Student-centered, informed but not bound by the traditions of the past, focused on preparing our students for the musical world that they will live in rather than the world from which we came, I am committed to a stewardship model of service to others and value above all the human dignity and worth of each of my students and colleagues. As a mentor, I meet students where they are, look for the strengths that they bring, and build on those strengths as we work together to develop the musical skills that will serve them well in their post-collegiate lives. Clear expectations, carefully scaffolded instruction, and structured support for both peer learning and individual growth typify the learning environments that I seek to create. I work to promote a culture of critical thinking in music and rely on a performance aesthetic that favors the intimacy of chamber playing within the larger forces of a symphony orchestra.
The following principles guide my daily practice as a conductor and teacher:
Music unites us and teaches us the value of human dignity and worth across cultures. When we explore the context that informs a given work and seek to understand its underlying themes and complexities, we form a larger perspective on humanity through music and our role within a connected world. In this sense, music makes us better people – we develop a greater understanding of the human condition and expand our capacity for empathy as we grapple with the content and context of musical works.
Though I bring a clear and informed point of view to my conducting, I am convinced that we speak best when we speak together. Creative performance begins within each member of the ensemble and combines synergistically into a meaningful expression of our common goals. I hold myself to the highest standards of preparation and performance in rehearsal and in concert and seek to inspire the same in those with whom I share the stage. My greatest aspiration as a conductor and teacher is to foster an environment in which musicians feel empowered to know the music in all its dimensions, are willing to take risks, and share the highest expectations for personal preparation and mutual commitment from themselves and from me. I lead the orchestra – I don’t command it.
In leading a university orchestra program, three priorities stand out:
1) Strengthening the core
2) Engaging the community
3) Anticipating the future
Strengthening the core. Our first duty is to the students who study in our programs. My vision of an enriching, engaging, and enabling university orchestra is one that symbiotically functions as a practical lab in which to exercise the skills being learned in the studio and in the classroom, and as a catalyst for high artistic expression. Close collaboration with studio instructors and other ensemble directors forms one critical pillar, and so does active engagement with musical areas such as theory and musicology, education, business, composition, etc. Our students have the right to make music and to experience the energizing thrill of exquisite performance. Our job is to create the conditions through our pedagogy and care that allow for that to happen.
Engaging the community. The health of the university orchestra is nourished by a constant stream of incoming students. Successful recruiting and promotion at local, national, and international levels in many ways rests on our success with the first objective (strengthening the core). I am an active recruiter by being a willing partner for orchestra programs and hope to be seen as more of a “work horse” than a “show horse.” I work with our Admissions Office and with Institutional Advancement (donor development) officers on a regular basis and engage with educational outreach personnel at other arts organizations. And I embrace the notion that our place in the world is rooted in the Americas and actively engage with both academic and professional partners in our hemisphere.
Anticipating the future. I believe in an orchestra that is informed by tradition, but that understands that the very nature of tradition is constant change. Tradition is a dynamic state of being, not static, and manifests in an understanding of why things are rather than what they are or worse, simply (and rather unimaginatively) what they have been. I firmly believe that our job is to prepare our students for the dynamic and evolving professional landscapes that they will inevitably navigate over the next half century. And given the trends of the last 20 – 30 years, this means preparing students to think critically, to act as entrepreneurs, to readily adapt to new conditions and technologies, and to joyously embrace a rapidly evolving, highly interconnected world. We do best when we model what it means to be a life-long learner, eagerly engaged with current trends and values, nimble in our thinking, and willing to adapt.
As I reflect on these objectives in the context of a philosophical framework of teaching, I would like to offer one final thought: Music allows us to say what cannot otherwise be said. We make music together in the hope that we will find deeper meaning in our daily lives and with the assurance of finding joy in our shared humanity. Good people make great music. I am certain that in the hierarchy of talents that govern our musical being, the quality of our humanity comes first.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.