Creative Class: Heidi Kaloustian

heidiHeidi Kaloustian is a writer who lives and works in Detroit. She has received numerous awards and honors for her writing, including a 2015 Schulze Fellowship for a debut novel, a 2012 Kresge Fellowship in the Literary Arts, and a Hopwood Award in Fiction. In 2005, she was named a Davidson Fellow, Laureate of Literature. She was the first Davidson Fellow to receive the top prize in the category of literature.

She holds a BA from the University of Michigan and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she studied fiction with Marilynne Robinson and Karen Russell. She served as the fiction editor of the Iowa Review, a tri-annual literary journal. During her tenure as editor, the magazine’s fiction was awarded a Tim McGinnis Award and Pushcart nominations, and was included in the 2016 Best American Short Stories and 2016 Best American Non-Required Reading.

She is also a visual artist with a focus on book arts and book-making. In 2013, she exhibited a series of thirteen visual works and a limited-edition book at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (MOCAD). Her work explores the dynamic between seeing and reading, image and text, the object and the imaginary.

Kaloustian has taught creative writing and served as a guest teacher in metro-Detroit public schools. She is currently at work on her first novel.

What inspires you to create?

Other artists. Art is always the conduit for me. The sentences of Marquez, or Nabokov. My childhood loves Hawthorne and Poe, the rhythms of their stories, memorized but somehow always veering new. Gertrude Stein and Aram Saroyan make language seem totally bizarre and infinite with possibilities. They make me want to write, and attend more closely to the world around me, see and hear the strangeness and electricity crackling beneath the ordinary. Visual art, too.
Hieronymus Bosch and Paul Delvaux’s worlds seem to contain everything I’ve ever wanted to say.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement:

The finish line is always moving. Every project has its own challenges, and once you figure those out, you start setting new goals. And I think that’s good, the way it should be. The most satisfying part of writing is so microscopic and humble and alone: the feeling of pinning it down just right, getting the image, the sentence. I can think of one passage, the end of a story, maybe three hundred words, that wrote itself in a rush, perfectly, everything sharp and singing right. That’s the closest I get to a feeling of accomplishment. That’s what I love most.

What advice would you give the next generation of creative people?

Oh wow. I just graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and lived for two years in a postage stamp sized city that contains the most writers and translators and poets per square foot in the world. I heard so much advice! I think I’ve distilled from all of it the idea that the process of making art is singular and irreducible. Advice is just comforting because it make us feel less alone, less scared of a process that is generally lonely, and scary, and kind of mysterious. Every artist creates according to their own peculiar habits, every project has its own particular requirements. But I think its a comfort to know this, too: it means you’re not doing it wrong.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?

Meticulous (me and the work)

For more information about Heidi and her work, check out her website:


is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Michael Shimmin

tieMichael Shimmin is one of the most in-demand percussionists in the state of Michigan. Well versed in the styles of jazz, world, folk, rock, and classical music, he continually proves to be a valuable asset to any musical project. Graduating from Western Michigan University in 2006 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance, Michael studied under the instruction of Judy Moonert, Billy Hart, and Keith Hall. In 2007 he was awarded the Irving S. Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant from the Kalamazoo Arts Council, which allowed him to begin studies with world-renowned percussionist, Jamey Haddad. In this ongoing relationship, Michael continues to study drum set, hand percussion, and rhythm.

While still in music school, Michael joined his first major professional musical project: Millish, an Ann Arbor-based Irish-fusion group. Millish introduced Michael to performing at major music festivals across the country, studio recording, and multitude of international performances (including tours in Germany, Ireland, and Scotland).

At the same time, Michael was playing percussion in Kruziki Transatlantica Quintet, a group formed at Western Michigan University. Founded by saxophonist Aaron Kruziki, the ensemble played a mix of Piazzolla-inspired tangos, middle-eastern music, and American jazz. The group was awarded with multiple DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards, including “Best Jazz Group,” and “Best Classical Chamber Ensemble”, and was invited to perform at the International Association for Jazz Education Conference in New York City in 2006, and at a concert in Tunis, Tunisia in 2008.

Around 2005, Michael met Michigan musicians Seth Bernard and May Erlewine, when Millish was invited to play at Bernard’s Earthwork Harvest Gathering music festival. Michael was blown away by the duo’s live performance. In 2006, he was asked by Bernard to play with him in Kalamazoo, MI, which soon led to Michael being invited to play drums on Erlewine’s upcoming album (“Mother Moon”), and almost all of Seth and May’s releases since (all of which appear on Earthwork Music–a Michigan based musical collective that not only acts as a record label, but promotes raising community and self-awareness through the power of music). On the Earthwork label alone, Michael has performed on almost 20 albums with over 10 groups, and has earned a reputation as “the guy who plays with everybody” in the Michigan music scene, and still is touring regularly with Seth and May.

From 2008-2012, Michael was a member of the Kalamazoo based band The Red Sea Pedestrians. Mixing original folk music with Eastern-European styles and rock n roll, the music of this group allowed Michael to utilize his own style of combining drum set and hand percussion. He can be heard on the releases “Adrift”, and “The Electromagnetic Escape”.

In 2008, Michael was recruited by Ann Arbor based harmonica legend Peter Madcat Ruth to play in the acoustic blues quartet Madcat, Kane, & Maxwell Street. This group released their first CD, “Live at the Creole Gallery” in 2009 and has been performing regularly since. Michael also currently plays with Madcat in a louder, electric setting called Madcat Midnight Blues Journey.

What inspires you to create?

It has always been kind of a mystery to me. Why do I get this feeling that I must play music? It’s just something that I’ve had since I was a young kid. Nowadays I go through periods of feeling more inspired, as well as periods of being not-so-inspired. But I still have to do it (make music). It’s almost like an essential bodily function at this point, like eating or drinking or going to the bathroom.

I do love performing. I feel like it’s kind of an ancient responsibility that some people were given. To make music for others to listen to. Whether it makes them happy, sad, or makes them want to dance, each person gets something different out of it. I’m happy to provide, because in that way I get my kicks too.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

I’d like to think I haven’t achieved my greatest yet! But I am very proud of all of the recordings I’ve done with so many of my talented friends. I’m proud of my band, the olllam, because we seem to have inspired a lot of people in the Irish music scene (and beyond), and it’s led to me being able to travel to different parts of the world to play. Also, playing with Aretha Franklin was pretty amazing.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?

Don’t be afraid to stay on the path that allows you to make a living doing what you want. There will be very hard times but the people who push through those usually end up successful, and hopefully happy. I always got offended when older people told me, “You better have something to fall back on if this music thing doesn’t work.” That idea always made me cringe.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


Catch up with Mike on his website: 



is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Greg Hosharian


(Photo Credit: Mher Vahakn)

(Photo Credit: Mher Vahakn)

Musician, composer, conductor, pianist and orchestrator, Greg Hosharian began playing the piano at the age of four, when his father, composer/conductor Edward Hosharian, became his first music teacher. When Greg was 13, he studied under pianist Akiko Dohi and began to compose his own music, winning piano competitions playing both classical selections and his own works. He attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he experimented with different instruments and styles of music. Greg holds a Bachelor’s Degree in composition from California Institute of the Arts and Master’s Degree in composition and orchestration from California State University, Northridge. Active in composing and orchestration, Greg creates soundtracks for film, television, animation and video game projects. He also currently teaches music at Armenian Mesrobian School.

Greg has toured across Europe and North America as a keyboardist with the progressive rock band Redemption, opening for Dream Theater. He has also formed three bands of his own in which he plays the keyboard: Vendetta, Hosharian Brothers Band (in which his brother, Peter Hosharian, plays the clarinet) and Armenian Space Station. In 2009, Armenian Space Station performed an exceptionally well-received concert in Yerevan, Armenia.

Greg started The Armenian Pops Orchestra in 2010.  The Orchestra made its much- anticipated debut performing the premiere orchestral version of Greg’s composition “Symphony No. 2 – The Waters of Lake Sevan” on October 24, 2010, at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles. The three movements depict a person’s fanciful dream through a three-day musical journey in this exquisitely beautiful setting in Armenia.

With the revitalization of the Edward Hosharian Scholarship Fund, Greg will continue to work closely with scholarship recipients, providing an avenue for the expression of their musical talents and incorporating them in future concerts.

Greg is in the planning stages of organizing a series of concerts incorporating all of the genres he is passionate about — ethnic Armenian classical, chamber, jazz and rock music — at various venues across the globe. These concerts, at which he will also perform, will showcase his original compositions.

What inspires you to create?

Music inspires me to create, art inspires me to create and people inspire me to create. I’m influenced by many. My influences stem from my childhood with my father Composer, Conductor Edward Hosharian.  He was my main inspiration and still is to this day.  Armenian music being part of my blood stream permeates my music even if I dont try to– its just part of me. Other influences include Armenian composers such as Khachaturian, Sayat-Nova, Komitas, Babajanian, Hovanessian and Amirkhanian.

Classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Bartok. Film composers Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, David Grusin and John Williams. I’m also influenced by the following genres:  Rock, Metal, Jazz, Blues, Progressive Rock and bands like Rush, Dream Theater and the Doors.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

I’ve composed and to continue to compose for Orchestra, Media (Film/TV/Animation) and for smaller ensembles such as chamber music, quartets and trios. I would say my greatest creative achievement would be my Symphony No. 2 “Waters of Lake Sevan” It was one of my favorites to compose and orchestrate for full orchestra and conduct live in front of hundreds of people.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people? 

I encourage all musicians to start off their training using classical music as the basis for learning.  What makes a musician is his or her diversity in musicianship.  Never give up no matter what stumbling block you encounter, and never let anything crush your dreams.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


Greg has a major upcoming concert on March 26, 2017 at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, CA. He will be performing with the Armenian Pops Orchestra.
Finally, the scholarship Greg and his family started for their father, Edward Hosharian Scholarship Fund, is giving a $5,000 scholarship to an Armenian student pursuing a musical education in college. More information can be found at:


is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.




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Creative Class: Jason Gittinger

unnamedJason Gittinger is an avid community builder and entrepreneur. Through his music school, The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music® he goes out of his way to educate and nurture young and aspiring musicians about being a professional in music and in life. Their foundation, The Live The Music Foundation, provides scholarships and support to many students in need, community activities and events. He supports causes that teach people that being a success in life is not a singular pursuit but a team endeavor. He is the President of the board of the Royal Oak, Michigan Chamber of Commerce and is the chair of The Royal Oak Commission for the Arts for the City of Royal Oak, Michigan. As an arts leader in the region, he serves on the community relations board of The Detroit Institute of Arts and has even curated music exhibits for The Detroit Historical Museum. He started his career spending many years playing music for recordings, events and activities all over the world. He now spends a lot of of his time helping other entrepreneurs and startups make their passions their full-time careers through his consulting work with his boutique consulting firm The Gittinger Group.He resides in Royal Oak, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

You can also watch Jason jam on the drums in a series of YouTube videos – click here!

What inspires you to create?
I honestly have no idea. I wake up and try to do great things with the resources given to me. I find if I try to create things that connect and unify people, they take life. If I try to create for only myself, I fail miserably. …so I try to do as many things for other people as possible so I can make those wonderful positive creative connections that take flight.
Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?
My biggest creative achievement so far would be The Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music. It is a wonderful place that unites people from all backgrounds and walks of life through music. It is a pleasure and a joy to get to see what happens here each day.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?
You are not alone. Everyone wants to create, and everyone creates. If you want your creativity to life longer than yourself, you must be nice to others, as they will be the ones that make your creativity lasting.
What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Monte Nagler

monte-nagler_portraitMonte’s photographs, which have won numerous awards, are found in many private and public collections including the Detroit Institute of Art; the University Of Michigan Museum Of Art; the Grand Rapids Art Museum; The State of Michigan; General Electric Corporation: BASF Corporation: and all Big Three Auto Manufacturers. Galleries and agents throughout the country represent his photography.

Monte is a noted writer, lecturer and teacher of photography and is the author of six highly successful photography books. Monte leads a Photographic Workshop Trip twice a year. He is frequently called upon to jury contests and to speak on photography topics on local radio and television shows. Besides the many awards and acknowledgements Monte has received, the State of Michigan Senate and House have honored him with proclamations for his contributions to fine art photography. For more information on Monte and his artwork, CLICK HERE.

What inspires you to create?

What inspires me is the tremendously satisfying feeling I get knowing my photographs can get people to slow down a little and truly appreciate this beautiful world we live in.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

My greatest achievement is our healthcare division where we place my art in hospitals and other healthcare facilities for the benefit of patients,  staff and visitors.  Creating a calming environment using art,  music, etc. is just terrific!

What advice would you give the next generation of creative people?

My advice is to truly express your yourself through your art.  Let your passion loose and remove any boundaries from your vision.

What one word would you use to describe your work?



slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Profile: Rick Robinson


Rick Robinson began playing double bass in Highland Park public schools until he attended Interlochen Arts Academy, Cleveland Institute of Music and New England Conservatory. He held several principal positions in regional orchestras as well as the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra under John Williams before joining the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 1989. During his 22-year tenure he began transcribing symphonic works for a mixed octet he called CutTime Players. He later began composing for a string sextet called CutTime Simfonica and presenting them amplified in non-traditional venues as part of the Classical Revolution movement. Dedicated to spreading the gospel of classical music, he resigned DSO in 2013 to connect with a wider community to classical in bold new ways. While all of his music is neo-romantic, several works blend with urban pop as a fun way to draw new listeners. Read more at

What inspires you to create?

Even for non-musicians, music is incredibly empowering! So it’s easy to imagine how empowering it can be for people who play it every day or as professionals. Imagine is the key word however, because not all professionals will imagine how they could create something different or useful with their skills.

Besides, it takes learning many new skills to put any creations in front of an audience. Classical music empowers me more than any other music I love: it’s dramatic, fantastic and adventurous, like a movie or a book. It never gets old either, because as a player or just listening, I claim ownership and ride the music like a magic carpet or a tourbus. It inspires me so much I feel compelled to share it with people who avoid concerts in restaurants, bars, cafes, homes, outdoors, even on the sidewalk! Once I realized the tools of classical music are still powerful forms of self-expression and human celebration, I began composing my own, similar to the styles of composers from Bach to Mahler.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

As a composer I hope that my best creations are still ahead of me. So far however I’m most proud of my works blending the folk music of our time, namely urban dance grooves, with classical music development and counterpoint techniques to form a smooth on-ramp into this music for new listeners.

In particular, Highland Park, MI: City of Trees has been a big hit with pop audiences.

As an activist for classical music, if I can use the term, I’m most satisfied with the Classical Revolution Detroit series that info-tains in local bars and restaurants, hiring local freelancers and crossover artists.

There’s nothing like people telling you after that they didn’t think they liked classical music until we brought it and let them participate on toy percussion. Everyone deserves access to classical music too.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?

You can bend standards without first mastering them, but it won’t be nearly as good if you don’t come close to mastering them. And that means going to the best college you can afford for intense study. It’s worth every penny, IF you take it seriously.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


Check out Rick Robinson and his devotion to bring classical music to the masses:  CutTime® Makes Classical Click

slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Gypsy Esma: Macedonian Queen Passes

Growing up and listing to all forms of Middle Eastern music allowed me to enter the world of Roma, music of the Balkans. As I got older and become more interested in varying forms of music, I discovered the varies forms of Balkan music, no less was the music of Macedonia.  This folk music was especially of interest to me due to the similarities of rhythm and sounds to Greek and Armenian music. One of the icons of this music was a vocalist that I always listened to and referred to her as “Gypsy Esma“. Sadly, Esma Redzepva passed away on December 11, 2016 after a short illness at a young age of 73.

hqdefaultI first heard Esma on an old record where she sang the famous Greek folk song Hoppa Nina Nay. I loved this recording especially of the musicians and listened to this song several times. I recently found it on YouTube, you can CLICK HERE to hear a young Esma.

She surrounded herself with exceptional musicians over the years and was an energetic performer.

Here is another clip of Esma in the 1960s on television. You have to watch the young darbuka player. What great energy!

Esma not only preserved her heritage by performing Macedonian music, she composed music over the years with the same flavor as the folk melodies she was famous for. A true icon in our music and a voice we will miss forever.

Here are additional great examples of Esma and her music:


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