Looking for elusive, uncommon pieces? Lee Braun is your man. The Cranston, R.I., native started working at the Juilliard Store in 2010 and now handles day-to-day operations with Gary Plutko, the manager. In 2013, he was one of three people who co-founded Fresh Squeezed Opera, a small company devoted to performing new works. Its next production is Whitney George’s The Yellow Wallpaper, an adaptation of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story, and it stars Juilliard’s own Denise Crawfort, President Polisi’s assistant. The Yellow Wallpaper is at the DiMenna Center on June 10 and 11 (freshsqueezedopera.com).
When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
I began playing the flute in fourth grade. In sixth grade, I made the very mature realization that only girls play flute, so I asked my band director if I could switch instruments. He introduced me to the oboe, the most masculine of instruments … yeah. Once I got into high school I realized I really enjoyed playing, and in a different way than the people who were primarily in band to be with their friends. I also realized there wasn’t anything else that I wanted to do as much as play music, so I went for it!
Tell us about Fresh Squeezed Opera.
I’m the vice president and principal oboist, and we do one fully staged chamber opera each year. Our first one was a parody opera written by our executive director, Jillian Flexner, called La Zombiata: An Opera Farce With Zombies. It sold out and so did last year’s, The Baby Shower by Bruce Trinkley. We also do a recital concert each year to showcase new songs/arias. The first time we put out a call to composers, we got more than 300 submissions, and our first winner, Nina Young, went on to win the Rome Prize and a Koussevitsky Foundation Commission.
How did you end up working at the Juilliard Store?
After finishing school with performance degrees—bachelor’s and master’s from SUNY Purchase where I studied with Humbert Lucarelli—and a lot of debt, I needed a job ASAP. As much as I wish I could have taken time to prepare audition repertoire and travel around auditioning, I needed to pay rent and eat. I got extremely lucky in that the new location for the Juilliard Store was just opening and they had what was at first a part-time job. All of my favorite memories here involve meeting and chatting with the wide range of amazing musicians who come through. You never know who will be next in line—it could be Bryn Terfel or it could be Chris Rock.
What are the most common and oddest questions you get in the store?
Are you open? Where do you have the musical insects poster?
If your boss gave you the day off out of the blue, what would you do?
Probably catch up on cleaning my apartment.
What job at Juilliard would you like to try out for a day and why?
Oboe teacher of course! I enjoy teaching, but with the schedule of managing the store and Fresh Squeezed Opera, it’s not really feasible.
What are your nonmusic interests?
I’m a comedy nut: I enjoy most forms of comedy from improv to stand-up and sitcoms. I’m also a big Formula One racing fan. It’s really the only sport I like, probably because there’s a technical/intellectual element to it.
What is the strangest or most memorable job you’ve ever had?
SUNY Purchase puts on a small production of Amahl and the Night Visitors every year for the local schools. We would do it with two pianos, two oboes, violin, and percussion. If you’re not familiar with the opera, it opens with Amahl playing a little tune on his flute before his mother calls him in for the night. For this production I was not just the oboist, but Amahl’s imaginary friend. So I had to memorize the solo and play it while whimsically standing behind Amahl as he pretended to play on a prop flute. Then when his mom calls him away I would get startled and slink away off stage and rejoin the orchestra.
What would surprise people about you?
I’ve had a poster of Eric Whitacre (BM ‘95, MM ‘97, voice) above my desk for four years and I have no idea why.
What are you reading/listening to/watching/following?
Reading: We Can’t Always Play Waltzes by Humbert Lucarelli
Listening: Mostly comedy podcasts, or the music I’m working on
Watching: Last Man on Earth, Walking Dead, Fresh Off the Boat
Following: The terrifying political juggernaut that is Donald Drumpf