13: All You Want to Know About Collegiate Ensemble Director Positions

Show Notes:

Hi there! Welcome to episode No. 13 of the Conductor’s Podcast, and happy almost new year! Since it’s now almost the new year, I thought we would have a special episode talking about one of my current positions, a collegiate conducting position. This is also something that a lot of people are less familiar with, and my dear friend Dr. Carolyn Watson and I hosted a series of free webinars in 2020 called “Maestro as Professor,” through which we gave presentations on the various facets of the job, and interviewed over 13 collegiate orchestral conductors.


Today’s episode is only a short summary of what a collegiate position might be, and what are the duties that are typically entailed. Of course this is a generalization as each institution is different, but I hope that the information will give you some valuable insights.


We will divide today’s episode into 3 big parts: 1) types of institutions and ensembles, 2) possible duties, and 3) how you will l be evaluated once you secure a position. Make sure you also check the show note with all the information!

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

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.

Chaowen: 0:5
What might a collegiate position be, and what are the duties that are typically entailed? How will you be evaluated once you secure a position in higher education? Let’s dive in.

Chaowen: 1:08
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 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.

Chaowen: 1:55
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 are cozy, and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 2:30
Hi there, welcome to Episode No. 13 of The Conductor’s Podcast, and happy almost new year! I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, and I’m thrilled that you’re tuning in with me today. I hope that you are having a great time with your family, your loved ones, or with your loved scores during this time of the year. Since it’s now almost the New Year, I thought we would have a special episode talking about one of my current positions, a collegiate conducting position. This is also something that a lot of people are less familiar with. And my dear friend Dr. Caroline Walton and I hosted a series of free webinars in 2020 called Maestro as Professor, through which we gave presentations on the various facets of the job and interviewed over 13 college orchestral conductors. Today’s episode is only a short summary of what a collegiate position might be and the duties that are typically entailed. Of course, this is a generalization, as each institution is different, but I hope that the information will give you some valuable insights. As always, you can find all the information in the show notes at chaowenting.com/13.

Chaowen: 4:06
Today’s episode has three big parts. The first part includes types of institutions and ensembles and the kinds of positions that it could be. The second part of today’s episode will be about possible duties when you are a college director of some kind of ensemble, whether it’s choral, jazz, band, or orchestra. And in the last part of today’s episode, we’ll be talking about how you will be evaluated once you secure a position in higher education.

Chaowen: 4:44
So, let’s dive in. Part one: types of institutions and ensembles and positions. This is a very big topic, but typically, there are four types of higher education institutions that might hire an ensemble director. They are either a university, a liberal arts college, a conservatory or music school, and the last type is a junior or community college. Knowing which type of institution is important, as it might directly affect what kind of student musicians that you will be working with, what your course or teaching load will look like, and also how you will be evaluated once you are hired. So having some basic understanding of the institution is rather important.

Chaowen: 5:43
Obviously, at a conservatory or music school, you might have a chance to work with the best student musicians ever possible. Ensemble participations are usually required as part of the degree program, and at some schools, you will have multiple ensembles in each area, like two orchestras, sometimes up to five, four choirs, two jazz bands, or three concert bands, things like that. And there might be multiple directors directing them in each area.

Chaowen: 6:22
At a university, depending on the size of the school and the program, you might have something that is very close to a conservatory, or a small program with an ensemble that might even be a mixture of student and community musicians. Or it could be a big school with a small ensemble program, or vice versa, a small school but with a really promising, full-of-potential ensemble. So there are a lot of variants here.

Chaowen: 6:59
The next category is the liberal arts college. Those are very often private institutions, which are smaller in size. Students come to these kind of schools to receive more tailored and personalized experiences. And very often, students attending a liberal arts college are double majors. So they might be a French horn major plus business major, or your concert master might also be an engineering major.

Chaowen: 7:39
And at a community college or a junior college, you might encounter students who can register for an ensemble even without an audition process, for example. However, this is just generalized information and statements–each institution [can vary] drastically from the others, not just in terms of the school itself. It could be the structure of how the ensembles are run or how the positions are funded.

Chaowen: 8:16
So there are a couple possibilities of what the ensemble director is called: it can be a tenure track position, which means that at some point in your career, you will go through a tenure review process. Once you’re tenured, you have a certain job security. Very often, positions in that route will be called assistant professor, associate professor, or full professor. A full time position usually comes with benefits, while a part time position can have some types of benefits as well.

Chaowen: 8:59
For example, my position with the Peabody Youth Orchestra is technically an adjunct position as an adjunct faculty to the preparatory program. And I have the benefit of enrolling in the health insurance, for example. Adjunct positions are almost always paid per credit, so depending on how many credit hours you’re teaching. And each institution has their own ways of calculating credit hours: sometimes an ensemble meeting two hours a week will be counted as three credit hours or vice versa. And at some institutions, a three hour meeting for an ensemble, because it’s considered as a lab, is actually only one credit hour. So everything is possible. And that’s something you usually don’t find out until when you’re offered the position, when you’re in the negotiation process.

Chaowen: 10:11
Outside of that, there is a type of tenure track position that is almost always only for the full time faculty. The tenure track positions mean that at some point in your career, you will go through a tenure review. And once you are tenured, you are very often also promoted and tenured with job security. But this is not always the case, because there are people who start a new job with tenure already guaranteed in their negotiation package. If you’re just getting your first job out of grad school, you might start with the assistant professor ranking. And very often, once you’re promoted to associate, you’re also tenured. And after that, you have another review to go up to full professorship. But this, again, is not guaranteed, because I also have friends who start their new job as an associate professor without being tenured already; they still have to go through the tenure process. So the promotion and tenure process very often coincide with each other but [are] not necessarily tied to each other.

Chaowen: 11:39
And very often, these types of positions are offered as 9 month or 10 month appointments. That means during the two or three months of the summer, when you are not teaching, you’re not being paid, so you’re only contracted to work for 9 or 10 months during the school year. Again, each institution is different. Each state is also different–a lot of the states have different kinds of regulations, and depending on [if it’s] a private or public institution, there are different rules that they have to follow. So for some institutions, say for a 10 month appointment, they will split your salary into 12 paychecks, so you still get some money in the summer. This is not the case for some other institutions–you may not receive any income during the summer months, when you are not working. Those things are detailed, and often are not necessarily part of the job description when you’re applying for jobs. But it is something that you really want to find out as much as possible once you have an offer to start negotiations.

Chaowen: 13:07
All right. The last thing is, sometimes you’re not even called a professor–depending on the position, you can be a lecturer, or senior lecturer, or I have seen titles like practical professionals, or professional professor, whatever they all mean, but just know those titles don’t necessarily equal a certain type of pay rank or tenure position. Each individual position and program is unique. And you want to ask those detailed questions when you’re negotiating your first contract and once you get a job and start learning everything about what you should be doing.

Chaowen: 14:06
So this concludes the first part of today’s episode, which is the general overview of institutions, ensembles, and positions that college ensemble director can be [involved with]. Now moving on to the second part, possible duties. You might think this is a silly point of the episode because when we are talking about college ensemble directors, it’s obvious that you’re interviewing to be the ensemble director. However, depending on the program, institution, and position, you might actually be doing a lot of odd things that have nothing to do with directing your ensemble.

Chaowen: 14:58
First of all, you’re obviously teaching students, and the teaching can include directing ensembles of your area [and] sometimes also other areas. For example, when I started my position at Georgia Tech, I conducted the symphony orchestra, the concert band, we started a new string orchestra, and I also supervised chamber ensembles. So I had kind of four different types of ensembles under my supervision. I conducted three of them, the two orchestras and the concert band, and I had a string faculty helping me to organize the chamber music program. You might also be conducting opera or musicals, depending on the school–if they have annual or once-per-semester performances of this kind of theatrical production, you might be invited to conduct, or they might have someone specializing in conducting those productions that you don’t get involved [in] at all, or they [might] use your ensemble’s students to play for their performances. So, say when doing opera seasons, you don’t have to rehearse orchestras.

Chaowen: 16:29
The second part that is commonly seen is teaching conducting. This can include teaching graduate conducting students or undergrad music education classes, but this is also a common course that you will be teaching at a college level. The third possible area that you might be teaching is applied areas. If you are an accomplished instrumentalist, vocalist, or coach, you might be teaching strings, winds, or voice, or you might be coaching and do that. Or you might not be–you might be hired just as the conductor and teach conducting.

Chaowen: 17:17
The last part that you might be teaching includes other types of academic courses. And I’ve seen courses from literature like symphonic literature, choral literature, wind band literature, or analysis, orchestration…or sometimes I’ve had colleagues who are teaching musicianship or music appreciation. It can be any kind of course assignment, depending on the program and depending on the position. Also, it’s dependent on your chair.

Chaowen: 17:55
Now, in addition to teaching, there are a lot of other things that you will be expected to do. First is supervising students. That can come from your TAs: if you have a graduate conducting student, there might be student workers. If you’re supervising work study scholarship, or some other graduate student, for example, you might be handling ensemble-related administration, from marketing the performances to managing ensemble budgets to library duties like purchasing new music or renting music or distributing/marking parts for your students, to even maintaining school-owned instruments, if the school has such a program.

Chaowen: 19:01
Another big part that is often included in an ensemble director’s position duties is recruitment. Sometimes, recruitment will be a course load. That means they would pay you, for example, three credit hours to recruit. So you’re expected to do activities that would recruit potential students, such as visiting high schools in the area, going to the state MEA, like GMEA and OMEA–the Music Education Association fairs–conducting All State ensembles, or going to do other things that will help you grow the program and recruit potential musicians. The last part that will be possibly part of your duty is research and service, which we’ll talk more in detail [about] in the next part.

Chaowen: 20:11
Part three: how you might be evaluated. This is probably the most mysterious part about a collegiate ensemble directing position, because this information is not commonly known, at least in graduate conducting programs. So a lot of people are learning about it on the job. But very generally speaking, for higher education positions, you will be often evaluated in three areas, which are research, teaching, and service. The percentages of these three areas varies.

Chaowen: 21:03
If you are at a teaching oriented college or teaching-emphasized college (teaching-centered), such as a community college or some liberal arts colleges, then you might have 60% to 80% of your work being teaching, which means you might be teaching four classes on top of conducting two ensembles and doing all the other things. While if you have a job at an R1 (meaning Research I) institution, then you might have 60% of research, 20% teaching, and 20% service. This is something that your chair will go through with you when you are hired.

Chaowen: 22:01
Now, we are going to talk about, what is research? Because this word sounds intimidating for musicians, especially conductors. We are musicians, what are we expected to research? I don’t know if this reminds you of your history paper or music theory analysis project. No, not like that. Research is also called “creative activities”. So just think about it for a math teacher: their research might be publishing a paper or giving a talk at a prestigious conference or giving a lecture at so-and-so-and-so gathering or meeting. That would be their research.

Chaowen: 23:00
For conductors, your research-slash-creative-activities could include guest conducting, conducting at some kind of conference like the CODA Conference, which stands for College Orchestra Directors Association Conference, or if you’re presenting or guest conducting at the CBDNA Midwest clinic programs. CBDNA stands for College Band Directors National Association, and the choral directors have their association too. Or if you attend a competition or if you teach at a symposium, all of these things count as your creative activities.

Chaowen: 23:56
For some R1 institutions, you are either required to or strongly advised to publish. Depending on the institution, you might be required to publish in a peer reviewed journal. Or it doesn’t have to be peer reviewed, but just with some wide reach. For example, when peer reviewed publication is required, having an article in icareifyoulisten.com or NewMusicBox won’t count. But these sites do have a really wide range of audience and viewership. So it’s a matter of documenting your activities and making things count to help your tenure case if you’re on tenure track. And even if you’re not on the tenure track, it also helps your annual review. Because no matter if you’re part time or full time, you’re going to be reviewed by your boss at some point.

Chaowen: 25:23
So these types of achievements and accomplishments professionally will be counted as your research or creative activities. At an R1 institution, as I said before, this will be the most important thing that will make or break your reappointment. At some teaching institutions, this is not as important, because they hire you teach the courses. So the second part of your review criteria, teaching, is kind of obvious that you will be teaching some courses.

Chaowen: 26:04
Now, the last part of the three categories that you will be evaluated upon (research, teaching, and service). Service sounds like a very big word, because it’s something that we don’t really talk about. But it’s actually a very simple thing. Service means what you are doing to help in your profession. So professionally, it can be, you know, serving on the jury for a concerto competition at a nearby school. Or it can be that you serve as an editor for a journal. Or you can serve as an officer for your professional organizations, such as CODA, CBDNA, or the choral director association. Or within the institution, you can be doing service by, say, serving on the search committee for another faculty line, or you can be serving on a review committee for the school’s strategic plan–there are a lot of things would fall into the service area. And really, don’t worry about it, because this is really the smallest part of the three in almost any college director position evaluation.

Chaowen: 27:35
Now, I do want to say one quick thing, which might sound confusing for some of you, but I wanted to put it out there: that sometimes the separation between these three areas–research, teaching and service–can be blurry. What does that mean? For example, if you are known for programming unknown repertoire with your ensemble, that could be both research and teaching, because programming is your creative activity, which falls under research. But when you are doing it with your ensemble, you’re also teaching your students, which would be teaching. Another example: say that you guest conduct at the All State Orchestra–that could be viewed as recruitment, which falls into the service area, or it can be guest conducting, as part of research or creative activities. So when you are not sure about this, just check with your chair, with your associate team, or with someone that can be a mentor in your department.

Chaowen: 29:00
Now, I know this is a lot of information. And as I’ve said at the beginning of the episode, almost everything is quite generalized. Each institution, each program, and each position is unique and different. Caroline Watson and I talked about all aspects of such positions in much more detail through our Maestro as Professor series. And even though the recordings are currently not available for viewing, we do have PowerPoint files available from the presentations that we did. So if you want to know more about these things, and also to see how this information can be organized in a more structured way, I will link the files in the show notes. Just make sure you check chaowenting.com/13.

Chaowen: 30:02
Now I’m really glad to have all of you in my journey for the past few months when I started The Conductor’s Podcast. Now we’re at episode 13, and I’m so proud of every one of you. These past two years have not been easy for anyone, and “challenging” would be an understatement. But we made it, and 2022 is just right around the corner.

Chaowen: 30:32
I really want to say that I appreciate every one of you here listening to this episode. And in the January episodes, we have several really good ones, because I interviewed good friend Kalena Bovell, where she will be talking about her time management and productivity tips, my friend Elizabeth Askren talking about networking skills, and a lot more. So have a great holiday season, take good care, and I will see you in 2022. Bye for now.