Saturday, July 30, 2011

Perspectives on Conducting Workshops: A Guest Blogger Article

Hello to anyone still out there. I'm sorry for the absence, but it has been a busy Summer. Professionally, I haven't been doing as much as I like. Personally, it has been the best summer of my life. More on that in another post.
I met my colleague, Josh Underwood at a conducting workshop I attended at Ball State this past February. We have since become good friends. When I found out he would be attending this workshop at the storied University of Michigan I was jealous, but the timing just didn't work out for me. I asked him to write a short article about his experience in hopes that more people would take advantage of these types of workshops. Please enjoy his perspective and please contact me if you have attended something like this and would like to write a guest post for The Virtual Podium.
Conducting Workshop Reflection
For one week at the end of June I had the privilege of attending the University of Michigan Band Conducting and Pedagogy Workshop.  Conducting workshops (or symposia, as they are often called) are interesting events to attend.  You spend a great deal of time preparing what is ultimately a very short stint conducting someone else’s band; or, if you are really lucky, a “symposium band” made up of observers and your conducting peers.  You are expected to show all you know about conducting while 1. hoping that you don’t look like a moron in front of some of the greatest conductors in the band field and 2.  praying to a higher power that no matter what you do, the ensemble in front of you follows.
My experience at Michigan was unlike any I have had before.  I spent the weeks before heading to Ann Arbor diligently studying my scores, prepared to know every note of every part, and ready to be able to effortlessly cue every major cue, and exude great passion and emotion.  What I ended up learning, however, was not only about conducting and physical gesture, but an extreme awareness of my physical self.  Every day time was devoted to body awareness sessions (which were then applied as we conducted each day).  The first exercise of the entire clinic centered on how one arises from a sitting position.  It was incredible to discover all of the extra and unnecessary tension we place on ourselves performing an activity everyone does so often on a daily basis.  The discovery didn’t end there.  As the week went on, we became aware of keeping our feet evenly balanced as a tripod (heel, inner arch, outer arch), and how tension in our ankles lead to tension in the shoulders, which leads to all sorts of conducting issues.  
Of course, the conducting sessions were just as in depth.  A great deal of time was spent discussing over-conducting, independence of the hands, and using facial expression only when necessary, and always genuine.  What was particularly fantastic about the conducting sessions was the fact that not only did I receive feedback on the podium, but also attended a one-on-one session with a Michigan band director immediately following podium time.  This was a time to watch a DVD recording and get immediate suggestions and feedback.   The conducting sessions also had the added bonus (as they most always do) of having the opportunity to conduct a few of the great band masterworks, something that graduate students and school directors don’t often get to do.  I personally conducted the second movement of Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy and the first movement of Holst’s Suite in E-flat.
Studying with the conducting faculty at the University of Michigan was truly a phenomenal experience.  The knowledge and compassion they shared during that short six days on campus completely transformed me as a conductor.  I would highly recommend the experience to anyone serious about transcending to the “next level” in their own conducting, whatever that may be.
Mr. Underwood in performance with the Ball State Wind Ensemble
About The Guest Blogger:
Joshua S. Underwood is currently a band/conducting graduate assistant at Ball State University, where he is pursuing a Master's of Music in Instrumental Conducting and Trumpet Performance.  Prior to this he resided in north Texas, where upon graduation from the University of North Texas he spent time as a church music director, and was also the Director of Bands for the Muenster Independent School District, where he directed bands 5-12, including a competitive marching and concert program at the high school.  Mr. Underwood also served as a judge and guest clinician in the north Texas area.

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