For Yeji Cha-Beach, the road to Late Night with Seth Meyers took her straight through Carnegie Hall. With her newly minted degree in music performance and non-profit management, she hit the Big Apple searching for opportunity. While starting on the stage may have been her dream, Yeji’s journey took her through the administrative world of musical performance, learning about the enormous effort it takes to mount a show on one of the world’s most iconic stages.
The experience at Carnegie Hall led to other opportunities in NYC and, after stints with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the New York Classical Players, six years ago Yeji started as a Music Assistant with Late Night. She is now the Music Associate Producer working with the show’s guest artists as well as with the 8G House Band led by Fred Armisen. “It’s a very collaborative process – I work with the guest artist’s managers or publicists to make sure we can fulfill their vision, all while keeping it to a short time of four minutes and on a limited stage.”
With a nightly television audience of 1.5 million and another 3.3 million YouTube subscribers, getting the details right matters. Almost every episode includes a musical performance, and Late Night has featured a variety of cutting-edge musicians, as well as renowned artists James Taylor and Aretha Franklin.
Because Fred Armisen has many projects, he is often unavailable to tape, and Yeji works to find guest musicians to fill in for the 8G Band. “It creates a unique opportunity for the house band to have a new drummer, and a different look and sound. We’ve had Chad Smith, the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brian Fraiser-Moore who tours with Madonna, as well as local NYC jazz drummers. My priority when thinking about sit-ins is to bring to light as many female drummers as possible to foster diversity on stage. It’s been exciting to see the growing number of young female drummers putting their name out there in the world and to be able to showcase them on our stage.”
The fast pace and range of work appeals to Yeji. “It’s a nice mix of responsibilities that include utilizing my logistical skills, while having the creative freedom to scout new artists. It’s a way to put my own stamp on things!”
Yeji credits BYSO with introducing her to a collaborative, community-based music experience. “Being a girl from New Hampshire, when I came to BYSO it was like a whole new world was opened up for me. I was one of very few Asian Americans in my school, and the diversity at BYSO made me feel welcome. It was also my first experience playing with other students my age in an orchestral setting. It’s more than just the music – it’s a wonderful community of like-minded folks who are all striving to be the best that they can be, but in a very nurturing environment under great leaders. What an amazing opportunity it is for students – at a formative age, and with such a passion for music – to be part of an experience so fostering!”
“Part of my current skill-set – being a good listener, taking a step back and observing, being able to connect and collaborate with people and provide feedback in order to create something rich together – was all cultivated at BYSO.”
Though she started off as a performer, Yeji finds her new role behind the scenes in the music and entertainment industry very rewarding. “Coming from a performer’s perspective initially, you don’t always realize just how much work goes into helping artists achieve their optimal performance. Behind the scenes, the sheer number of people involved to make sure the performance even happens was fascinating, and I was so drawn to that. On the other hand, having previous experience as a performer helps inform my job, too. So much work goes into a musical performance on both sides, and I feel like my experiences have made me well-rounded. It’s exciting now, in my current role, to be part of the heartbeat of the production.”
“Despite the variety of musicians, at the end of the day everyone is just a human being. Some stars that I’d only previously seen on TV or in movies present themselves as very professional and very confident, but behind the scenes they’re just regular people – doing vocal exercises in dressing rooms, drinking hot tea with honey to warm their throats! It reminds me of warming up backstage in orchestra – something we all have in common as musicians.”
Much of the music and entertainment industry is male-dominated, and Yeji’s experience has been no exception. “Nine times out of ten, the management team of the visiting artist will be almost all men. When I started in this role, the music production team at Late Night was my colleague – a black woman, and me – an Asian woman. We surprised a lot of our guests. Now, I’m seeing more and more women take the reins in music production and management, and I hope this continues.”
“My advice for graduating students who are women, and are interested in this career path, is to be your own best advocate. Trust your gut, and don’t be afraid to speak up. Speaking your mind at the right time to the right people can take you to so many different places that you never would have thought you could go to.”
Yeji looks back very fondly on her time with BYSO. “I vividly recall our tour to Latvia, Estonia, and St. Petersburg. We took an overnight train to St. Petersburg for our last performance, and getting to bond with my closest musical friends in that setting – being in pajamas, sharing rooms – that experience brings you together in a special way. That final concert was exhilarating – it felt like we were truly playing as one voice, after all of this time together.”
She also cherishes her time under Fed’s musical direction. “It felt like such an accomplishment and honor to finally get into BYS, and to experience working with Fed. He was so good at communicating with us silently, and I vividly remember that energy within the silence right before we would start playing a piece. He was a great communicator and a great leader. I’ll never forget it.”
Yeji’s best advice for current students is to “savor every moment, and soak it all in. Time really flies, and even though I graduated in 2004, my BYSO days are some of my most special memories. Don’t take anything for granted!”
Yeji Cha-Beach, ‘04, Violin, graduated from Indiana University Bloomington where she double majored in Music Performance and Non-Profit Management. She worked in several roles at Carnegie Hall before working at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Production. Yeji has been working at the Late Night with Seth Meyers show since its inception in 2014.
Photo Credit: Lloyd Bishop