by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
A Bach cantata is orderly and opulent, and to most ears, it bears little resemblance to pop. So it may seem odd that Deborah Evans ’91, a classical harpsichordist, owns a music-publishing company that’s heavy on hip-hop, rap and R&B.
But Evans is dedicated to pursuing her passions, wherever they lead. And she didn’t stop until she’d discovered a way to carve out an inclusive music-industry career.
Evans’ journey began in the fall of her senior year at Dickinson, where she majored in English and took piano lessons on the side.
She had begun lessons in childhood, and like all Bach junkies, she harbored a right-brain passion for beauty and a left-brain appreciation for structural complexity—a cognitive ambidexterity that served her well as a musician but made it tough to select a major in college. She loved strategizing and problem-solving, but she also loved working with people, so she considered majoring in business, law and the social sciences. And her love of the arts drew her to music and literature.
In the end, her inner bookworm won out, and she planned to teach English. “But as graduation grew nearer, I realized that my heart just wasn’t in teaching,” she says. “I just couldn’t identify what [my passion] was.”
Then one day, searching for a quiet place to practice piano, Evans discovered a harpsichord in one of the practice rooms on the third floor of the Weiss Center. For this longtime Baroque fan, it was love at first listen. Her path was suddenly clear.
Evans signed up for harpsichord lessons through the music department; soon, she was practicing for hours each day. By graduation, she had enough credits for a music minor, and with help from harpsichord instructor Amy Rosser, she went on to earn a master’s in harpsichord performance from Montclair State University. She launched a professional music career, teaching music and performing.
For many, this would be the end of the story. But while the artist in Evans was satisfied, her analytical talents remained untapped. And before long, she pined for a career that was as multifaceted as the music she performed.
Music publishing—with its blend of business, law and the arts—seemed promising. Music publishers work closely with songwriters, drawing up licenses and contracts, clearing rights for film and television, administering copyrights and collecting royalties. It’s a career that requires a grasp of the creative process and product while also tapping the business-savvy hemisphere of the brain.
Evans began in 1998 at a New York City publishing agency and freelanced for an industry veteran in rap-music clearances. Soon, the harpsichordist was working for a rap-music publishing concern. “I’ve really learned to appreciate the meditative aspect of hip-hop,” she says, likening the genre’s bass-and-drum lines to those found in compositions by Philip Glass. She went on to direct copyright and publishing operations at two New York firms.
Evans loved the legal and accounting aspects of the business. She also relished the chance to learn new things daily in the face of evolving digital-media copyright laws and industry trends, such as the growing influences of YouTube, social media and television commercials. Her true advantage was in client relations, however. “I like to help songwriters navigate the laws,” she says. “I think being a musician helps me, because I do understand music, and I can truly appreciate what the songwriters are doing.”
Still, the commute to Brooklyn from her New Jersey home wasn’t ideal, particularly after Evans and husband Joseph Furnari, a theatre director, had daughter Gianna in 2007. So Evans took another leap of faith and established Della Publishing. Most of her clients work in hip-hop and R&B, though she also represents Broadway, jazz and country artists, including Faith Hill.
Today, Evans works out of her home in New Orleans, and she and Furnari enjoy being part of that thriving arts community. The business, named for Evans’ great-grandmother, continues to grow and establishes Evans as one of the industry’s few female leaders. She named a sub-company, Cady, after a distant relative, suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Occasionally, Evans makes time for harpsichord recitals. “There’s a lot of music in the house, and my five-year-old sings constantly,” she says with pride.
When the time comes for that five-year-old to choose a path, Evans will encourage Gianna to dream. “I’ve always been one to follow my heart. The goal was not to get a job—it was to pursue what I loved,” she says. “I’m thankful every day that I’m able to stay in the field of music and love what I do, and I want Gianna to know that she can follow her dream too.”
Published September 8, 2013