Entrepreneurship and Career Development

Entrepreneur of the Month

Mary Grogan

Entrepreneur of the Month: March

MARY GROGAN: Soprano, Clinician, & General Director of OperaMaya

This month, Project Jumpstart interviews Jacobs alumna, Mary Grogan. Soprano Mary Grogan is a passionate advocate for the arts, the founder and general director of the OperaMaya Foundation, a sought after vocal clinician, speaker, teacher, and performer.

She is best known for her work with the government and private sector of México to promote and enrich the musical culture throughout the Yucatán Peninsula while developing sustainable cultural tourism strategies. Ms. Grogan's  international portfolio career makes her a pioneer in the field of musical entrepreneurship and the growing musical marketplace of Latin America. She divides her time between the Yucatán Peninsula of México and the United States.

The OperaMaya Foundation has the mission to create world-renowned artistic expressions that exemplify both the historical and modern Maya Culture. It hosts several events throughout the year including “The OperaMaya International Music Festival”, a cultural exchange of international artists. The festival features guest conductors, a vocal Young Artist Training Program (YAP), Apprentice and Choral Programs, Collaborative Piano Program, Festival Orchestra, Brass, Wind and String Ensembles, along with special guest performances.

The OperaMaya Foundation also includes the “OperaMaya Regional Opera”, and the “OperaMaya“ Artist Development and Career Advancement Group” which provides career counseling and workshops for the aspiring musical entrepreneur, focused on professional skill development in the emerging Latin American job sector.

"Knock on a bunch of doors and see what opens. Stay flexible and receptive and when there is a closed door focus your energy elsewhere. A closed door can be just as helpful as an open door because it means look somewhere else!" - Mary Grogan

Grogan Video

The promotional video for OperaMaya

Project Jumpstart: How have your skills as a performer and teacher helped you become the general director of OperaMaya? What skills did you realize that you needed to learn in order to take on the task of starting up a major program like this?

Mary Grogan: After I graduated I didn’t want to move to New York and audition like everyone else, so I packed up my car and I headed south. I moved to Mexico where I had a job singing with the state orchestra of Yucatán in Merida. When I arrived, we had a hurricane and my contract was canceled. I wasn’t ready to pack it all in, so I figured out a way to turn my masters in vocal performance into a certification to teach k-12 music from the state of Florida online, Once I had my certification, I taught K-12 music while I performed at night. I learned jazz so I could survive because that is how I could supplement my career in Mexico. It wasn’t easy at first, but I had great musicians helping me. I basically walked into the Ritz Carlton, gave them my headshot and resume, and told them I had a masters degree in vocal performance from the #1 school of music in the United States, (I may have said the world- I was a proud Jacobs grad), and I could learn to sing whatever style they wanted. They invited me to meet the jazz trio working there who gave me a CD of Frank Sinatra and told me to come back tomorrow singing like that. Just like that-I was hired. I sang in their jazz club for a year, and I was able to gig in the industry. I was happy because I was able to work in music and teach simultaneously. For me, being able to work in the music industry was paramount and being able to say I earned my living from music, that was a very big deal for me.

When you teach in Mexico you have to be able to teach more than just your subject, so as a music teacher I had to learn about production and lighting. I ended up being the theatre, dance, and cheerleading teacher while I was there, even teaching general studies to 5th and 6th graders. I learned how to adjust and adapt and this allowed me to be flexible as my career goals evolved. After making a life for myself in Mexico I realized I needed to be performing opera again so I moved back to the states and that is when I had the idea for OperaMaya. As a performer, I know what a singer needs in a young artist program and as a teacher I know what opportunities we want our students to have. Those experiences allowed me to uniquely be able to develop this program. But I never stop learning new skills, I have had to learn Photoshop, Illustrator and other programs to make our posters, web design formats and even a little code to develop our website, how to negotiate and to manage finances. Right now I’m studying marketing. Working with the government of Mexico, who is our chief financial partner, has been a lesson in politics and interpersonal relationships cross culturally. I think that managing employees has a big learning curve to it. Especially when our employees come from different cultures and backgrounds. I take free workshops at the public library or online, read as much as I can, and dive in. There is always something new to learn. 


Photo from a performance at OperaMaya festival

PJ: OperaMaya encompasses a variety of programs and projects. Can you talk about the development of that mission and how it came to be?

MG:  Around 2009 the global economy crashed and I moved back home to the United States. I had realized I needed to sing opera because I spent my whole life training for it. So, I quit my teaching job and my performance job, at that point I was singing “techno-opera” in one of the night clubs in Cancun, even recording in that genre, I’d created a whole act with dancers and everything. We were making way more money than I had been singing jazz. So of course, everyone thought I was crazy to leave. The only job I could get back in the US at the time was in a gas station. But, I had given it serious thought and realized I was never going to get where I wanted be if I didn’t change locations. I needed access to my voice teacher and coach. I needed to retrain, and it was a feeling of now or never.   Time was moving quickly, and I didn’t want to look back and never have done what I felt was my calling to do.  Back in the states I took voice lessons daily, and yes, I worked at the circle K.  

It was then that everything clicked and OperaMaya started to manifest. I was talking with a friend that was an IU alumnus and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives, when the idea to start a young artist program in Mexico came to me. I picked up the phone and reconnected with my mentors from school. I called my pedagogy teacher from IU, and Mark Clark who was in charge of the opera theatre and I asked them to teach. I just talked to people I knew and trusted and asked them to help me create this. I then went to meet the new conductor of the state orchestra of Quintana Roo, Mexico and told him,  I have these great singers that will be on my faculty, let’s set up large, public concerts with our singers and your orchestra. That’s how I convinced them to be our resident orchestra for our first season. That was going to be our niche- singers getting the opportunity to perform with orchestra and using our program as a training ground. We still audition singers first and figure out our repertoire based on the right literature that fits the singers we select. In my first year, we had seven singers and worked with the state orchestra. We toured with our musicians in Mexico. That is how it started and every year it grew!

At the heart of all of it I wanted to have artistic integrity with our entire program and I wanted it to be everything I stand for. It seems crazy now but I had to make this work and made it my mission to get my own orchestra, teachers, performers and conductors. Our mix of cultures and experiences is what sets us apart. I am never satisfied and I am constantly trying to see how I can make this program grow and improve. It went from a YAP, summer program, to a festival to a foundation, that now incorporates a full year concert series so that there is music being made all year round. We are bringing opera singers and an orchestra into cities across the Yucatán Peninsula that have never heard this type of music- we were the first orchestra to perform in Tulum, and Dzitás.  We were the first opera to perform in Valladolid since colonial times. In 2012, I couldn’t find any repertory from the region for us to perform so I started the annual composition competition for an original work in the regional language, Yucatecan Maya, with orchestra, soloists and chorus. Now we have debuted 3 original works, and are requesting submissions for an entire 1 act opera in Maya. This is an art form that the Maya People of the region did not think belonged to them and now they are feeling included in the classical world. If we do nothing else, I am really proud of that.


Promotional Poster for the OperaMayaperformance at the Gran Museo Del Maya

PJ: A lot of your work as a professional deals with shaping the future artists of the world and effecting communities at large. Has this always been an area of importance to you and does this translate into your work with OperaMaya?

MG:  I didn’t remember this until recently when my mother showed me a newspaper clipping, but when I was 16 and singing with the Orlando Opera, they interviewed me and I said that in opera, I had found where I wanted to be, and I wished everyone could experience that. I was so young and passionate about it. I said I wanted to bring opera to the masses.  I suppose I always have wanted to do this, I just never would have envisioned it to have been in this way.  After living in Mexico for years I developed deep connections with people in the community. I wanted to do something that was real and connected to the people of Mexico where our program is based. I didn’t want to be like other young artist programs that come for the summer, pack up, and leave. So, we set out to do service projects. To go beyond the larger cities and take our orchestra and singers to small villages and towns throughout the region.  The Maya people of Mexico are a traditionally under represented ethic group in their own country.  This is a well-known issue in Mexico. As a foreign person, I had always admired the ancient Maya for their great advances in science and math.  

I was one of many people who didn’t realize the Maya people are still the main occupants of the region. They didn’t go anywhere, they don’t live in the ruins of course, but they live down the road in a house. These people whose culture is of such historical importance, are often impoverished, looked down upon within Mexican society, and even embarrassed to speak their native language today. Consequently, the languages are endangered. I wanted to be able to give their languages and culture a voice and I thought that through our composition competition we could create art that could change this perception. I wanted to make sure that we performed these works and got them out to be performed independently from our program so the music would live beyond just our performance of it. Our motives are about being a part of the community.. These people deserve that and when the Mayan people see musicians coming from all over the world to perform and learn their language it is overwhelming for them. 


Promotional poster for Papaya Playa Project

PJ: OperaMaya has already accomplished so much. How do you see it developing in the future?

MG: OperaMaya has allowed us to bring classic music to people that wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience it and I want to continue this work. At the end of the day if we could be remembered for something I would like it to be that. The reality is that we have to finance this type of work, and how to go about this is always on my mind. I believe that combining the Yucatán region’s foremost industry of tourism with our project is what we need to do. I have been studying sustainable cultural tourism and working with the Mexican National, State and Local governments to develop the festival as an annual event generating cultural tourism. I have used festivals like the Spoleto festival in the US, and in Mexico the Cervantino festival as role models.  I want this program to grow in the way it is organically supposed to so I will be patient, and prepared to change my mind, but I would look for the festival to develop in that way next.

PJ: What do you recommend music students take advantage of before graduating from their studies? What skills do you find are crucial in being a successful professional in the arts?


 I think the most important thing you can do while still at Jacobs is to develop relationships. These relationships will be your network as you move forward.  Relationships are at the heart of everything we do. When I approach anyone, from a potential sponsor to student, I am always thinking about what their goals are. I often ask them directly, so I can help them achieve theirs while we achieve ours. You have to be able to build your community and relationships. I have people that I completely trust and together we have “made it work” in less than ideal circumstances.  Without those relationships that I had forged, OperaMaya wouldn’t be what it is. Make friendships with musicians that you care about.  Attend all the free workshops you can, use the different centers on campus like the Entrepreneurship and Career Development Center.  Absorb as much information as possible.  The Monroe County public library has a free recording studio, use it!  Go to see some of the silent films and other classics in the IU cinema.   You have an incredible amount of resources at your disposal. Don’t waste a second of it, sleep later.   

If I were to go back to school it would be to learn the business side of things. I wish I learned how to hire people and build a budget. No matter what you do in life, you still have to balance a budget.   We are trained here at IU to have the best of the best. We were able to sing on one of the largest opera stages and study with amazing faculty, but what can you accomplish with finite resources? It is important to be able to think outside the box to create music and art with limited resources. As a startup with no corporate money we didn’t have a lot of expendable funds, so when I had performing gigs in the U.S. I would piggyback that with auditions for OperaMaya. As a teacher, speaker and master class clinician I was able to combine those aspects of my life together when I traveled. Find a way to layer your skills and assets. You can no longer just go to school to train your voice (or instrument); you have to be good at that on top of other things. Most people are not just performers today. You need to be able to supplement that. Knock on a bunch of doors and see what opens. Stay flexible and receptive. When there is a closed door focus your energy elsewhere. A closed door can be just as helpful as an open door if you let it be, because it means look somewhere else!

New Grogan

Project Jumpstart partners with the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the IU Kelley School of Business.