28: Your Biggest Struggle in Conducting during Training Years

Conductor's Podcast Wisdom Series

What was the biggest struggle in conducting during your training years?

Hi there! Happy March and welcome to the third edition of the Conductorโ€™s Podcast Wisdom series, a new series full of shared life experiences and, of course, wisdom!

This monthโ€™s question that I am asking my people is, โ€œ๐—ช๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐˜€ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ฏ๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ด๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜ ๐˜€๐˜๐—ฟ๐˜‚๐—ด๐—ด๐—น๐—ฒ ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐˜‚๐—ฐ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—ฑ๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐˜†๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜€?โ€

For me, physically it was to stand up straight. Mentally it was not to be afraid of doing the job when working with professional ensembles.

๐•„๐•ช ๐•˜๐•ฆ๐•–๐•ค๐•ฅ๐•ค ๐•ฅ๐• ๐••๐•’๐•ช ๐•’๐•ฃ๐•–:

  • Alice Farnham (conductor and Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Women Conductors with the Royal Philharmonic Society, episode 26)
  • Kiernan Steiner or Dr. Kiki (Decolonization consultant and choral conductor, episode 17)
  • Kristin Roach (opera conductor, episode 12)
  • JoAnne Harris (film composer and conductor, episode 36)
  • Kira Omelchenko (Conductor, Wilfrid Laurier University Symphony Orchestra, episode 22)
  • Jennifer Kane (Founder, NOVA Women’s Choral Project – episode 16)
  • Noreen Green (Conductor, Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, episode 27)
  • Margaret Flood (Founder, Frost Young Women Conductor Symposium)
  • Michelle Rofrano (conductor, founder, Protestra, episode 3)
  • and my friend Tiffany Chang (opera and orchestra conductor, episode 4)

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Instagram:ย @theconductorspodcastย /ย @tingchaowen

Website:ย www.chaowenting.com

Facebook:ย 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 side, and I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Chaowen: 0:52
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 vocalist. 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 grows from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting student musicians and non musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry and business.

Chaowen: 1:39
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 a 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 encourage while you learn.

Chaowen: 2:13
Hi there, Happy March and welcome to the third edition of The Conductor’s Podcast Wisdom Series, a new series full of shared life experiences, and of course, wisdom. I’m your host Chaowen Ting and I’m thrilled that you’re tuning in with me today. And each of the monthly episode of The Conductor’s Podcast Wisdom series, I’m going to pose a question to 10 musicians, conductors, or business groups. So including myself, you will hear all the goodies from a wide variety of people, thus called The Wisdom Series. Now, without further ado, let’s get started. This month’s question that I’m asking my people is, what was the biggest struggle in conducting during your training years?

Chaowen: 3:02
For me, physically, it was to stand up straight. I know this sounds ridiculous. But I was always moving around. And I used to slouch a lot. Not only in conducting, but also in life. My teachers had done all kinds of things to get me stand up straight and not walk around when conducting from, you know, putting a score on my head, or making me hold a cup of coffee in my left hand, or had me stand on a piece of paper and to restrain myself from moving outside of that box.

Chaowen: 3:37
You know, nothing worked. I used to feel so bad about myself until my teacher at Eastman, Neil Varon, told me that moving around on a podium was a good thing. He said that it only meant that I had energy. And I was enthusiastic and I’m engaging. He said, we just need to learn to restrain and control that energy. He went on and assured me that he was the number one jumper at Juilliard in his own words. and he’s turned out to be a fine connector. So there was nothing for me to be worried about, which really gave me this idea that we have to learn to accept our bodies, and to be the better version of ourselves.

Chaowen: 4:27
Of course, there are some famous conductors who move around and jump around. And is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, if you if you ask musicians, they want to know where to find you when they look up, right? So being able to be centered and grounded is important. So when you’re moving and jumping around that it’s effective.

Chaowen: 4:52
However, mentally or psychologically, my biggest struggle was actually to know that I was okay. It sounds ridiculous. But I always had this fear when I work with professional musicians, I think I was taught, or I was talked so much about how professional musicians work differently from a student group, or from a community orchestra, or all this myth that I need to treat them differently, to show that I’m at the caliber that they are used to see. So whenever I want to correct something, or if I hear something that I need to make adjustment, I feel so apologetic, I fear that I will say something so silly, because they probably had played their instruments for how, however many years, maybe sometimes even longer than how old I was, when I was just starting out, you know, sometimes the orchestra musicians they’ve played at their stage for 30 or 40 years, and who, who am I to tell them to play softer to play a different phrase, to change the articulation here, who was who am I doing this.

Chaowen: 6:12
I now learned to be okay, with just doing my job, they can hear a lot of things. That’s why we need a coordinator, they can hear and then a whole if the balance was, was off, or if something needs to be brought up a little bit. And as long as I’m authentic, and genuine and honest, to my music making, I shouldn’t feel apologetic or bad about any thing that I have to say on the podium. So here is what I had to share.

Chaowen: 6:48
And I’m so excited for you to hear from my guest today. The first is a really important mentor of mine, Alice Farmhan, who is an opera and orchestra conductor and also Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Women Conductors with the Royal Philharmonic Society in London. And she was my guest and episode 26.

Alice 7:12
During my training period, I think it was the feeling sometimes when I was on the podium and being taught by somebody that I found it hard to show my authority when it was so clear, I was a student, so I therefore didn’t have the authority. And it was it was a teacher that had that and I found it very hard to sort of almost pretend I was the one in charge because I knew I wasn’t. And some some students were much better at that. And I kind of wish I had been better at that.

Chaowen: 7:43
Next we’ll hear from Kiernan Steiner, or Dr. Kiki, that she is known. She is a decolonization consultant and choral conductor and my guest and Episode 17, where we talked about how this decolonization journey can help us become better musicians.

Dr. Kiki: 8:06
I think my biggest struggle, while I was studying and conducting was feeling like I was always trying to become someone else. And what I’m what I’ve learned over the years is the more that I can find that comfort and security within myself, and have been able to utilize my conducting gesture more to become more clear and to communicate. More specifically what we’re trying to accomplish as a whole community, that it’s less about me and what I’m what I’m looking like or what I’m doing, but really more about what I’m trying to communicate.

Chaowen: 8:51
Coming up next is my friend conductor, Kristin Roach. She is an opera conductor, and my guest in Episode 12, when we talk about how we manage the career when raising kids and family.

Kristin: 9:08
I think the biggest struggle I had was that I really wanted to conduct opera, as wonderful as Brahms and Tchaikovsky symphonies are that’s not what I wanted to do. And I didn’t know enough about opera. At first opera, there’s so many facets. So I started off by having to accompany singers and really learn about the voice, then I realized, I am not comfortable just translating the languages, I really need to study them and understand the grammar and how they work. And then there’s this huge tradition of how opera is written and it spans the same hundreds of years as the rest of the classical Western canon. And now opera is even including other languages and other styles of music, and I just felt like the amount of knowledge I needed was astronomical. And it took me a long time to feel comfortable.

Chaowen: 10:02
The next guest was someone that I was personally really excited to talk to during this interview process, who is Joanne Harris, she is a film composer and conductor. And her episode interview is upcoming in April. So stay tuned.

Joanne: 10:20
The biggest struggle I had in conducting was thinking ahead of my ensemble, trying to think ahead of where to where we were going, but still pay attention to what they’re doing in the moment. I found that was really, really hard to learn.

Chaowen: 10:36
The next answer we’ll be hearing is from Dr. Kira Omelchenko. She’s and conductor and also the conductor of the Wilfrid Laurier University Symphony Orchestra. And her episode was 22, when she talked about string techniques.

Kira: 10:54
I think the biggest struggle, or the biggest challenge for me was just being patient, you know, patient with myself and with my growth. And and, and I think just being realistic and knowing like, okay, there’s no feasible way I can do every single possible workshop that’s out there, there’s so many.

Chaowen: 11:12
My next guest is Jennifer Kane, who is the founder of the Nova Women’s Choral Project, who talked about how she created this new choral ensemble during the pandemic, and Episode Number 16.

Jennifer: 11:28
I felt that that was a little bit at times, you know, maybe looked down upon a bit by some of my colleagues, particularly when I got to my doctoral level, because there’s definitely an element of well, you know, you have some really great pieces here major work, of course, you’re going to have to deal with the children on that. And of course, I think that working with the children is fabulous, because children can be some of the best musicians up on stage, they’re willing to take risks, they work really hard, and they’re often grossly underestimated. And so for me, I, I’ve always felt like I’ve had to justify why I have why it’s been important to me, to me to stay in children’s choral music, even though doing other things I’ve always felt that need to justify to others. And so I just think finding my voice and, and being confident in that has been my biggest struggle.

Chaowen: 12:24
The next person I’m welcoming is Noreen Green, who is the conductor and founder of the Los Angeles Jewish symphony and my guest last week, in Episode 27.

Noreen: 12:38
One of the struggles I had when starting out as a conductor was the ear training aspect. Because I don’t have perfect pitch, I had to work harder to make sure I was prepared to hear what I saw on the page. For me, I find it easier to get a sense of the rhythmic complexities first. Probably that’s because I come from a piano background. And then I work at the tonal structure. And I also tried to sing as many of the parts as possible, coming from a choral background that seems to help me

Chaowen: 13:10
Next we’ll be hearing from Margaret Flood, who is the founder of the Frost Young Women Conductor’s Symposium.

Margaret: 13:17
Well, I’m always training I’m I have a lot of bad habits that I need to get rid of, especially because I’m in a classroom and I’m running around and sometimes conducting isn’t the conducting with a stick that most people do. So I have a lot of like little idiosyncrasies that I’m constantly trying to get out of my my rep my, you know, moving repertoire, especially this hook on beat two. And if you ever asked Schwartz about it, we laugh so much because it took a long time for me to alleviate that, during my time with him at UM.

Chaowen: 13:57
My next guest as my dear friend Michelle Rofrano, who is an opera conductor and also founder of PROTESTRA, an orchestra based in New York, protesting social justice through their performances. And her episode, No. 3, where she talks about programming social Justice thing was one of the most popular ones.

Michelle: 14:23
I would say the first biggest struggle for me was just learning music quickly enough. Because there’s a lot of music we have to know. You know, and when we study a score, we’re not just learning one line, we’re learning all the lines as well as we can and how it all fits together. But also conductors just have to learn a lot of music quickly. You know, if you’re in grad school, you have to learn a lot of music every week for your conducting class. If you’re out in the real world, as a freelancer, you might get a lot of jobs back to back and then especially when you’re younger, you no less music already so most of it is new to you. So you just have to learn you have to get better at learning music quickly. I was not great at it at first and I got better at it because I had to

Chaowen: 14:59
So last but not least, my dear friend Tiffany Chang, who is also an opera and orchestra conductor. And her episode number four was Oversoul. Another really, really popular one, when she talked about strategies of managing our fear.

Tiffany: 15:18
Professionalism has always been my struggle. I had always been distracted by how things were not going perfectly the things the small things that went wrong, or the things that I felt like I didn’t do well enough. And I felt so distracted by them that I couldn’t actually focus on the conducting or doing or, or even focus on the things that actually went well.

Chaowen: 15:42
So here you have it. I hope you’re liking this special series that comes out every last Monday of the month, The Conductor’s Podcast Wisdom Series, and if you have any question that you want to know from my people, please send me a DM or an email. The email is at theconductorspodcast@gmail.com Just one word, theconductorspodcast@gmail.com See you next month. Bye for now