Sellen ’80 is longtime Cleveland Orchestra editor
Imagine a job at the nexus of the fine arts—a job that requires you to report, write, design, and produce works on one of the best orchestras in the world. For Eric Sellen ʼ80, he lives it.
Sellen is the managing editor in the marketing, communications, and audience engagement department of the Cleveland Orchestra. As the orchestra’s program book editor, he writes about the institution itself, the individual concerts, and the music. Sellen celebrated his 25th year as the program book editor, the same year that the orchestra celebrated its Centennial, during the 2017–18 season. (See the June 2019 Cleveland Plain Dealer article on Sellen.)
It’s Sellen’s job to manage the program books for audience members—from the conception stage to the design to the copy and finally the production of the programs, which provide a lot more than just what’s on that evening’s playlist.
Just as orchestras today are working hard to reach out and try new things, Sellen says he’s steered the book toward a more friendly, conversational approach.
“Even grammar can—and should—be a lot less fussy and formal these days,” he says. “Program notes about the musical pieces do not have to be a boring walk-through of the music. There are always stories to tell that relate the composer or the subject to today—to modern lives, politics, emotions, and adventures.”
Sellen attended Cornell at a pivotal moment in Cornell’s history. During his first two years, Cornell’s curriculum was taught under a traditional semester schedule and during his final two years, he studied under One Course At A Time. Sellen studied theatre, speech, and music and fondly remembers English professors Rich Martin and Stephen Lacey ’65.
“The value of One Course At A Time is the ability it gives you to focus and concentrate, to really dig deeply without much distraction,” Sellen says. “Of course, life and work in a career come at you in different modes, but focusing closely is part of what any of us must do. Concentrate and don’t lose the focus of your attention.”
After Cornell Sellen went on to graduate work in arts administration, earning his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. He has worked for the Cleveland Orchestra over two long stretches, once in Cleveland, and again for the past dozen years—mostly in Phoenix but also for three years in Brighton, England. The moves were for jobs for his husband, Ron Seidman.
“In some cases, I found a new job in the next town, but it’s certainly been simple to also take the Cleveland Orchestra with me, as it were,” Sellen says. “It’s worked well and seamlessly—and our two Jack Russell terriers have been very happy to have me home most days. The mental breaks of taking them for long walks has also served as one of my best and most consistent times for thinking about issues, challenges, and solutions for work.”