alexandra kalinowski


Using opera as a stepping stone to get into college, this musically talented lady has landed herself gigs as a piano teacher, lead singer in a band and she just scored her first feature film. The sky's the limit in the world of a creative artist and we can't wait to see what she does next.


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Do you remember your first week in New York?
I do, it was a crazy week. I moved here from Boston on an hour of sleep because I’d partied my brains out the night before I left. I drove a box truck down here drinking red bulls the whole way. It was a horrible day.

I had sent out tons of resumes for teaching jobs before I moved here, and only got one response. Before arriving in New York I’d had a three hour conversation with these people who had a music school in Park Slope. I went to see them the day after I moved in.

I still have that job now, teaching piano lessons in Park Slope. I started with just a few kids, and now I have between 25-30 students. Some I’ve been working with since I first started. It’s great to have grown up with them.

Did you study teaching at university?
I studied opera, so I was essentially looking for any job that would make me money. The nice thing about opera is that it’s a very specialized thing and it’s amazing, but you have no skills at the end of university. You can’t really sing professionally until your mid 30s.

Do they prepare you for this at university?
No! They suggest you apply for grad school, but that just prolongs things. Grad school in this country is so expensive, that’s a lot of debt to accrue. My first year out of school was a rude awakening.

That first year in New York was pretty tough. I was teaching piano, singing here and there, but mostly just trying to survive. I was calling my parents all the time in California, and they kept telling me not to come home because there would be nothing for me to do there. They were totally right.

It’s so important to celebrate the small victories, to step back and realize when you’ve done something!

Why wouldn’t there have been opportunities for you in California?
It’s not the best place for you to be a musician if you aren’t a studio musician. In New York, the live music culture is so amazing. You don’t have to drive home, things are very cheap, open all night long, and it’s so accessible and easy.

In LA there are little pockets of venues and places you can play but in general you’re asking people to drive anywhere between 30 mins to an hour to see you play. It’s a lot harder to make it there.

Let’s go back to the opera! How did you get into it, and why do you have to wait until your 30s to get a job?
My grandparents both took me to musical theater a lot and I started to get into opera at 14. I was told by my crazy private prep school that I didn’t have good enough grades to get into a really good school, which was so not true, but they scare the shit out of you about it from a very young age. Opera seemed like a really good way to get into college, and it was.

I really really liked it and got a lot of opportunities. I was pretty good at it for a teenager. I sang at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a couple of summers ... these opportunities made it feel like it was a viable option for me when it came to college.

Were you only thinking of it as a way to get into college, or did you want this to be your career?
I don’t think I ever thought about anything long term until I was 25. I’m not sure why. I never thought about a full length career and what that would be like. Now, being 27, I’m getting closer to the idea of being ready to “live” someplace, to settle down and to be really really good at one thing.

The idea of touring, either as a touring musician or a touring opera singer, which is how you have to live, is so not what I want. It’s never been something my personality would fit with. You’re on the road anywhere between 3-10 months of the year.

So when I was in school I was never really able to think past that. I’m not sure if other people felt that way, it’s hard to imagine being out of school when that’s all you’ve ever known.

One of the reasons people don’t have opera careers until their 30s is that your voice takes a long time to mature and you have to have a lot of roles under your belt. At a certain point in your mid-20s you start memorizing roles, there is a standard repertoire that most opera houses perform like La Boheme and Carmen. You start learning that role from beginning to end so you can just step into an opera and go. You don’t learn the score to be in the show, you know it already.

It takes a while to acquire all that information and to work on your instrument. Most voices aren’t mature enough to perform until later on.

Is it very limited once you reach the top, are there only a handful of people that you see over and over?
Yes, but they’re really really good.

It must be hard to get in there and make a career out of it.
Totally. Once you have a career, those people sing from when they are 35-40 until they are in their 70s. If you’re a contemporary of one of those people it can be really hard to get a job.


So what are you working on now? You have your own band, how’s it going?
It’s going OK. We were working on it pretty consistently for two years, and it’s been on hiatus because I did all the music for a feature film. so I didn’t really have any room in my brain.

Holy shit, that’s amazing!
Totally, but because it was my first time it took me a bit longer to complete it.

Is this a path you want to go down?
My parents both work in film, and it’s a direction they’ve been gently nudging me in for several years. My dad is a production designer and my mom is a set decorator, they have a lot of friends who are composers who have been so helpful to me. Now I have a short reel, and I have one film under my belt.

So you just make up the music for the film?
Yeah. I got some references from the director and I gave her the first round. She wasn’t sure about what I’d done, and she wanted me to take it in a more electronic direction. The film is about a teenage boy, so surf rock was the starting point and it didn’t quite work. I took it in a different direction and ended up finding a sound for the film.

How do you even do that?
I use the program Logic. Music scores are still done a lot with live instruments. If I had a little more money I would have loved to have gone back and recorded live drums and guitar. I did play guitar on the score but my guitar skills are so so.

In general a lot of scores are a really solid mix between live instruments and computer made sounds. Hiring a full orchestra to record can be $150,000 per day. So a lot of people outsource that to Eastern Europe where it’s half the price.

So if you’re not doing a giant action movie, or a big budget film it can be so unaffordable. A lot of people end up mocking everything up on the computer, and then recording as much as you can with real instruments.

That sounds really amazing.
It’s a cool industry. I have no idea what the next step is from here. I would like to be doing more, as well as commercials, video games and fashion films.

Everything needs music behind it!
If you think about action movies, they're scored wall to wall.

How many instruments do you play?
I’m a pianist and it’s definitely the thing I’m best at and I have two guitars which I can play poorly. I also play accordion but not well, and I have a glockenspiel that I love to noodle around with.

So you’re still teaching piano down the road?
Yes, I teach in Park Slope and then every once and a while I teach down the street at Science Labs.

I’m also an intern at a music licensing library and jingle house that does music for commercials. There is so much advertising in New York. I didn’t know very much about it at all when I started interning, it’s been pretty wild to find out how it all works. It can be crazy fast. Sometimes they get a job and will need something done in half an hour.

I imagine it’s a good skill to have to work with such a tight turnaround.
Totally. To be able to work to a fast deadline is a great skill.


You are living now in Greenpoint, how do you like it?
It’s nice here and easy to get to the city. There’s so much great food and nightlife. The downside is that there is a tonne of tourists.

What are some of your favorite spots?
My boyfriend and I are big fans of Five Leaves, but not big fans of two hour lines. So our work around is that we call in and pick up our food and go home to watch Adventure Time.

We also love River Sticks and Alameda. Ramona’s is a great bar! There’s a lot of cool stuff around here, but you have to figure out what is cool because it’s great, and what is cool and just expensive.

Brooklyn Star is also one of my favorite places, it’s southern food.

What is the best piece of advice you can give?
Don’t get slowed down and discouraged by failures. Celebrate your victories. You have to even things out for yourself somehow, otherwise everything is great, and suddenly everything is bad. Stop that see-saw and get shit done.

As someone who works from home half the time I have to be able to wake up and get things done with no deadline whatsoever. Those failures, you have to find a way to deal with them and move on.

It’s so important to celebrate the small victories, to step back and realize when you’ve done something!

What’s your favorite place to take visitors to New York?
Roosevelt Island, hands down. It’s so beautiful. There is a beautiful FDR memorial built by an architect Louis I. Kahn. It took 20 years to build because the water kept rising during the building.

Do you have a favorite New York moment?
When I was carrying my accordion on the subway, and I didn’t have a case for it so I was just holding it. I sat down on the subway with it on my lap and immediately everybody got up and moved to the other end of the subway car because they thought I was going to play. I think people who live here will really appreciate that.

What does New York mean to you?
As someone who wants to be creative and make something, it’s a super hard place to live. It’s very hard to just “make stuff”.

New York is a place that has amazing opportunities like nowhere else I’ve ever been, and yet it’s the very opposite at the same time. You can fail, go broke, be passed over countless times. It’s hard to find a way to get into that opportunity, and there are so many other people who want it. You need the right person to notice what you’re doing.


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