Saturday, October 18, 2008

Re: Becoming a Conductor

When I first considered making the leap from being a percussionist to a conductor, I had many false impressions about how the conducting profession truly worked, even after having spent close to 12 years playing with pro orchestras and being around professional conductors since my student days in Youth Orchestras, starting in 1977 with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra.

I understood that conductors must spend quite of bit of time studying, and this has proven quite true, since being able to listen with great intensity in rehearsal and concert requires an extremely precise and intimate knowledge of a score, with it's infinite details. You do this while moving through space, doing your best to embody the character of the music while giving information that helps instrumentalists and singers do their jobs. There is a universe of work just in this bit alone!

But where the real effort comes is in the administrative work. For years many conductors told me they loved making music, but that the administrative load was so heavy, and I always thought - huh? I just figured they must not like doing the little bit they must do. Little did I know that they were right!

So what does "administrative work" mean for a conductor? I truly didn't understand because no one ever really took the time to explain it to me.


As an example of what this means, here are a few things I have done this week to make conducting possible in collaboration with colleagues, and please forgive the volume - but I hope to show what a typical week looks like for a conductor!

For the Colonial Symphony, where I am the Music Director and Conductor
- I worked on production elements for our concert at the Community Theatre on October 23rd, from the amount of stage space needed for dancers in front of our orchestra, to set-up diagrams with every chair and stand accounted for, to coordinating this with our production manager and the Community Theatre's production director including sound needs at the concert, signs for backstage use directing people to proper locations, to making arrival arrangements for the dancers, to giving timings for each piece so that the stage crew can appropriately plan their work, to working on the specific type of floor needed in front of the orchestra for the dancers, to coordinating when the CS's production manager will pick up music from our music preparation person, who had already sent out practice parts to musicians. (NB - we use performance parts at the concert itself).
- I have been in touch with Local 16 this week, the musician's union, to make arrangements to make a video of myself conducting the orchestra to be used for grant purposes, and also for Kevin Coughlin of the Star Ledger to make a video of the rehearsal and performance for a 90 second video article. This requires emails, conversations with both the union and the musician's committee representative, and a letter to the union from both me and from Kevin Coughlin about the express use of the video material.
- I have been consulting this week with my orchestra contractor on a variety of musician issues, from changes in personnel for upcoming concerts to those who are new who must join the union to participate. We deal with issues daily.
- I developed and wrote a narrative about the Colonial Symphony that encapsulates what we do. After doing this I sent it to Suzanne, the executive director of the CS, and to John Hynes of Korn Hynes who does much of our marketing work. Once they finish putting their input into this document, we will distribute to both reporters and audience members.
- I developed and wrote a narrative about our Listening is Healing program, a therapeutic use of music project in collaboration with the the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center, the NJ Youth Symphony, and Montclair State University. In addition, I compiled a list of testimonials and a list of medical studies supporting the qualitative side of the work, the latter coming from recommendations by Dr. Joke Bradt and Dr. Brian Abrams. This also went to Suzanne and John.
- I worked with the NJYS to determine student musicians to be involved in the Listening is Healing program, put the program in motion with MSU students who I had already recruited along with our pro musicians, and set a rehearsal schedule in coordination with Leah Oswanski at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center.
- I am preparing the payroll for submission for the Listening is Healing program - there are four rehearsals involving 8 people this month, and I submit this to Suzanne for processing.
- I met with Kevin Couglin of the Star Ledger earlier this week to do a promotional video about conducting and dance, and coordinated with Deirdre Shea and Noelle Zielenbach of the Shea Jennings Irish Dance Troup for this project. I also met with Deirdre and Noelle to work out artistic details for the upcoming concert.
- I personally delivered promotional materials to my colleagues at Frelinghuysen Middle School, Randoph High School, and the New Jersey Youth Symphony in an effort to develop audience.
- I made phone calls to a prospective leaders for the Evening of Note, which is being coordinated out of the CS office.
- I am finalizing budgets and artistic plans for next season - budgets go hand in hand with what pieces one plans to perform. This is for an artistic committee meeting in October. I am also trying to recruit a musician from the orchestra to be involved beyond myself, our executive director, and members of the board.
- I spoke to Mike Tschappit of the Daily Record for an article that appeared yesterday.
- I went to my MSU library to find music to the Star Spangled Banner for the upcoming concert and delivered those materials to our production manager, after holding a meeting with her.
- I spent time working on the details for my pre-concert talk for next week's concert, as well as broad ideas on what I want to say before each piece so that I include people who don't have a lot of experience with Classical music, as well as words that will prove enlightening for people who have had tremendous exposure to this great music.
- I completed the program page for our upcoming program and wrote two program notes that will appear in the next program.
- I redid my bio for the program
- I attended a board meeting.
- And yes, I studied music - I plan to do the Firebird, Three Cornered Hat, and Capriccio Espagnol from memory!

For my work at Montclair State University as the Director of Orchestral Studies
- I met with the concert committee to work out scheduling of all major concerts for 2008-9, and also begin to do some preliminary visioning on the schedule of events for the opening of the new building.
- I worked on resolving some lingering scholarship issues as part of my duties managing the scholarship database.
- I led two students on recruiting visits - coordinating their schedules for their visits, and will lead a large group visiting tomorrow on campus. I also worked on visits by other students in upcoming weeks.
- I sent out recruiting information for the Orchestrafest I host every Spring, involving over 300 high school students and performances by faculty
- I put together the schedule for a visit by Arts High School on November 17th - from space reservation coordination to student and faculty ensembles that will participate.
- I coordinated with the Dean's office on bus scheduling to bring the Arts High Women's Chorus to MSU for a concert the last week of October.
- I worked on programs for next season - choosing repertoire that makes sense both as a concert experience and also pieces that fit into a pedagogical cycle of composers that I believe are important as an educational tool.
- I taught a free conducting lesson to a prospective Masters conducting student
- I met with 5 students individually to consult on future plans.
- I wrote four recommendations for students participating in competitions.
- I wrote two graduate recommendations for students, and filled out online applications for 4 schools.
- I worked on wind/brass/percussion assignments for the next concert period as well as string seating order.
- I contacted music publishers to both confirm music delivery schedules for rental music that is coming next week, as well as working to resolve a billing issue.
- I completed the web posting for the Masters in Conducting degree, which will tell potential students the audition requirements and schedule in the Spring.
- I finalized the program details for my upcoming concert in coordination with our concert manager.
- I set a meeting with the Associate and Assistant Conductors of the musical Crazy for You that I will be conducting in November - we need to meet to cover beat patterns and solidify the musical approach.
- And yes, I studied scores for the upcoming concert as well as the next concert period, which begins after November 2nd.
- This past Saturday I conducted at the Kaleidoscope concert, which I had helped to organize focusing primarily on logistics, which I then helped to execute at the concert itself.

For guest conducting work:
- I have been in touch with a presenter about bringing a contemporary opera to the stage with a contemporary music ensemble with whom I am involved.
- I have been working with the Westchester All-State Orchestra organizers to set a schedule during this event that happens November 12-13, as well as to firm up small details regarding instrument assignments.

For philanthropic work:
I met with a committee of the Arts Council of Morris Area to discuss recruitment of conversationalists for a fundraising event on March 26th. After I made calls to several artists working to engage them for this date in support of the amazing work the Arts Council does. I do this as a board member of this organization.

This is all in addition to the elementary conducting class I teach, the orchestra rehearsals I've held at MSU for both the Symphony and Pit Orchestra, and the two conducting lessons I teach, and of course, preparation time for each, never mind the hundreds of emails sent and received.

I also managed to spend precious time with my family, whom I love so very much.

I realize that this is an extensive laundry list, but I think it sheds light on the extra musical activities that a conductor must do - the "administrative work!" It requires tremendous organizational skills to get everything done, and this is something I am constantly working on - developing ways to be more efficient. What I can say is that when I finally get to make music, it is an experience that I try to truly cherish each time, since it is at the heart of what I love to do. But I also have come to realize that there are so many other things conductors do every day!

I hope you will find this illuminating about what a conductor's work life looks like in a typical week!


lisatheisa said...

Thanks for mentioning this blog before the performance tonight, great stuff here. Amazing behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to be a successful conductor these days! Didn't realize until now that you were conducting 3 of the pieces tonight from memory; 'twas magnifique!

Lisa mcs

Paul Hostetter said...
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