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by Kristen Domingue
Meet Janelle Reichman, a world-famous clarinetist — and web designer. We caught up with Janelle to learn how she’s bridging the gap between what she loves and what she’s good at, and allowing these to be one and the same in both of her careers.
When I left New York City, I was so burned out on music, I thought I’d just stop altogether. I got back to Ann Arbor after playing in the circus, at weddings, funerals, Broadway shows, synagogues, churches and didn’t touch my instruments for two entire months. Not once. I thought I had gone from “living the dream” to being completely done with music.
Even though I was “making it” as a musician, I was unhappy in New York City. I was depressed but I didn’t it because I thought it was just how life was. While New York City has so many people, it can also be a very lonely place; I felt very isolated. I had a hard time finding my people and developing a sense of community over the long term. I’d see tons people every day, but beyond “hello”, “goodbye”, and “hey, haven’t seen you in a while,” it was hard to maintain a consistent connection with people who were an involved part of my life. I remember trying to make plans with friends and needing to schedule months in advance.
I also found the energy of the city draining. The energy it took to get ready, get out of the apartment, schlep on the subway with 30 pounds of instruments, get to the gig, play the gig, and schlep back left me exhausted. By the time I’d get in at night, I just wanted to lie on the couch. I didn’t have any energy left for the things I really wanted to do.
The reality was I couldn’t figure out how to be happy there. I couldn’t figure out how to create the life I wanted.
Things didn’t start that way.
I’m an Ann Arbor native who went to Community High School — one of the first public magnet schools in the country — which is a lottery to get into, and it was my good fortune to be #16 my freshman year. This was a life changer. I feel confident if I hadn’t gone to CHS, I wouldn’t have discovered jazz. They didn’t have a marching band or a concert band at the time, only a jazz improv program. So I tried it.
It didn’t take long to figure out I loved it. At the time, I also played the clarinet in a classical orchestra. For a few years, I did both at the same time. But at some point I felt like I was in a sea of clarinetists and we were all playing the same notes on the page in the classical orchestra. I didn’t have a chance to express myself. By comparison, when I started playing in jazz groups, I got to be featured and to say something. That was extremely attractive to me. Mainly because I was traumatizingly bad at sports but my parents forced me to play anyway.
The day my parents told me I could quit playing sports was one of the best days of my life. I remember feeling like, “finally, I’m good at something!” After a few months of private tutoring, I became first chair in the band. It was the first time I felt like I was better at something that anyone else.
In that program, we performed around the city and by the time I graduated from CHS I had a lot of experience performing, which is unique for someone that age. This led to a full scholarship at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory. I stayed in Cincinnati for a year after school, played in a wedding band, was paid to teach and tutor and hit another milestone: I was making it as a musician on my own.
In the process, I was connected to Justin De Tochito at the Manhattan School of Music. We worked together at The Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles in the summer and he recruited me to come to New York. While I knew staying in Cincinnati wasn’t the dream, I never had aspirations to move to New York. But it seemed like a good opportunity and if I hated it I knew I could go to the program for two years and always return to what I was doing. I had no idea I would be there for a decade.
From doing what I was good at to finding what I loved.
After 5 years of living in New York City, I felt there was something inside nudging me to help people in a more tangible way. There was something I wasn’t getting from music. Music always felt selfish to me. We perform, we make people happy when we perform, but it didn’t feel tangible enough. So one day I sat down at my desk, made a list of things I thought I could be good at as a second career or a side hustle. One of the things on the list was web design. I taught myself the basics in high school and as I refined the list, web design remained at the top.
At the time, the jazz musicians I knew all used the same website template and their websites looked exactly the same. I wanted my website to be unique to me. That’s when a light bulb went off: I’m going to learn how to make a website and build my own.
Once I dove in, I loved it. And once I did mine, it was easy to get clients in New York because I knew thousands of musicians who didn’t know how to do it for themselves. It was a nice way to get my foot in the door.
I continued to do web design and work as a musician full time in New York for another 5 years. But at this point, I was already starting to feel unfulfilled by living there. Fast forward 5 years later, I followed an instinct to move back to Ann Arbor.
At that time, my sister had a son and moved back to Ann Arbor where we grew up. I knew so many people in New York who had nieces and nephews who would talk about how they were strangers to them. I started to notice that it took a day or two for my nephew to warm up to me when I’d visit and this separation only highlighted the isolation I felt in New York.
Eventually returning to New York from my monthly trips to Ann Arbor became harder.
Interestingly though, something else happened: I reconnected to women I went to high school with and even though we hadn’t spoken in years, I felt like they “got” me. And I started to get a glimpse of what a life in Ann Arbor would give me. And it was everything I wasn’t getting in New York.
So I made the leap. I look at my life now and see I’m living exactly what I hoped would happen.
Now, I’m web designing full time and I’m also active as a musician.
I left New York at the height of my career. That only made it better.
My first two months in Ann Arbor, I didn’t touch my instruments. I thought I was done with music. But two ironic things happened: not playing my instruments gave me enough space to miss them. And the minute I left NY, my musical career upleveled.
The two-month hiatus allowed me to see exactly why music was important to me and how it was a part of who I am. I realized I could never give it up, but I needed to have the experience of coming back to it from a place of joy and desire instead of just obligation.
I performed at Lincoln Center this year and last year despite relocating to Ann Arbor. And the most recent performance allowed me to get connected with the woman who runs Series in Charlotte, North Carolina, and they’re flying me out to be a featured soloist.
I also perform around Ann Arbor and Detroit roughly two nights per week. While it’s not a significant income source at this point when I’m invited to perform I’m now asking myself two questions: Does this sound fun? Do I really want to do this?
By the time this article is published, a quintet I’m putting together will have had our first local performance in March. We’ll have performed my original music to a (hopefully!) sold out audience. Information about future performances will be available at JanelleReichman.com
The day-to-day of living a life I love.
In Ann Arbor, it all fits together nicely because I have business meetings and web design work during the day, and some evenings when I play. When I’m out of town performing, it can be tough, but thank God for laptops! Because I’ve done so many websites for musicians in New York, I still get referrals from them. This also allows me to stay connected to New York.
I love working with people in creative-leaning fields, musicians yes, but I consider anyone in the business of marketing themselves — photographers, coaches, etc. — a creative. They’re all developing their own method for how they message their work and help people do their thing. They appreciate having a unique aesthetic defined for them.
What’s different about me is that apart from the technical side of things, I like listening to a person’s story, what they love most about what they do and what they give people. Writing headlines and homepage text is a superpower for me. Allowing them to express who they are, to say something, lights me up.
My new site, Ellanyze just launched. Ellanyze is a portmanteau of the words Ella — “she” and Synchronize — “to occur at the same rate and time”. I made this up to represent the femininity I bring to the work and to design. I love the word synchronize because I feel like it’s a big part of what I do: I see and listen to the person and I create a harmonized reflection of who they are on their website.
I’m excited about the rebrand, as there will be more of my personality in the brand. My new site feels like who I am is synchronized with the site. This is what I do for my clients.
If had to do it all over again, one thing I’d tell younger me is this: if you have a vision of yourself doing something and you feel like you might be good at it, do it and don’t listen to the naysayers. I remember when I started doing web design people said things to me like, “the world has so many web designers”, “that’s a really competitive field”, or gave me a dubious “good luck.” At times I thought, “maybe they’re right, maybe I can’t do it.”
But I always had a small voice inside that heard what people said and replied, “Yeah, there are a lot of web designers but none of them are me, and none of them will do things the way I would or put my spin on it.” I am so happy I listened to that voice and kept going.
What we noticed from our time with Janelle is that being yourself, living an authentic life, and “finding your purpose” is a series of choices. And these choices are simply about saying yes to what you love and what gives you life, while having the courage to let go of anything that impedes these two.