This spring and summer has brought with it a number of exciting new career opportunities, including helping to start a new organization dedicated to Florence Price, beginning a new position as Visiting Asst. Professor of Music at Susquehanna University, and a Finalist nod in this year’s American Prize in Conducting. I am grateful for the increased creative activity that this will allow for in the year to come and I am thrilled with a number of new concerts on the docket featuring terrific music by composers such as Clara Schumann, Alexandra Gardner, Florence Price, and Paul Hindemith, to name just a few.
In preparing to assume my duties at Susquehanna, I have been asked to give a personal statement to appear on my SU faculty page. I decided to share a little bit of personal advice based on my own journey. For some, it is possible to cruise straight through university life and successfully leverage that into finding an entry-level position. For others, there is some difficulty “minding the gap” between being student and being employed full time. For those individuals, I advise a strategy I call “write yourself in.” What follows is a slightly expanded version of the statement I wrote as advice for undergraduates at the very beginning of their journey:
I grew up the son of a pianist and a choir director in Dallas, Texas. I have fond memories growing up around music, even though I was a bit of a "late bloomer" in that I did not begin my own serious pursuit of music until the end of middle school. It was the percussion world that initially awakened me to my personal obsession with music, and it was the conducting bug that eventually made it clear that I had no choice but to do this for a living. We don’t choose music, it chooses us!
Life as an undergraduate, both on- and off-campus, is what helped put me once and for all on the path to becoming a conductor, though it didn’t happen overnight, and there were many setbacks. When I was a bit younger, I would often talk with my younger students about the four defining failures of my career, four inflection points that seemed difficult and painful at the time but led me down a path that was far more successful than I had previously imagined possible. I say I "used to" because I have gone on to experience additional failures. I have learned that there is no avoiding failures, there is only a question of how to handle them. I have learned to summon the required resilience, and that more than any other skill is the one that I hope to teach students: not how to avoid failure, but how to learn from it and grow stronger because of it.
The number one way to be resilient in music is to not simply wait for the proverbial phone to ring. Instead, create your own opportunities, and write yourself into your projects. At two important points in my career, I was low on professional conducting work. I took the opportunity in each case to think about what kind of ensemble I could help to create that would serve my local community, avoid duplicating existing great work by other excellent professionals, and all the while provide me with a few conducting opportunities. This led to the founding of the Dallas Festival of Modern Music in 2009, and Baltimore chamber orchestra Symphony Number One which has won praise locally and even internationally for our mission to support substantial works by emerging composers. What is important here is that music as a profession is equally as demanding as it is rewarding. Though, with the right tools and the right mindset, and with a willingness to serve your local community and enhance public life, you can succeed and thrive in it.
Listen to this brief essay: