10: Becoming La Maestra with Rebecca Tong

Show Notes:

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Today we are going to discuss a sensitive and yet, somehow controversial topic – music competition. Composer Bela Bartokβ€˜s famous quote says, β€œCompetitions are for horses, not artists.” However, some of us, including myself, dream about winning a major competition and then have a career that just takes off at times.

Professional ensembles, agents, or businesses continue to organize conducting competitions, and we continue to enter them because we are seeing people successful through this route. However, we are not seeing those who won a competition without a major career, not to mention those who tried, also worked hard, perhaps equally talented or qualified but didn’t win the glory. We only see the flamboyant and sparkling part of the business.Β 

With the pressing call for more diversity in the conducting field, la Maestra was the first conducting competition for women only, which was held in March 2021 in Paris amidst Covid-19. My guest today is the winner of the inaugural La Maestra Competition, Rebecca Tong, and she will share her journey before, during, and after the competition with all of us.Β 

Rebecca is Resident Conductor of Jakarta Simfonia Orchestra and is Artistic Director and Music Director of Ensemble Kontemporer. She recently completed her two-year tenure as Junior Fellow in Conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music, and previously studied at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. During her studies, Rebecca worked extensively in assisting the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and frequently collaborates with the HallΓ© Orchestra and Manchester Camerata.

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Instagram: @rebeccatongconductor

Facebook: Rebecca Tong


Instagram:Β @theconductorspodcastΒ /Β @tingchaowen

Website:Β www.chaowenting.com

Facebook:Β Chaowen Ting

Chaowen: 0:02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen, recording in May 2023. After finishing the first season of the conductor’s podcast, I have decided to give this podcast project, a dedicated website with more user friendly functions. So now we have a brand new website called theconductorspodcast.com. Straightforward, right? And now we also have its own Instagram handle. It’s also the same @theconductorspodcast. So all the show notes have been moved to the new site, and I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Rebecca 0:50
It’s not that we’re trying to be egoistic or we want to show off that we have what it takes. But sometimes it’s human to [do that]–you know, you want to be the best that you can. Because I’m not putting so much pressure on myself, I just want to make really nice music. I think that’s the positive way of thinking about competition, in any competition.

Chaowen: 1:16
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups, and vocalists. I’m also the founder of Girls Who Conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind the scenes secrets with you while I interview conductors, musicians, and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting students, musicians, and non musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry, and business. Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth and the roller coaster of a conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you simple, actionable, step by step strategies to help you take action on your big dream, move through the fear that’s holding you back, and have a real impact. Now, pull up a seat, make sure you’re cozy, and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 2:37
Hi there! Welcome to Episode No. 10 of the Conductor’s Podcast. I am your host, Chaowen Ting, and I am thrilled that you are tuning in with me for the 10th episode of the podcast! What an achievement and I am so glad that I have you with me along the way. Just yesterday I found out that the podcast audience comes from 19 different countries. Today we are going to discuss a sensitive and yet somewhat controversial topic: music competitions. Composer Bela Bartokβ€˜s famous quote says, β€œCompetitions are for horses, not artists.” However, some of us, including myself, dream about winning a major competition and then having a career that just takes off. Professional ensembles (especially orchestras), agents, or businesses continue to organize conducting competitions, and we continue to enter them, because we are seeing people achieve success through this route. However, we are not seeing those who won a competition without a major career, not to mention those who tried, also worked hard, [and were] perhaps equally talented or qualified but didn’t win the glory. We only see the flamboyant and sparkling part of the business. With the pressing call for more diversity in the conducting field, La Maestra was the first conducting competition for women only, which was (most recently) held in March 2021 in Paris amidst Covid-19. My guest today is the winner of the inaugural La Maestra Competition, Rebecca Tong, and she will share her journey before, during, and after the competition with all of us. Rebecca is the Resident Conductor of Jakarta Simfonia Orchestra and the Artistic Director and Music Director of Ensemble Kontemporer. She recently completed her two-year tenure as Junior Fellow in Conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), and [she] previously studied at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM). During her studies, Rebecca worked extensively in assisting the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and [she] frequently collaborates with the HallΓ© Orchestra and Manchester Camerata. This 2021 season features debuts with Orchestre de Paris, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, OpΓ©ra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie, and Paris Mozart Orchestra.

Chaowen: 5:48
Welcome, Rebecca! I’m so thrilled to welcome you to the show, and I can’t wait for you to share your story and experience with my audience. So before we get started, though, will you give everybody a brief intro, just a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are now?

Rebecca 6:06
Hi, I just want to say thank you so much for having me today. And a little bit about my background: I was originally born and grew up in Indonesia. And I studied classical music, instruments like piano and violin, ever since since I was little, because my parents loved classical music. And they sent me to the US for my undergrad as music. I graduated [with a degree in] music history, actually, because I realized that I don’t want to do performance. I decided to become a conductor when I was an undergrad. But as we all know, I think, in the US, they don’t have an undergrad degree for conducting. So I kind of made up my own concentration. But then afterwards, I went back to Jakarta. I was an assistant conductor for three years, and decided to pursue my career in Master of Music and orchestra conducting in Cincinnati. From there, I went to the UK and became a Junior Fellow in Conducting. And surprisingly, I won the La Maestra competition. And here we are.

Chaowen: 7:27
Congratulations. I know this is like a belated congratulation, but it was really wonderful. And I want to jump back a little bit, because a lot of people are eager to know how you find opportunities for yourself. And then, of course, we know with COVID, it’s a lot harder than before. But as you said, you kind of created opportunities for yourself [ever] since you were an undergrad. How did that connection happen? Like after studying, you just went back home and became the assistant conductor with the orchestra.

Rebecca 8:00
So while I was studying conducting as an undergrad in my bachelor degree years, I didn’t tell my parents about it, because I was trying to figure it out. This is something that I would like to do for the rest of my life, or you know, for the next couple of years. And at the same time, my father, who was a pastor, but he also loves classical music–he was doing a really big project. So in the same complex of our church, we also have a culture mandate. So there’s a huge concert hall being built. He designed the concert hall himself, and had some supporters to really support and give donations to fund the building. And then at the same time, he also tried to create an orchestra. So that’s how the orchestra was founded. When I came back, he said, Why don’t you help out with the orchestra? And that’s how I became the assistant conductor for three years.

Chaowen: 9:19
That’s really cool. Like having parents really supporting you. And he started the orchestra without knowing that you were into conducting, right? He just loved music?

Rebecca 9:31

Chaowen: 9:32
That’s amazing.

Rebecca 9:34
It’s funny, because there was a rumor that he created it for me. But honestly, he didn’t know that I was going into conducting and I didn’t quite know that he was trying to create the orchestra at that time. We kind of knew a couple months before I went back to Indonesia. So it’s not something that he was doing for me. But there’s some rumor saying like, Oh, he’s building it for his kids, but it’s not true at all, which is funny for me. And as we all know, it’s interesting with Asian parents that they never tried to push me into, like, you know, economics or medicine. When I tried to go to graphic design or some other field, they actually asked, Why don’t you try out your music career because if you’ve been into it for so long, you know. They actually support me for music, which is quite interesting.

Chaowen: 10:45
I know that as parents, sometimes we have our way of thinking of what our kids will become. But I love that story of your parents just supporting you 100%.

Rebecca 10:58
Yes, it’s wonderful.

Chaowen: 11:00
So as you say, winning the La Maestra competition was a big turning point for your career. Can you share a little bit about your experience with the competition? Was that your first big competition?

Rebecca 11:15
It is my first big competition, [but] it’s not my first competition in general. Because as we all know, fighting for any position is already a competition. Like, for example, you’re auditioning for an assistant position in a major orchestra in the US–it’s already a competition by itself, because you’re competing with, you know, five other candidates or three other candidates, or however many they invited for the final round. But this was the first big competition for me, yes.

Rebecca 11:47
And it’s interesting, because I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect to win at all. When I went to the competition, all I was thinking was, I haven’t conducted or made music for seven months. I almost didn’t go because at that time, in Paris especially, the spike was very high for COVID. I almost didn’t go, like my parents told me, Just be careful, just think about it, there might be other opportunities. But at that time, I was really craving for making music. So I went, and I didn’t bring my concert suit. Because again, I wasn’t expecting to win, I just wanted to work with the French orchestra, just to be in the Philharmonie, and just to meet people, because there are like, I think four or five people that I know from the candidacy. So I was like, it’s gonna be good just to meet with them again, after so long. Luckily enough, they did tell us that they’re going to interview us; that’s why I brought some jackets with me. Maybe that’s why I’m thriving through the rounds, because I didn’t put so much pressure on myself. I think that’s the one biggest obstacle for me: when I put so much pressure on, like, I have to show them that I can do it, then it hinders the music making. It’s not that we’re trying to be egoistic, or we want to show off that we have what it takes. But sometimes it’s human to want to do the best that you can. But I think that’s why, because I’m not putting so much pressure on myself. All I could think was, I just want to make really nice music. I just want to have experiences, you know, to meet friends and to make some connections with people again. I think that’s the positive way of thinking about competition, in any competition.

Chaowen: 11:47
And I know, this is so hard as we’re talking about this, because as you said, even going to a graduate program, it’s a kind of competition, you’re competing with others, getting your junior fellowship, for example. So it’s sometimes really hard to wrap your head around “Okay, I need to focus on making great music,” as opposed to “I want to win that position.” But it’s like a mind game.

Rebecca 14:01
Yeah, it’s definitely a mind game.

Chaowen: 14:11
So I was wondering, like you said that the competition was held during COVID, kind of when COVID was starting to spread in Europe. Did you have any objections when you applied for the competition? Because it’s really like a first major competition just for women. And a lot of people had different thoughts or opinions on something only for one gender. Did you have any objections? Did you wonder if you should apply, if you should do it because it had this label?

Rebecca 15:11
It’s interesting. To be honest, when we were talking about opportunities for myself, like, all of us, and we can all testify to this–we all try to apply for any opportunities we can. And some of the competitions to be honest, I was too old. So yeah, when La Maestra opened and I’m like, Oh, I can still apply because they don’t have an age limit, which is great.

Chaowen: 15:38
I totally agree. I think the age limit is insane. It was like once you pass a certain age, you were not eligible anymore. Sometimes even for masterclasses, that you’re not teachable in a sense, that you’ve graduated and you can’t be learning from the experience anymore.

Rebecca 15:56
Yeah. And I think it’s maybe not because they think they’re not teachable, but I feel like they’re–and it’s getting younger and younger now–like they’re either trying to find a music director that’s 20, 23 years old, they want to find the next Dudamel or who’s the next Klaus MΓ€kelΓ€, for example. But I know there’s some conductors that didn’t do certain symphonies until they’re very old. Or quote, unquote, we call it “old” now. But I think it comes with the maturity of the score. And it doesn’t mean that there’s a certain version that all conductors, like all young conductors who know everything. And I don’t think it’s right. Because we need time, everybody needs time to go through everything. And it’s the same with learning an instrument, isn’t it? Like, you don’t want somebody to learn the violin for two years and then suddenly, like, Hey, have you played like 10 concertos? And they’re like, No, I’ve just learned it for two years. So it is the same as conducting, like, I don’t know why they expect us to, like, how can you not know, or you can’t conduct Mahler 5 by around the age of 25, you know. If somebody already knows everything by the age of 25, that’s great. But not everybody’s like that. But again, like talking about La Maestra itself, first of all, I think it’s a great opportunity for women conductors. But also at the same time, I agree that in 5 or 10 years, I hope we’re not going to have La Maestra anymore. Because while there are still very few music directors that are women, or high position of conductors that are women, we also need to see more equality. So I hope we’re not shifting too much towards one side, and then we have to balance it back. But I wish in the next couple of years, it will be you know, 50-50, it’ll be really equal, and everything’s balanced.

Chaowen: 16:26
Coming back to the competition thing. So now, people are trying to recover from the pandemic. And there are many, many competitions coming back to being held in person. Do you have any tips or things that helped you prepare for a competition? Because I know this, there are so many pieces that you need to prepare: going through them, not knowing if you would advance to the next round, and there was also a new piece. How did you study and manage your time?

Rebecca 18:36
That’s a really interesting question. I can only answer that from my personal experience. And it’s going to be different for everybody. First of all, the repertoire really represents some difficulties that the conductor needs to handle. And I’ve done some of them. So I think for anyone who’s doing the competition, know your strengths and weaknesses. Again, not trying to show what you can do. Because I know some people see the repertoire, and they’re like, Oh, this is hard. I’m going to do this one, because then the jury will know it’s hard. If you are not familiar with it, don’t go with that one. Try something else that you’re comfortable with, because all the repertoire on the list is picked by the jury for a reason. When I picked the Rossini for the last competition of the opening round, I picked it because I love Rossini, first of all, I think it’s so witty, it’s so comical. It connects with my personality. I mean, maybe I’m not witty, but like you know, it’s just a little naughtiness that [is] in every Rossini Overture and I love showing that character and what you can do with it. So knowing your strengths and weaknesses. That’s number one.

Rebecca 20:16
Number two, just try to make music. Don’t put so much pressure yourself. You just share, make music with the musicians. One thing that I’m grateful for is the UK rehearsal system. In the UK, everything is very efficient. No one second is wasted. Because they don’t have time. Like, if you see like London Symphony rehearsal schedule, two days maximum and they have a concert. Rehearsal time is excessive.

Chaowen: 20:53
So they have just one or two rehearsals per concert, in that sense?

Rebecca 20:58

Chaowen: 20:58
Wow, and how long is the rehearsal?

Rebecca 20:53
So I think when else is interesting, sometimes it’s three hours a day, sometimes it’s two sessions, so three hours plus two hours. Well, also depending on the on the program, but a normal program, I think it’s two days of rehearsals, and then they have a concert on the third day.

Chaowen: 21:12
So it sometimes even happens that the orchestra hasn’t played the entire program once. They just don’t touch on spots. Is that right? As you said, kind of efficient in rehearsal?

Rebecca 21:24
Normally, they play the whole thing. But the orchestra, this similarity of UK and major orchestras in the US is [that] the moment you rehearse them [on] the first day, they know it already; they’re ready to go for the concert. It’s the same in the major orchestras. And then you just you touch up, and then you do the musical thing, you know, it’s very fast. So it’s the same thing in the educational system: while I was a junior fellow in conducting, when I did a contemporary rehearsal with a brand new orchestra, I only have, let’s say, the piece is 5, 7 minutes for contemporary music. I only have 18 minutes to rehearse. Because there’s a couple of us, a couple conductors and a couple composers. So I have to do one run through, rehearse, and maybe do a touch up. And then I have a second rehearsal with the same amount of time or less, maybe. So that really prepares me for the competition: [be] as efficient as you can, while still showing what you want.

Rebecca 22:35
The last thing I would like to say is, and this is just me: I’m not French. So I probably wouldn’t conduct the French repertoire in France, in Paris especially, with the French orchestra. (laughs) So that’s why I did not pick any of the French, you know, I didn’t pick Debussy. I picked like the Italian, German, like I think that’s more my forte. So, it’s a strategy. I think it’s a strategy. For example, if you get invited to a major German orchestra, and, you know, I’m young, I will not bring Brahms or Beethoven, I would bring something American or something completely different, like obscure symphonies that people don’t play. It’s a smart strategy, I think.

Chaowen: 23:38
Yeah, I think this is so true. I remember hearing Elim Chan talking about her experience of stepping in and conducting the St. Petersburg Philharmonic on Russian repertoire. And she later said, okay, it probably wasn’t the best move, but she felt excited because she was asked to step in at the last minute. But then as I said, it’s because when you’re still kind of building your repertoire and getting to know yourself as well, like picking a repertoire that the orchestra knows so well, and then maybe also has so much tradition behind it that we might not be familiar with, could be risky in a competition setting.

Rebecca 24:26
Yes, definitely. And, you know, like people in Paris, I think they immerse with French music so much. I don’t think it’s the best that I if I picked Debussy, you know. It would be lovely to do Debussy with the French orchestra. But at that time, I’m like, this is a competition, I need to be more strategic about it.

Chaowen: 24:46
That’s really smart. So Rebecca talked about some things from her experience, like first know your weaknesses and your strengths. And second, just really focus on music making, instead of winning the competition. And number three, she mentioned, be very efficient in rehearsals. And the last one, be more strategic if you can choose the repertoire; understanding the background and the styles or the traditions with the orchestra will be helpful. So I kind of wanted to come back to the first part you mentioned, understanding your strengths and weaknesses. And I understand as we are learning and still figuring things out, what are some indications that can help you understand what are your weaknesses and strengths in general?

Rebecca 25:44
It’s a very good question, actually. I mean, up until now, to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out like repertoires that really fit me well. Because you’re still in the beginning of your career, or sometimes you don’t have the chance to choose which one, like, sometimes you get a gig where they already have a set of repertoires. But I had to turn down one or two engagements this season. Because I looked at the repertoire, and they couldn’t change it at all. And I saw, and I said, I’m not familiar with it at all. And I don’t think I can be familiar with it in the short period of time, even though I have a couple months. For example, one of the jobs that I have to turn down is a lot of Wieniawski concertos. But they want to do the whole festival, the program, around the violin program. So it’s a lot of accompanying. But also seeing the repertoires are not something I’m familiar with. And I’ve asked some different people that are conductors/violinists–they also don’t know it. So I know it’s a red flag for me. So I said, maybe next time, but not this time. Sometimes it’s hard to say no for a gig because you know, you want to do something, you want to have the opportunity. But I still also remember Daniel Harding, when he was interviewed, and he said that one of the best career moves that he did was he turned down the Berlin Philharmonic in the beginning of his career, because he wasn’t familiar enough with repertoire, or he needs to be more mature to do the reference. And he said, that is probably the best career move. Because if he did it–since you know, the Berlin Phil could be very picky. And they’re a great orchestra and they’re really, you know, they really want someone to be hands on deck. And if Daniel Harding turned down the Berlin Philharmonic, who are we to just accept life as is, you know? Second, I know this from the beginning that I love a repertoire with a full energy, something with lots of energy, because I love when the orchestra gives so much energy back, that I feel like I’m immersed in this world of sound. Knowing the language of the music, I think is important. Like I love Russian repertoires. I mean, it’s a strategic way, probably not to bring [it] into Russia. But I just realized that the last couple years, I was doing a lot of Russian repertoire in Jakarta, because I think it speaks to me a lot. There’s something with Russian music, the harmonization and the struggle with the composer sometimes, that really speaks to me. So I think, knowing the language of what you love, I’d really love to do. Meanwhile, you’re also expanding your repertoire–from A to Z, for example.

Chaowen: 29:28
Yeah, I think you mentioned a really good strategy. So like, if you love Russian music, you can work with an orchestra that might be a lot less familiar with the Russian language, musical language, so you can also kind of use that to continue building your interpretation and your understanding with the music without sacrificing your career or other things to do it. Of course, like, I would love to conduct Debussy one day with a French orchestra if they don’t eat me alive. (laughs) They probably would, but I’m imagining that sound coming from a French orchestra is just beautiful. It’s just brilliant. But I have to be able to do that before I can say yes to any engagement. I’m not saying that I’m getting one now. But I totally agree, like you said, that sometimes the quality of the engagement is more important than the quantity: that you want to do well and make sure you’re accepting invitations when you can really be the best of yourself, as opposed to, I’m worried that if I turn it down now that they won’t ask me back later, and [so you] say yes to everything.

Rebecca 30:44
If you turn them down once, you know, I’m sure that they can invite you back and then at that time, then you can discuss the repertoire that you want. But like, you know, if you get 10 engagements and you turn down eight of them, that’s also not a good thing. So if you get like 20 engagements and you turned down one, that’s not so bad, because I think the programming director knows that if they want you, then they’ll invite you back. So that’s not going to be a problem.

Chaowen: 31:19
Yeah. And I wanted to jump back to the efficiency and rehearsals that you mentioned, you said that’s something you’ve learned in the UK. And I know this is something that we don’t always learn in our trainings, because a lot of times when we are students, we focus on learning our techniques or learning the repertoire. We don’t even really have time to learn how to rehearse or how to interact with ensembles, in essence. So could you share a little bit of what are things that you can practice or focus on that will make you more efficient and effective in rehearsals?

Rebecca 32:01
That’s a good point. And this was something that I learned from Mark Gibson, in Cincinnati, in combination with what I learned in the UK from both Mark Heron and Clark Rundell. Now Gibson always talks about laundry lists. What is a laundry list? It’s the list of things that you would like to rehearse even before the rehearsal starts. It’s not that you would say them just because you want to say it to the orchestra, but it’s just a list that you have in mind of maybe difficult passages of the musicality that you want, probably. So don’t get me wrong, what he meant by the laundry list doesn’t mean that when you go to the rehearsal, and if they did it well, you said it anyway, because the list is in front of you. In your mind as a conductor, when the things on the list change, then your rehearsal changes, but at least you have something in your mind that you go through with. You’re like, Okay, this probably difficult, we might need to go through this passage, the second list is probably like musicality, or something like that. So but what I learned in the UK is really efficient in the language. What I meant by that is, when I stop, for example, when I stop the orchestra, and I’m like, Okay, first violins, this passage is about blah, blah, blah, I think we need to be like this–that’s already too long. So what they want in the UK is like, you stop and you say, First violins, bar 56, softer, please. Much, much more efficient, but then they’re like, Okay, softer. And you can talk a bit about musicality, but they’re not going to be generous if you talk for five minutes what the music is about, because they know, they know what it’s about. Like, they’re smart musicians. They’re really smart. You don’t go in and then you start talking about like, you know, this background is about blah, blah, blah. That’s why when I talk about the Rossini, I don’t talk about the opera. I talk more about what I feel. It’s like, Think about it as like a nagging child. This has to be really nasal in the sound. And that’s it. They got it. Hey, I’m just portraying musical pictures for them.

Chaowen: 34:50
That’s really interesting. So you felt that they responded well, with the French orchestra and competitions?

Rebecca 34:58
Well, that’s becoming my style now, the efficiency. But also, the less you talk, the more that you show. The orchestra’s there because they want to play. If they want to get lectured, they’d go back to school, or go to like a lecture hall, but they go to rehearsal, and they’re ready to play. In general, orchestras are there because they want to play and they want to be rehearsed. And they want to do well in concerts.

Chaowen: 35:29
That is so true. And I remember when I was at CCM, studying with Mark Gibson, once we were complaining about the orchestra in our studio class, and someone said. Oh, they just didn’t like me, so they were not responding to what I was doing. And Mark said, That is not their job, to like you. So, and then he said, You know what? Orchestra members don’t come into rehearsal every day thinking, I hate conductors, I’m going to screw you. But they come to rehearsals thinking they want to make music, they want to play better by the end of the day. So your job is to help them play better by the end of the rehearsal, and not to worry about making them like you.

Rebecca 36:23
It’s true. And, you know, I think my strategy going into the rehearsal is not because I hope you like me, that’s not the first thing in my mind, you know. Because you’re there to make music. They invite you for a reason. You’re there to make music or whatever–if you’re assigned to do a piece of [an] opening, or a symphony, or a movement or a symphony, you’re still there to make music with the musicians. Music should be the main goal. Not like if I’m liked or ‘why are they grumpy?’ Sometimes when you go to the orchestra, and some of them are grumpy, all I can think about [is that] maybe they had a bad day today, maybe they got a flat tire on the way to work. It’s not about you most of the time. Also, a strategy, don’t take it too personally. If you do good work, then if they still don’t like you, it’s not your job to be liked. I mean, of course, you still want to be nice in front of the orchestra. My last advice is, be true to yourself, be honest. Again, with the repertoire, or with, you know, with your conducting, the orchestra can see it if you’re not honest with them. So I’m always honest with what I’m presenting. This is what I am. I’m not adding anything else, you know, I’m not trying to be strategic. I’m not trying to make the managing director happy, just so they can invite me again. But when I’m in front of the orchestra, everything is about me and them making music. It’s not about everything else. It’s not about how much you get paid. It’s not about what opportunities I can get after this? Everything is right there in the moment.

Chaowen: 38:24
Yeah, it’s also really hard. Because we want to please people, in a sense. Like, we want to make the orchestra happy, we want to make the management happy. Or if we’re in masterclasses, we want to make the teacher happy. But really, at the end of the day, it’s only you and the music and the musicians there. And we’re there to make music.

Rebecca 38:48
Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s really strange. I mean, the balance between the conductor and the orchestra, I’m starting to find a good balance with it. Tyranny is not the answer, but also, too much democracy not a good thing. So it’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Like, it has to be in between because you don’t want to be a tyrant, of course, but there should be some kind of a democracy. Like, for example, if the concertmaster says, Okay, can I try this bowing instead? Of course, I’m not gonna say no to that. But then if they started arguing about like, which musical passages, of course, as a conductor, you have to say, this is what you want. And this is what we’re gonna do, as long as it’s within the music, of course.

Chaowen: 39:45
Yeah, it almost felt like it’s like a speed dating because you need to get to know someone really quickly.

Rebecca 39:54
That’s interesting. You’re not the only person who said that. It is like speed dating. It really is.

Chaowen: 40:00
Yeah, it’s sometimes so awkward. Sometimes you click right away. Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes it gets better. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Rebecca 40:08
Yeah, yeah. It’s true. It’s very true.

Rebecca 40:13
All right, Rebecca, thank you so much for all that you have shared, and I’ll put it in the show notes, but can you please share with my listeners where they can find more about you? Maybe your website or your social media handles that you’re willing to be public with?

Rebecca 40:30
Yeah, sure. Again, thank you so much for having me. I’ve enjoyed this conversation, you know, and I hope the best for all the future young conductors and in the competition coming up, whether it’s La Maestra or any other competition. You can reach out to me through Facebook at Rebecca Tong, and my Instagram is @rebeccatongconductor. And my website is just www.rebeccatong.com, that’s it. And thank you again, Chaowen. It’s been great.

Chaowen: 41:02
Thank you so much. This interview is actually the very first time that I spoke with Rebecca, even though we’ve known each other for years, since we both went to CCM, short for the College Conservatory of Music at University of Cincinnati, and studied with Professor Mark Gibson for our master’s degrees. And I wanted to take some time to talk about the program that I went through and my experiences. While Gibson and I had our differences and disagreements at times, I still learned a lot from him and from the program. Just this past November, when I conducted the Augusta Symphony, I found out that both clarinetists went to CCM as well. I overlapped with one of them and the principal player finished before I started, but still, connections from attending the same school is always a good icebreaker. When I interviewed for my current position at Georgia Tech, my first phone interview when I was shortlisted was with the Chair of the search committee, who also happens to be assistant grad. And the conversation really hit off as we exchanged stories of our common teachers. But, as we talked about in Episode #8 with Talia Ilan, you really want to find a program and a teacher that are a good fit for you. Don’t just go for something that is famous or prestigious when you cannot make the best out of it and fully benefit from your time there. When you’re considering conducting programs, talk to a lot of people who have gone through it and visit and speak with the teacher if you can. Request to audit one of the conducting classes if your schedule allows and go to the ensemble rehearsals, so you can get a sense of the teacher as a conductor.

Chaowen: 42:57
Okay then, we’ve explored quite some topics so far in the first 10 episodes, from application material tips to managing your fear, from entrepreneurship to finding the right teacher, from programming for a social justice cause to diverse pathways to the podium. Do you have any topic that you would like to explore with me? I love to hear from you, and you can always DM me on social media @tingchaowen on Instagram and @chaowentingconductor on Facebook. If you post anything, don’t forget to use the hashtag, #theconductorspodcast. You can also email me at theconductorspodcast@gmail.com Just one word, ‘theconductorspodcast’.

Chaowen: 43:47
And don’t forget, I’m hosting a monthly giveaway of an hour of free consultation with me. All you have to do is to leave a review of the podcast of why you love the show, share the screenshot of the review, and tag me on social media, and you’ll be entered into the monthly giveaway for a free hour consultation. During the time with me, you’ll have a chance to ask any question you have about conducting score study or the business. You can also get an extra entry every month as long as you share the podcast post and tag any friend. So go ahead and subscribe, and leave a review if you have been enjoying listening. Next week, we will shift a bit and dive into the topic of including the composer in the rehearsal process when you are preparing for a performance of their works. My guest, Rachel Holly, will share stories and tips on maintaining a healthy and productive collaboration. I will see you there at the same time and same place. Bye for now.