piano, so I use that most of the time. I also play on the organ from time to time. Because our congregation is so diverse, and the worship preferences are so varied, I have found that utilizing both instruments meets everyone’s worship style.
Editor – What advice would you give to someone today who’s wanting to work in the music industry?
Modell – Don’t make this decision lightly. A music career is not easy or stable, and it can be especially discouraging in the beginning when you are trying to establish yourself as an independent musician. There is definitely a slow-building process, but I have found that performing as much as possible has seriously increased my community visibility. Additionally, I have found my connections to the local music teachers’ association to be very helpful; some teachers who are already at teaching capacity have passed students onto me. The association also hosts competitions throughout the year for students to participate in. Being able to offer these performance opportunities to my students has been a good selling point in my private studio. Lastly, a website is a key to establishing your credibility and visibility. I have had numerous new students find me because of my website. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, just enough to make you searchable (and findable) on the Internet. Above all else, don’t give up! If God has called you to be a musician, He will direct your path and open all the right doors.
Editor – You are blessed to be able to pursue your passion as a career. And we are enriched that you’ve shared a portion of your journey with us. May God continue to bless you as you minister on His behalf.
Niccole Modell lives and works in Southern California.
This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project.© 2017 - 2021 ASA. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.