Get to know one of our guest conductors for the 2019-2020 Season
How and/or at what age did you get started in music? I began my journey in music as a sixth-grade trumpet player in the school band at Lincoln Elementary school in Huntington, West Virginia. I was 12 years old. The band director came to visit my class and I was astonished that he could make the trumpet sound like a whinnying horse! From that day forward, I put my tap-dancing career on permanent hold and followed my heart! I quickly joined the county youth orchestra and discovered my passion for orchestral music.
Are you from a musical family? Sort of. My three older brothers were in the school band before me. My father still likes to tell the story that his oldest son played the saxophone, the next one played the guitar, the third one played the drums, his youngest played the trumpet….and he played the radio! While my brothers grew into other interests, I never outgrew music. My parents were incredibly supportive of my love for music and my desire to work in the field.
What led you to realize you wanted to be a conductor? I was fortunate to be blessed with great conducting role models throughout my academic years. From junior high through college, these men served as mentors and guides who gave me more opportunities to be in front of ensembles than I ever deserved. My collegiate conducting professor, Dr. Paul Balshaw, was the first to encourage me to enter international conducting competitions. In fact, when I resisted the idea, he went beyond encouraging. He completed an entry application, filmed my rehearsals and concerts, and enrolled me in the International Conductor’s Workshop and Competition at Mercer University, all without my knowledge. You can imagine my surprise when I received a letter congratulating me on my acceptance into a competition which I had not entered! It was at this competition, that I was introduced to the method of Ilya Musin of the Leningrad Conservatory. While I knew that I wanted to be a conductor from those first days in junior high school band, this experience profoundly affected me. Sadly, while I was in Georgia experiencing my first taste of conducting on the international stage, Dr. Balshaw passed away. I will always have incredible gratitude in my heart to this great man of music.
What do you enjoy most about conducting? This is difficult to answer, for there are so many things I enjoy about conducting. The opportunity to stand between the great composers of the past (and present) and the musicians who make their music is an intense honor which I do not deserve. Conducting (which is communicating) is to me a chance to commune with Beethoven or Brahms, or Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich and to hear them speak through me to the musicians, and, consequently, to the listener, reminding us that they are still here among us in the lingering notes and phrases. Working collaboratively with the orchestra to recreate the work of greater men and women than myself gives me great joy.
What would you most like to accomplish with the Butler Philharmonic if you were to get this position full-time? I have great respect for what Maestro Stanbery has developed over his years with the BPO. He is an incredible musician and leader and I would certainly want to see his legacy continue. The evolution of the orchestra under his leadership has been wonderful. The creation of the Symphony Chorus and Youth Orchestras were important milestones in the BPO’s history.
In my own tenure with the BPO, I would like to see this upward growth continue through providing quality, affordable music in the listening community. The BPO, like any arts organization, must find ways to be sustainable. I want to reach out through exciting classical and pops programming to build an audience, not only for today, but for tomorrow, as well. I believe that, in addition to providing quality classical and pops programs, educational programming is a key element. I would intend to accomplish growth in this realm, taking the BPO to the community and instilling the same passion I found as a sixth-grader in the students of the area schools.
I intend to set reasonable and accomplishable goals that, at the appropriate time, will allow the BPO to be an endowed orchestra with a permanent performance home; a home to which we will bring stellar and engaging guest artists. Connected to this goal would be my desire to see the orchestra record and tour. The Charleston Chamber Orchestra, which I conduct in West Virginia, recently performed in Carnegie Hall (NYC) and at the Kennedy Center (D.C.) and I was able to secure funding for those tours in the WV community. I am currently in the fundraising phase of a tour for the CCO in Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague, wherein the orchestra will perform at the Musikverein as part of a Beethoven 250 celebration. The CCO recently brought Michael Riskin, Russian-born Israeli tenor to Charleston for an educational, enlightening, and fun program of Russian tangos which was run-out to area schools. Funding was secured for this event through a Humanities Council grant. All of these things require funding and the music director can be a driving force in securing such avenues for growth.
Finally, I want to accomplish the feat of becoming a member of the BPO’s musical family. In my interactions with member of the Board and musicians thus far, I believe the BPO to be a musical family dedicated to one another through great music and that together we can soar to new heights!
What advice would you give a student who wanted to become a conductor? I am fortunate to have continued the legacy of the teachers I mentioned earlier with a career in public and higher education spanning thirty-three years. Over much of that time, I have taught a steady stream of young conductors. While we work diligently on technique and communicative gesture, a conductor is so much more than technique alone. I encourage young people with a desire for conducting to work hard, to know the importance of music history, theory, and performance practice, to know the power of their words and gestures, and to have a driving desire to work with those around them in a collaborative sense of artistry. Most importantly, I encourage them that, while a conductor may be the boss in rehearsal and performance, true conducting is not a top-down proposition. Great conductors know and remember that the instrument they play is comprised of men and women who stand head and shoulders above their peers. They have chosen to follow the same music-making path which the conductor chose. Stand before them, and before the composer, with knowledge and work ethic, but, most importantly, with humility and the understanding that to make music is a privilege not afforded to all.
What value do you think music education serves in public schools? It is absolutely impossible to place a value upon music in the public schools. History informs us that all of the great societies and republics of the world valued music as an integral and indispensable part of the fabric of education. The ancient Greeks considered it as one of the seven Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Romans believed it to be the muses of the Gods. Music programs and ensembles in the public schools provide knowledge and appreciation for culture to young people. Considering the challenges students face in modern society, challenges which many in my generation can only imagine, the school orchestra, band, or choir may be the only semblance of family available to some. These ensembles provide a sense of stability in an ever-changing world and, at the same time, develop work ethic, teamwork skills, goal-setting skills, and the ability to understand what is necessary to reach the goals which have been set. In short, music in the schools fosters cultural, educational, and civic growth.
Having spent many years teaching on all levels, I often hear and see the value of school music programs defended by attaching them to STEM-related subjects. For example, music students do better on standardized mathematics tests than their non-musical counterparts. While this is true, we must resist the urge to prove music’s worth by connecting it to other subjects. We, as musicians and educators, must make the good fight for music for its own sake, as an equal player in the game, having a seat at the table with its STEM counterparts, rather than because of them! Remember, today’s work will create tomorrow’s audience.
If you could have 1 super power, what would it be & why? From a realistic standpoint, I would like to have whichever super power will allow me to keep up with my ten-year-old son! He is a dynamo! However, I don’t think there is enough super power for that. So, I am going to go with time travel. I love to study history and the ability to travel through time would allow me to have first-hand perspective on historical events which influenced the development of the world, both musically and non-musically. To have a beer in an alehouse with Beethoven would be awesome; to discuss military strategy with Marcus Aurelius or philosophy with Plato, or to have a catch with Mickey Mantle would be amazing. (But only if the past has air-conditioning!)
What color is conducting to you and why? This is a great question, but impossible to answer for me! Conducting is making music and to me, music is ALL the colors. It is the blue of love, the purple of tranquility, the red of anger, the white of purity, the black of despair, and all the colors in between. Just as the visual artist cannot be limited, we as musicians must paint our musical pictures with a pallet consisting of all the colors of the spectrum. So, conducting is whatever color is necessary at any given moment to express the affectations of the soul. For example, Beethoven can cross the entire rainbow within three bars of the Allegro con bio of Symphony No. 5!
If you could meet your favorite composer, whether currently living or not, and work with them to conduct your favorite composition of theirs, who would it be and which composition? This is another amazing question. You are really making me think. Normally, when someone asks me who my favorite composer might be, I answer that my favorite composer is whoever’s music I am currently studying/performing. And, I really mean that. I immerse myself in whatever and whoever I am conducting at the moment. But, that answer won’t do here. Even so, when I choose one composer, I am going to feel all the others staring down at me across the great divide!
Nevertheless, I am going to choose Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky and the 5th Symphony! One of my greatest memories is conducting that work with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in competition in St. Petersburg. It was overwhelming to realize that I was conducting Tchaikovsky’s music on HIS podium, with HIS orchestra. The symphony is full of Tchaikovsky’s angst, but it travels from despair, through longing, through delight, to finally arrive at triumph. Perhaps if I could meet Tchaikovsky and stroll along the Nevsky Prospekt and sit on the Embankment with him, I might feel more of the pathos he felt in living when he did and in writing this great work!