February 22, 2013
Maryland songbird Francis Scott Key called America “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
But if Mr. Key were alive today, he may have added a line about “opportunity.” Entrepreneurship is alive and well, especially in Baltimore.
In fact, Forbes Magazine recently named Baltimore the number-two city in the country for high-tech jobs—second only to Seattle!
A Short, Sweet History of Baltimore’s Greatest Entrepreneurs
Charles Street has been host to many entrepreneurial minds. George Peabody started a hugely successful investment bank. He traded securities owned by the Eastern Railroad and then spent the rest of his life giving away his enormous wealth. Today, his Peabody Institute, located at 1 East Mount Vernon Place, prepares thousands of students to become professional musicians and dancers.
|The George Peabody Library, Courtesy JHU|
Enoch Pratt came to Baltimore with just $150 in his pocket. He eventually became one of the country’s richest men, founding the E. Pratt & Brothers Iron Commission Merchants right here on Charles Street. His $1 million gift to Baltimore to create a free library system ensured his lasting fame.
William Thompson Walters and his son, Henry made their fortunes managing railroads in Baltimore. The Walters family moved to Paris at the start of the Civil War and started collecting European Art – 22,000 pieces, to be exact! The Walters Art Museum, located at 600 N. Charles Street, opened its doors “for the benefit of the public” and is known the world over for its beautiful collections.
Today, you can walk down Charles Street and see the results of Mr. Peabody’s, Mr. Pratt’s and the Walters’ success.
But I often wonder about the quiet, everyday struggles these men faced in order to achieve so much. Did they sit at their kitchen tables at night, while their families were in bed, thinking up their next big idea?
There are hundreds of men and women on Charles Street refining and perfecting their business ideas today. I have a feeling these are the businesses that our grandchildren will remember – the ones that will be around 100 years from now.
After all, those entrepreneurs who are tenacious, flexible, and can anticipate trends are the ones who will stay ahead.
Meet Henry Wong.
|Photo Brian V. Jones courtesy Baltimorejazz.com|
Henry founded the music venue on Charles Street known as An Die Musik Live. Since opening in 2003, he and his staff of Sean Johnson and George “Doc” Manning have hosted over 1,500 performances – some years, nearly one concert every night!
But An Die Musik didn’t start out as a performance venue, and curiously enough, Henry didn’t begin his career as a music patron.
Henry was born in Hong Kong in the 1960s. His father designed oil tankers and his mother sang opera. When he was 15, Henry moved to Minnesota to attend prep school. You could say he was driven: Henry completed high school in just one year, then enrolled at Penn State to study medicine.
Henry moved to Baltimore in the early 1980s for a medical internship at Johns Hopkins. But a membership to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra changed everything.
”I went to a lot of concerts and developed my knowledge of the music,” he told Baltimore Magazine. “I got encyclopedia books, and I read a lot about it. I also bought a lot of records, and I found that my gravitation toward music was stronger than the pull of medical research.”
So he and George “Doc” Manning decided to open a record store. Back then, Tower Records was king. Henry followed their recipe and stocked all the popular artists on his shelves, but he made a point to showcase jazz and classical music as well.
“Music is part of a healthy lifestyle,” Henry says. “It’s as important as exercise. It cures the mind and the soul – after you listen to a performance, you feel differently. Better. And you don’t have to take a pill, either!”
Henry named the store An Die Musik – a phrase coined by German composer Franz Schubert that means ‘to the music.’
Surprisingly, Henry’s family was supportive of his new venture – they even gave him startup funds. Perhaps they noticed his entrepreneurial spirit.
Henry added innovations to his music store. He set up listening stations for his 25,000 titles. And he reduced waste by recycling the cardboard packaging that came with CDs. Soon, he opened a second location in Ellicott City.
But commercial success would prove fleeting. The mid-1990s witnessed the rise of ‘Big Box’ stores, like Borders and Best Buy. These giant retailers rolled into town, built warehouses for their merchandise and offered steep discounts. Mom-and-Pop music stores –no matter how successful they were– didn’t stand a chance. Within 5 years, An Die Musik’s luck had run out.
In 1996, Henry moved his suburban music store onto Charles Street. He refined his business model and limited his selection to a super-niche audience: jazz and classical music enthusiasts. He also sold music at BSO concerts. “I was always happy selling music the other shops didn’t seem to want,” he says. “And if I didn’t do it, who would?”
But in the early 2000s, CDs became eclipsed by mp3s and digital downloads. And with that, an 800-pound Gorilla had entered the room: iTunes.
“Fifty percent of income [at An die Musik] used to be from CD sales,” Henry told The Baltimore Sun. “Now it’s fifteen percent… Older people don’t buy CDs, and younger people download. I can’t even exchange CDs for shrimp fried rice at my favorite Chinese restaurant.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Henry had a new idea.
“In 2004, I decided not to just sell CDs, but to promote the people who make the CDs,” Henry said. So he converted the second floor of his CD shop into a performance space. He built a stage, bought a piano and began welcoming classical, folk and jazz performers.
|Image courtesy Citypaper|
An Die Musik Live, Henry’s current incarnation, has lasted for the past eight years.
“A lot can be said for pure survivability!” laughed Henry.
What Henry has done is create a house of music – literally. His venue at 409 N. Charles Street welcomes performers from all around the world. An Die Musik is not commercial or corporate in any sense. “Instead,” Henry says with a twinkle in his eye, “We are a corporation of people. A community.”
On any given night, you can listen to folk music, watch a silent movie, or hear a worldbeat singer. “Just like in school, you study history, math and literature to receive a ‘complete’ education, I try to do the same for our listeners – make them well rounded,” he adds.
All of the proceeds from ticket sales go to support An Die Musik’s programming. But Henry wasn’t satisfied just at that. In 2009, he created a nonprofit called MusikNOW that brings classical musicians into Baltimore schools. He often partners with UB, the Engineers Club, the Basilica and the Peabody for his performances, and has become a beloved fixture in Baltimore’s music scene. An Die Musik has earned top honors as a jazz venue from both Baltimore Magazine and Citypaper.
“I can honestly say that I work with people who love what they’re doing,” Henry says. “Music is not about things that money can buy. It’s IN you. My staff and I host so many performances because we believe in the goodness of doing it. And we want to empower other people to feel the same. Music makes culture and heritage survive. It’s important to a city.”
What’s Happening at An Die Musik This Weekend
|The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble|
To celebrate Black History Month, on Friday, February 22, An Die Musik is welcoming back the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – for their ninth annual performance!
The Chicago-based trio use African percussion instruments plus the American genre of jazz to create a truly remarkable listening experience.
Kahil El’Zabar will be on the drums, voice and kalimba; Ernest Khabeer Dawkins, reeds; and Corey Wilkes, trumpet.
Showtimes are 8 pm and 9:30 pm and tickets are just $15. You can purchase them online through InstantSeats or by calling 410-385-2638. An Die Musik is located at 409 N. Charles Street. Website: http://andiemusiklive.com
Here’s to another eight years on Charles Street, Henry! Entrepreneurs like you truly are our city’s future.
Fun Things Happening on Charles Street This Weekend
On Friday, February 22 at 8pm, the SONAR New Music Ensemble plays at Old St. Paul’s Church! They’ll feature works inspired by songs and stories throughout history from ancient to slightly more modern times., Free. 233 N. Charles Street. Call 410-685-3404 for more details.
Also on Friday, Free live music is back at Homeslyce Pizza Bar! Check out Adryelle on Friday and Jacob Panic on Saturday. Homeslyce is located at 336 North Charles Street. Website: http://www.slycethebar.com/
|Persian Chain Mail at Beadazzled|
On Saturday, February 23, check out the African American Family Festival at the Walters Art Museum! Bring the kids and explore the rhythm, harmony and movement of Africa! Travel with us across the continent in search of mystical masks, jangling jewelry and colorful costumes. Create many musical instruments and come together as a community orchestra! 10 am-4 pm. Free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles Street. Call 410-547-9000 for details. http://thewalters.org
On Sunday, February 24: learn to Make Persian Chain Mail at Beadazzled! From 2 pm-5 pm. This advanced class offers techniques in single-strand chains and one pattern of flat sheet links. Single strand chains lend themselves to charm and bangle bracelets while the flat sheet connections ca be used for boxes, baskets, and bags. The flat sheet looks like no other type of chainmail and can be used for 3-D objects. The class is $35 plus the cost of materials. To register, call 410-837-2323. Beadazzled is located at 501 N. Charles Street. http://www.beadazzled.net
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Until next time,