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5/28/98: What should I look for in a graduate program in conducting? Also, what tips can you give on getting more exposure to orchestral conducting?

As a rule, musicians identify other musicians whose work they admire, and they then attempt to study with those they admire. Studying conducting, however, is rather more problematic. There are many conductors you might admire whom you will not find teaching at a conservatory or university. (Some question whether conducting can be taught at all.) A further caveat: I do not circulate in the academic field and, therefore, can not make specific recommendations at all.

All of that said, if I were investigating academic programs, I would look for sheer breadth of courses and a number of worthy musicians on the faculty. The more performing goes on at the school the better and, of course, being in a major musical city allows you to see a range of performances beyond those of the faculty and students. As noted elsewhere on these discussion pages, you want to:

  • work deeply in the music of some instrument,
  • acquire a theoretical knowledge of the orchestral instruments,
  • gain proficiency in harmony, counterpoint, score reading, and musical analysis, and
  • get exposure to the repertoire and stylistic practices of many different composers.

As in other fields, there is no doubt that some schools look better on resumes and impress administrators and grant-givers. There is no doubt that some schools provide better “networking” opportunities. But there is also no doubt that the right chemistry at a smaller, quieter school can nurture great things.

There is probably nothing more important than your knowing what is right for you.

As for getting exposure to conducting, attending rehearsals should prove very enlightening. A good school will offer those opportunities and teachers can make further introductions for you. When you meet other conductors, and you appear serious, you will often find that you can arrange to attend rehearsals.

©1998 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.

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