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December 17, 2019

Two Cleveland-Area Music Professionals Among Musical America's 2019 Professionals of the Year


Johnnia Stigall
Johnnia Stigall, manager of CIM's Pre-College and Pathway Programs

Crystal Carlson, director of operations at the Cleveland International Piano Competition (CIPC), and Johnnia Stigall, manager of Pre-College and Pathway Programs at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) are among 30 individuals nationwide named as Musical America magazine’s 2019 Professionals of the Year. The honor recognizes “the often behind-the-scenes individuals who keep the performing arts alive and well and relevant.” Musical America is the oldest US-based magazine on classical music and is regarded as the definitive voice for the performing arts industry. More than 14,000 performing arts organizations and 24,000 musicians and professionals in more than 95 countries actively engage with Musical America annually.

Cleveland is one of only a handful of cities to boast more than one honoree.

In addition to her role at CIPC, Carlson is an alumna of CIM. Stigall joined CIM in July 2019 from the Sphinx Organization. 

Carlson grew up in Caldwell, ID, and majored in voice at Capital University in Columbus. At the suggestion of her undergraduate voice teacher, she came to CIM in 2007 to study with Mary Schiller, head of CIM’s voice department, earning a professional studies diploma in 2009. She notes the Musical America award indicates that CIM “turns out well-rounded musicians. At one point, I thought that if I took a ‘real’ job it would mean that I couldn’t perform. If you stay within the music industry, you can still have opportunities to perform. For instance, I’m an outreach performer with CIPC and a church musician. My training from CIM means that I get to utilize all the things that I love about music instead of being defined as one thing.”

Crystal Carlson
Crystal Carlson, CIM alumna and operations director, Cleveland International Piano Competition

Carlson, who became director of operations at CIPC in 2018, oversees all of the organization’s programming, including concerts and events, education and outreach, as well as the box office and artist management for medalists.

Before arriving at CIM, Stigall, a native of Chattanooga, TN, served as project manager of the National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS), a $1.8 million, four-year initiative led by the Sphinx Organization, New World Symphony and the League of American Orchestras to increase diversity in American orchestras by supporting musicians and conductors of color in professional orchestral auditions through mentorship, audition training and financial support.

Stigall, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in viola performance and a master’s in arts administration from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, said it was such an honor to have been included in Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year alongside so many diverse, talented, hardworking professionals in the performing arts industry.

As manager of pre-college and pathway programs, Stigall guides CIM’s pre-college students and their families through the demands of an advanced classical music education by developing creative new programs and measures to ensure prep students will receive a well-rounded, career-defining musical education.  

“Every person who teaches, supports or inspires a young musician along their journey to a professional career is making a difference in the future of classical music. To create a more diverse, inclusive field in the future, it’s important to also have diverse voices and perspectives contributing to all areas of the field today,” Stigall said.

In addition to their connection to CIM, both women see this honor in the larger context of Cleveland’s reputation as a classical music mecca.

“One thing I’ve found interesting about Cleveland since moving here in July is the ripple effect of having so many world-class arts and cultural institutions in a city that makes people want to settle down and stay here,” said Stigall, who relocated from Baltimore to Cleveland take the CIM position. “Whenever I tell someone that I work at CIM or that I’m a classical musician, they always have a great story to tell about what classical music means to them as a Clevelander. Cleveland is definitely a special place to work and live.”

When Carlson moved to the city, she had been told it had a strong arts community and found this to be true. “There really was a sort of renaissance when I got here in 2007. It ended up feeling like home, which I didn’t expect. There are so many concerts everywhere, from the halls to churches to bars, there’s so much to take in. It’s incredible. I used to live in the Coventry neighborhood, and it was shocking that I could walk to three different performances from my home,” she said. “Where I grew up, you’d have to drive 45 or 60 minutes just to get to one performance. I got all of my cultural experiences from PBS.”

Both Carlson and Stigall say the best part of their jobs is the positive messages they’re able to convey through classical music – especially with two organizations committed to artistic excellence that reflect the importance classical music to Cleveland and around the world.