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The Fine Art of Conducting

  • News Image
    2013 graduate Stacie Glowka receives some pointers on conducting from Peter Bay, music director of the Austin Symphony, at the 2014 Conductors' Institute.
  • News Image
    Tommy Butler makes notes on the portion of a score he was assigned to conduct.
  • News Image
    Lois Ferrari (left) and participants in the 2014 Conductors' Institute discuss the philosophy of conducting.

Summer institute helps train aspiring conductors

After just landing a job as the first orchestra director for the Comal Independent School District, Stacie Glowka wanted to improve her conducting skills.

So she returned to where she first studied conducting – Southwestern.

The 2013 graduate was one of nine people from across the country who came to Southwestern this summer to learn the fine art of conducting from Peter Bay, music director of the Austin Symphony, and Lois Ferrari, a Southwestern faculty member who is also music director of the Austin Civic Orchestra.

Participants in this year’s Conductors’ Institute ranged from recent college graduates like Glowka to others with as much as 40 years experience conducting school or church ensembles.

“You always need to be learning and growing,” said Sarah Pearson, who came from Tennessee to participate. Pearson just earned a double master’s degree in conducting and music education and is hoping to land a conducting job at a university or with a symphony.

Southwestern has been offering a summer institute for aspiring conductors for more than 40 years. Although the institute originally focused on how to conduct major works for choir and orchestra, recently it has begun offering sessions in alternate years that focus strictly on instrumental conducting. Ferrari said that while there are similar institutes across the country, the one offered at Southwestern is distinctive because of its small size and its focus on chamber music.

“With a smaller-sized institute we can really tailor the sessions to what individuals want to learn,” Ferrari said.

For Pearson, that meant working on her posture while conducting and expanding her conducting vocabulary.

Ferrari said that while a lot of people think conducting just involves “getting up there and waving our hands,” there is a lot more to it. In fact, she said, conducting is only about 10 percent physical.

“You have to be an educator, a cheerleader, an historian, a theorist and a performer,” she said.

Ferrari opened the institute with a discussion about the philosophy of conducting. After lunch, each of the participants got a chance to try their hand conducting an ensemble that included Southwestern faculty members and members of the Austin Symphony. This year the institute focused on two Mozart Serenades as well as Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie.” Ferrari said she chose these pieces because they are rarely performed masterpieces and really push conductors to focus their technique.

“You can’t fake anything with Mozart,” she said. “It has to be perfect.”

In the evening, Ferrari gave each participant an individual critique of their performance. During the course of the institute, participants had the opportunity to be critiqued by both conductors. They also received feedback from members of the ensemble.

The institute also included a session on the use of body language on the podium and a talk by author and Mozart scholar David Whitwell. It concluded with a Saturday evening concert in which all participants took turns on stage conducting. After the concert, they lingered on stage to have their pictures taken with Bay and Ferrari, as well as with each other.

“I think I took the next step,” said Pearson, who is heading to Prague later in the summer for another conducting workshop.