2012 was the year of the wind conducting workshop for me.  I went to 5 of them all over the country.  Each was unique in some way, but every one of them introduced me to some wonderful professionals and made me a stronger conductor.  Every one was worth the time, effort, and money required to attend, not to mention the raw emotion and true soul-searching that often come with the experience.  These things are never easy: no matter how much of a glittering past you have, conducting a group you’ve never worked with while big names in your field pick you apart sounds like the stuff of nightmares.  But the payoff outweighs the pain tenfold.  Bottom line, if you have the opportunity to go to any conducting symposium anywhere, do not hesitate: Go!

1. BALL STATE

My first stop was Ball State University, where the band program is run by Thomas Caneva and Shaun Vondran.  They had Craig Kirchhoff from the University of Minnesota in as the clinician, who worked with every conductor twice.  Immediately after your own session, you watched your video with Dr. Vondran, who provided more comments and insights.  This one was over a weekend in February, with the Ball State bands in residence.  A key part of the weekend was a rehearsal and performance of those bands, featuring Dr. Kirchhoff as guest conductor.  A great bonus was the presence that weekend of the composer Steven Bryant, who is currently making big waves with his music for band and electronics.  Repertoire-wise, participants could choose from:

Holst – Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo
Turina/Reed – La Procession du Rocio
Strauss – Serenade in E flat, Op. 7
Whitacre – October
Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre”
Jacob – Old Wine in New Bottles
Schuman – Chester
Bernstein – Overture to “Candide”
Grainger – Ye Banks & Braes o’ Bonnie Doon
Schuman – George Washington Bridge

2. COLORADO

Things really ramped up in the summer, when I resumed my adventures at the CBDNA symposium at the University of Colorado Boulder.  This was a 5-day symposium at which everyone got to conduct members of the CU bands 4 times.  Allan McMurray was the host, along with the rest of his conducting staff, and Gary Hill from Arizona State University came in as the guest clinician.  One of the great features of this workshop was McMurray’s insistence that we study and conduct Copland’s Appalachian Spring in its original 14-instrument form, which includes a double string quartet and bass.  We divided it up so each conductor that day got one part of the piece (I got the prayer at the very end, after the famous variations) allowing both conductors and players to experience the whole thing.  Also wonderful about this was the participation of Gary Lewis, CU Boulder’s orchestra director.  He tagged in for everyone’s conducting session that day, adding to what the other clinicians had to say.  Like at Ball State, there was an opportunity after each session to watch your video and get additional feedback, this time from CU Assistant Director Matthew Roeder.  Beyond the musical experience, the environment was stunning: the Rocky Mountains were omnipresent, and the city of Boulder was an excellent and fun place to spend our (limited) free time.  It was all capped by a trip up into the mountains in which we had time to reflect, bond, and receive further wisdom from the clinicians.  As for the repertoire:

FULL ENSEMBLE (2 or 3 Pieces)
Bernstein – Overture to Candide
Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy or Irish Tune from County Derry
Holst – First Suite or Second Suite
Milhaud: Suite Francaise
Ticheli: Rest or Cajun Folk Songs II
Whitacre: Noisy Wheels of Joy

CHAMBER ENSEMBLE (1 or 2 Pieces)

Beethoven: Octet
Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite
Gounod: Petite Symphonie
Mozart: Serenade in C minor, K 388

3. NORTHWESTERN

My next stop was Northwestern, where Mallory Thompson led a 6-day symposium with her excellent staff, band, and graduate students.  The guest clinician was the legendary H. Robert Reynolds.  He and Dr. Thompson had a wonderful rapport that helped to set an overwhelmingly positive, constructive tone for the otherwise very challenging week.  The band was filled out with the conductors and auditors (this was by far the biggest symposium I went to), so when I was not conducting, I was part of an amazing, 15-person trumpet section.  Somehow, it all balanced out.  There was also a day of chamber music, featuring the Northwestern players exclusively.  One of the unique activities at this symposium was the small group conducting sessions in the morning.  Both conductors and auditors got to conduct our peers in groups of about 15 using reduced versions of standard rep.  The clinicians (Thompson and Reynolds plus Northwestern’s Dr. Tim Robblee) rotated every day to a different group.  This essentially doubled the contact time with each clinician.  The graduate students organized outings to one of Evanston’s many fine establishments every night, so it was possible (though not necessarily advisable) to both work hard and play hard while there.  An unforgettable experience.  Lots of rep here:

FULL ENSEMBLE
Arnold/Paynter – Four Scottish Dances
Bernstein/Grundman – Candide Suite (all movements)
Copland/Patterson – Down A Country Lane
Daehn – As Summer Was Just Beginning
Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy (mvts. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)
Grantham – Spangled Heavens
Holst/ed. Matthews – First Suite in E-flat
Shostakovich/Hunsberger – Festive Overture
Strauss/arr. Davis – Allerseelen
Stuart – II.“Ayre for Eventide” from Three Ayres from Gloucester
Ticheli – Nitro
Vinson – Echoes of the Hollow Square (all movements)
Whitacre – Lux Aurumque

CHAMBER
Gounod – Petite symphonie
Jacob – Old Wine in New Bottles
Mozart – Serenade No. 11 in E-flat, K.375
Strauss – Serenade in Eb, Op.7
Stravinsky – Octet, Mvt. 1

4. TEMPLE

Immediately on the heels of the long-established Northwestern symposium, I attended the first-ever wind conducting symposium at Temple University, hosted by Dr. Emily Threinen with Michael Haithcock visiting from the University of Michigan.  This was another playing-in-the-band symposium, with a handful of Temple students helping out.  Over 4 days, each conductor got to conduct every day.  There was also a chamber music track, in which 4 conductors (I was not so lucky, unfortunately) spent their mornings rehearsing a chamber group in preparation for a concert at week’s end and getting additional feedback from the clinicians.  During that time, the rest of us had some very valuable morning sessions on topics ranging from free movement to conducting recitative.  This was a nicely varied week that will certainly show up bigger on the radar every year. The repertoire:

Arnold/Paynter – Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo
Chance – Variations on a Korean Folk Song
Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre”
Erickson – Air for Band
Grainger – Irish Tune from County Derry and Lincolnshire Posy
Holst – First Suite in E-flat
Ives – Variations on “America”
Milhaud – Suite Francaise
Persichetti – Psalm for Band
Schuman – Chester
Stuart – Three Ayres from Gloucester
Ticheli – Sun Dance
Whitacre – Sleep
Vaughan Williams – English Folk Song Suite

5. COLUMBUS STATE

After a break at the beginning of the school year, I flew down to Georgia for the Columbus State symposium over a weekend in November.  I also went in 2011, and liked it enough to go back again.  In addition to Columbus’s own Jamie Nix, I also got to work with Steve Davis from UMKC and to have another session with Mallory Thompson.  Like Ball State, this symposium involved a concert of the home band featuring the clinicians as guest conductors.  There was also an open rehearsal beforehand.  In a hall where there is seating above and behind the stage, both of these were extremely valuable for a conductor.  Then, in less than 24 hours, each conductor had 3 sessions, including two with large bands and one with a chamber group.  It was a lot of activity packed into a very short period, and well worth the trip.  And it had some fantastic repertoire to choose from:

WIND ORCHESTRA
Chance – Variations on a Korean Folk Song
Del Tredici – Acrostic Song from “Final Alice”
Milhaud – Suite Francaise (Mvts. I, III, IV, or V)
CHAMBER WINDS
Hahn – Le Bal du Beatrice d’Este (Mvts. I, II, IV, VI, VII)
Weill – Little Threepenny Music
WIND ENSEMBLE
Bernstein – Profanation
Holst – First Suite in E-flat
Whitacre – Sleep

Reflecting back on all of this, I honestly can’t wait to go to another symposium.  At each one, I became intimate with new repertoire that I may otherwise never have conducted.  I met amazing people, not just the 16 conductors I got to work with, but the MANY people whom I now count as friends among my fellow participants (and who I hope are reading this!).  Seriously, I must have met nearly 100 new people this year just through these things.  And I was constantly inspired by their musicianship.  I am much more in touch with my own musicianship and my conducting now.  This year’s experiences will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.