7: Wave Your Arms in the Air Like You Just Don’t Care with Jennifer Jolley

Show Notes:

๐—ช๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ป ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐˜€ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ณ๐—ถ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐˜ ๐˜๐—ถ๐—บ๐—ฒ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐˜ƒ๐—ผ๐—ถ๐—ฐ๐—ฒ ๐˜๐—ผ๐—น๐—ฑ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚ ๐—บ๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ต๐˜ ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐—ป๐˜ ๐˜๐—ผ ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ ๐—ฎ ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐˜‚๐—ฐ๐˜๐—ผ๐—ฟ? โ 

You might have shushed it the first time, but did the voice keep coming back, and tell you that you could possibly be a great conductor? If you are a musician thinking about potentially exploring the path of a conductor, this episode is for you.โ 

My guest today Jennifer Jolley is an old friend and we have had some wonderful adventures together. I was always her conductor throughout these projects, but recently she has started conducting herself. โ 

No matter if you are a musician in other fields: an instrumentalist, a vocalist, a composer, a sound engineerโ€ฆ. if the idea of conducting had ever popped into your mind, consider it a sign that you should really try it out yourself – because itโ€™s a wonderful thing!

๐•€๐•ฅโ€™๐•ค ๐•‹๐•š๐•ž๐•– ๐•ฅ๐•  ๐•Ž๐•’๐•ง๐•– ๐•๐• ๐•ฆ๐•ฃ ๐”ธ๐•ฃ๐•ž๐•ค ๐•š๐•Ÿ ๐•ฅ๐•™๐•– ๐”ธ๐•š๐•ฃ ๐•ƒ๐•š๐•œ๐•– ๐•๐• ๐•ฆ ๐•๐•ฆ๐•ค๐•ฅ ๐”ป๐• ๐•Ÿ’๐•ฅ โ„‚๐•’๐•ฃ๐•–.โ 

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Website: https://www.jenniferjolley.com/

Instagram: @whycompose

Twitter: @jennjolley


Instagram:ย @theconductorspodcastย /ย @tingchaowen

Website:ย www.chaowenting.com

Facebook:ย Chaowen Ting

Chaowen: 02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen recording in May 2023.

After finishing the first season of the Conductors 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. And now we also have its own Instagram handle, it’s also the same, the Conductor’s podcast. So older show notes have been moved to the new site and I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Jennifer: 0:50
I would start small. Maybe find friends that you trust, like create your own ensemble of a safe space and do a tiny quartet/quintet. And say, like, Hey, I’m going to try conducting this. Do you mind giving me tips? You’re surrounded by people who support you, and also it’s okay to mess up. So that would be my two tips.

Chaowen: 1:18
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 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 rollercoaster of 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: 2:40
When was the very first time your inner voice told you that you might want to be a conductor? You perhaps shushed it the first time, but did that voice keep coming back and tell you that you could possibly be a great conductor? If you’re a musician thinking about potentially exploring the path of a conductor, this episode is for you.

Chaowen: 3:05
Hi there. Welcome to episode No.7 of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, and I’m thrilled that you are tuning in with me, as my guest today is an old friend. We have had some wonderful adventures together. I was always her conductor throughout this project, but recently, she has started conducting herself. I have to admit though, when she first picked up a baton and started waving her arms, I thought I might be out of a conductor’s job.

Chaowen: 3:40
No matter if you’re a musician in other fields, an instrumentalist, a vocalist, a composer, or a sound engineer, if the idea of conducting has ever popped into your mind, consider it a sign that you should really try it out yourself, because it’s a wonderful thing. It’s time to wave your arms in the air like you just don’t care.

Chaowen: 4:07
My guest today Jennifer Jolley is a composer, a blogger, and a college professor. She has received commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mid-American Center for Contemporary Music, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and many others. She promotes composer advocacy through her opera company, NANOworks Opera for which I serve as the music director still. And she frequently writes for NewMusicBox and I Care If You Listen. Also, she is on the Executive Council of the Institute for Composer Diversity and the New Music USA Program Council.

Chaowen: 4:51
Welcome to the show, Jenn. 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 please give everybody a brief intro; just a little bit about your background and how you got to where you’re at right now?

Jennifer: 5:09
Sure. Hi, everyone. I’m Jenn Jolley. I’m a composer and a professor, and I do write blog posts on my own website and on icareifyoulisten.com and NewMusicBox. A little bit of my background: I started studying piano at six years old. I was super obsessed with the piano, but I wasn’t terribly obsessed with practicing the piano. But I was good at it. I also in hindsight realized I was improvising. So long story short: got into film music, [and] decided I wanted to study composition. So I studied composition as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music. And then later on my life, [I] went to graduate school at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. And right now I am an Assistant Professor of Composition at Texas Tech University, where I teach composition and music theory and computer music.

Chaowen: 6:16
That’s really cool. And Jenn and I went way back during my time at CCM: I was doing my master’s in conducting when Jenn was starting her DMA in composition. And we met at a typical composer reading session because the orchestra there used to do the composer reading for the composition students, where we conducted their pieces with an orchestra so they can get a feel of how it sounds and how it is when you have musicians playing your music. And the reason why Jenn’s here on this podcast is because she recently started conducting herself after so many years. Can you tell us a little bit about the story? How you finally got started?

Jennifer: 7:05
Yes, I will tell you all the details. So I actually have a tiny, tiny bit of conducting experience. Tiny. So when I was an undergrad, actually, I had to take both choral conducting and instrumental conducting. My instrumental conducting class at the time was not great, taught by a very, very old conducting guy. And yeah, it’s just very old fashioned, but I really liked choral conducting. So I tried doing it myself [and] conducted a couple of student choral works. And also I asked the TA at the time, like how do I get better at choral conducting? She’s like, you just need to wave your arms. Get a church job. So I ended up actually being a choir director at the Waterbury Congregational Church in Waterbury, Vermont. So we did our simple, once a week choral things and then I stopped conducting. I just didn’t take a church job when I went to grad school. I really wanted to focus on being a composer. And I don’t know, I just I thought at that time, I had to specialize.

Jennifer: 8:15
So anyways, a few years ago, I was like, why don’t I try conducting wind band stuff, since I’m really popular in the wind band world right now. So I’m just gonna roll with it. And I’ve had some people in passing, who said, do you conduct your own music? And I was like, No, I don’t. Like I just didn’t. That was too risky, too scary for me. But I was thinking about it. And so I started asking some good friends of mine and mentors, how do I get into this without completely failing and falling on my face? So I was at the OMEA conference, the Ohio Music Educator Association Conference, in Cincinnati, and I think that was in 2019, right before the pandemic. They were doing my piece “Ash”. I was going to lunch with my friend, Jeff Gershman, who’s the conductor of wind ensembles at Capital University, and Frank Ticheli, who I studied with as an undergraduate at USC.

Jennifer: 9:22
The thing with Frank Ticheli is he is known for conducting his own stuff, and I was like, “Hey, so I think I really want to conduct again,” and both Jeff and Frank were like, That’s awesome. And then Dr. Ticheli, or I’ll just call him Frank now was like, โ€œYeah, you should just do it. I did. I have no conducting degrees. And I just went for it.โ€ I’m like, okay, cool. Also, I’m thinking, Dude, you’re Frank Ticheli. I’m sure they just let you do it.

Jennifer: 9:58
But he says, here’s a good idea. Why don’t you sign up for some conducting workshops. And you know what, the first one, just audit it. Just audit it, because, you know, you just want to get a feel for it. And the good news is, once you audit it, you want to get up on the podium. And I said, โ€œAlright, I will do that.โ€ Then the pandemic hit. So that was a little bit of a bummer on many levels.

Jennifer: 10:25
But I told some other friends of mine, and my friend Mary Kate McNally told me, You know what you should do? You should go to the UMKC conducting seminar that Steve Davis holds. It’s very encouraging. Yeah, let’s just do it. And we were going to room together and I was like, great, I will audit it. So I did just that this past summer. I went to the UMKC conducting seminar, [and] it was great to be back in person with people and to have an octet of live musicians. I sat in the back and watched everything. Unfortunately, I couldn’t participate. I don’t play a wind instrument; they had the conductors not auditing actually participate and conduct for each other, because piano was my instrument. But that was wonderful.

Jennifer: 11:19
Also very surreal was [that] my piece “Ash” was a conducting excerpt. So I had a whole bunch of conducting students ask me specifically how to conduct my own piece. Steve told me, I’m so glad you’re here. We should have you conduct at the end. I’m like, Oh, dear God. Okay. So fast forward, I’m thinking a lot about how to conduct “Ash”, because literally people one by one are conducting it. But I said, You know what, I’m going to do it. And it was really scary, because I’m in front of all my conducting colleagues, and I’m in front of these young wannabe conductors, or conductors that are here to improve their skills. And I’m thniking, I’m going to conduct my own piece. I remember Steve Davis laughed.

Jennifer: 12:06
And part of me is saying, Dude, I did no score study with the other pieces. And at least I know that one, I at least know my own piece. So I just did it. It was really scary. I was shaking. But I’m so glad I did it. It was amazing. And I’m like, Alright, now I want to just do it again. Like once I’d like failed a tiny bit. So now I’m doing it, which is great. And it’s still scary. But I think with practice, it’ll get better.

Chaowen: 12:34
Yeah, and then I wanted to circle back a little bit about the “just do it” thing, because it’s so much more easily said than done. Because everyone who had been there would tell you, Just do it. Just get up there. Don’t worry about others. Just forget about all those people watching or playing off of your hands, beats or whatever, while there are actually many more steps that you have to walk through until you get there and “just do it”. So can you maybe share with us some of the objections that you felt? Or people told you–like the mini theatre, we say in Chinese, like we have a mini drama queen inside yourself telling you all the things that are not true?

Jennifer: 13:23
Yeah, it is a mini drama in your head. It’s hard to not see the people looking at you–you literally have everybody watching you. As somebody who used to perform more often as a pianist–granted, I didn’t have to look at the audience, but you knew that people were watching you–when you conduct an ensemble, you literally do see them. It’s not like when you had the stage lights on you as a performer and you can’t actually see the audience. You’re seeing your peers looking back at you. Because that’s their job.

Chaowen: 13:58
Yeah. And you want them to look at you.

Jennifer: 14:02
Ideally, yes, not be like, “Eyes up here”, right? I am very fortunate that I have colleagues, that my colleague here at Texas Tech, Dr. Sarah McCoy, was giving me these opportunities that are very low-risk to conduct. So, backstory with that: her TAs attended this UMKC conference. So she texted me back saying like, Hey, we were going to do Ash at the band camp for high schoolers. Do you want to conduct? And I said, Sure.

Jennifer: 14:34
And then I’m thinking, Okay, how is that? So I had to run rehearsal. And you’re talking about this huge group. I think all these parents were like, we can finally sign them up for band camp. Get them out of the house. And gosh, the whole Hemmle Hall was just full of these eyes staring at me. So the barrier is you have to tell yourself that yes, maybe it’s scary, and that it’s okay to fail.

Jennifer: 15:05
And in fact, the reason why I’m glad Sara McCoy gave me this opportunity as she kept saying, This is low stakes. This is high school, the performance is going to be at 3pm on a Saturday. It’s not live streamed. I’m so thankful for her for giving me the opportunity because it was real, but also it wasn’t my peers, it was high schoolers.

Jennifer: 15:33
So I would say do it. I would start small. Maybe find friends that you trust, like create your own ensemble of a safe space, and do like a tiny quartet/quintet. And say, โ€œHey, I’m gonna try conducting this. Do you mind giving me tips?โ€ You know what I’m saying? I would gather people you trust. So just to be clear, the high schoolers are not my friends, but a friend and colleague helped set up a very low-stakes way of getting started. I was so nervous at first, I realized I have way too many time signature changes in “Ash.” And I kept forgetting them. My score was a mess, like, Three here! Two here! That was on me, but just knowing that you’re surrounded by people who support you. It’s okay to mess up at first. You’re learning, it’s a practice. You know, your things aren’t perfectly sightread when you practice an instrument, just like conducting. It’s not going to be perfect. So it’s okay. So that would be my two tips there.

Chaowen: 16:51
Yeah, I think it’s something that is hard for us to get over with, because it’s totally different from practicing in front of the mirror, or practicing along [with] a recording that you wave your arms to, [or even when] conducting the Vienna Phil or Berlin Phil, when everything was rehearsed, and it’s a final product. So you think you’re doing all the great things. It’s almost like practicing swimming on the ground. And when you finally get into the water, you feel like you’re drowning. Like, oh my god, where’s my perfect movement? I forgot breathing and oh no.

Chaowen: 17:31
So I think there are a few tips that you mentioned when you are just starting. One is you really want to find your cheerleading friends. You want someone that is supportive, that is friendly, and that you are in an environment that will allow you to practice to learn. So you don’t have to worry about like losing face, or possibly losing a job offer. You don’t want to put yourself in a high-risk position when you’re just starting out. And you want to start small and find smaller ensembles to work with before you get on big stages with, like, hundreds of high schoolers, even that. And the last thing, number three is you want to say yes to every single opportunity, very quickly before you think twice and start doubting yourself.

Jennifer: 18:25
I think that’s great advice, Chaowen. Because before you second guess yourself [and] that drama queen theater of doubt starts creeping in. That’s not a good voice to listen to. And then I also tell myself, “Look, no one’s gonna die.โ€ Hopefully I’ll cue my entrances. Like, I need a score study. It’s been a few years since I wrote that piece. So yeah, I’m following your advice, Chaowenn. Thank you.

Chaowen: 18:56
Good. I heard that you’re learning so much more about ensemble playing, if I could put it this way from having to conduct your own pieces. So can you talk to us a little bit about what you’ve discovered?

Jennifer: 19:14
So during that conducting symposium, I had a lot of thoughts with how many time signature changes I have in this piece “Ash”. Now, I thought long and hard about this as a composer, because there are some connotations with time signatures, emphasis is in beats and everything. And so I eventually decided to have five beats of music, conducted three four and then two four.

Jennifer: 19:45
Now, in a more professional ensemble, I would just put my hand down, hold the note, and cut it off. So basically, as a therapist once told me I have control issues, but I’m a composer. So I’m going to go with it. I wanted exact control with my fermata here. Now, that being said, this has an issue of gesture, so I’m not doing all the beats, except I had to conduct for the high schoolers, they were confused. I’m like, Okay, we’re gonna conduct every single beat. But, you know, there’s a certain gesture with conducting an ensemble and the gesture is based on the instruments of the ensemble. So I learned this through Mary Kate.

Jennifer: 20:29
With wind players, you want to emulate how they’re breathing through their instrument. [With] string players, it’s that gesture of bowing. And the reason why I bring up bowing is because also in the score, I have tiny breath marks, and there have been two variations in which conductors have interpreted it. Some have just made it as a lift and in fact, Sara McCoy, my colleague does it more as a lift, and I’m okay with it. And when I conducted as a choral conductor, I have this break, like I need time to breathe.

Jennifer: 21:00
So that being said, Robert Carnochan, who’s director of bands at the University of Miami, he’s one of the guest conductors. He’s like, Alright, I have a question about these breath marks. Is it like a complete cut off? Or is it just a lift? And I’m trying to remember my own score, the octet arrangement, forgot the breath marks. So I’m like trying to remember and I’m like, it’s in my head. And he says, tell you what, do you see this as a long bow stroke? And I said, Yeah, I do. So then the gesture is more of this length, with this sort of up bow lift, and a breath. And so therefore, I, as a conductor, interpret my own piece as this lift, this downward bow stroke, and that would influence my gestures.

Jennifer: 21:53
So now if I were to rewrite it, I think maybe a five four bar, I don’t know. Or, you know, if there’s a way to just put a whole note, maybe it should have been a whole note with a fermata. But the gesture, now I’m realizing time signatures should help conductors with gesture. And I think that’s very important because we, as performers have gestures in our physicality, too. And I think that makes the music more physical and more present, for lack of a better word. So that is important to me.

Chaowen: 22:28
I’m glad that you brought up the topic of time signature and time signature changes, because as conductors, we have different ways to decide our conducting gesture when there are meter changes or when they are compound and complex and mixed meters. So like a five eight can be two plus three, or it can be three plus two, or it can be just waiting there for things to happen, and then you go down to the next downbeat, depending on the instrument, the moment, the tempo, and all the things you just said.

Chaowen: 23:03
So I’m curious when you were composing, in general, what prompted you to write down a different time signature? Is it more like a phrasing or out of consideration, like you said, that the breathing that the wind instruments might need, or even take some bowing stroke, like kind of the physicality of musicians where you felt requiring a different signature? What was on your mind?

Chaowen: 24:29
Yeah, instrumentalists definitely look at those signatures with a totally different mindset as opposed to singers.

Jennifer: 24:39
Yeah, something I’ve discovered in my own music is I actually sing everything. And even though I’m talking about a wind ensemble piece, I actually sing it inadvertently, like I sing my own stuff because it helps me know when to breathe. And also like if I conduct to myself, I’d like to hear it. So maybe it’s because I conducted singers.

Chaowen: 25:06
But that’s really a great score study tip for everybody. You should really sing the lines. And even if you’re not a great singer, it really helps you understand where they might need to breathe, or even with string instruments, you understand the contour of the melodies and some string crossing or some shifting that they might be experiencing. So let’s get back to the second thing that you were going to talk about: what would you learn now that you’re conducting as well?

Jennifer: 25:36
So now that I have to conduct my own piece, the eyes of the world are upon you. I think back to our mutual now-colleague, Mark Gibson, and I remember I showed him a score of mine when I was in graduate School. And he’s like, that’s a really slow tempo. And he told me that anything below 72 beats a minute is really hard to conduct. And so now I was like, I was looking at the score, because again, it’s great to have your friends around. I am exchanging lessons with my friend, Mary Kate. She wants to compose, [and] I said, Great. Let’s trade. I have a gig, please help me. So I look at the tempo, and it’s 60 beats a minute. And I’m like, Oh, no. So not to say that I’m not gonna write pieces below 72 beats a minute. But just being cognizant that it’s just a little bit more of a practice–it’s harder for conductors to conduct slow things.

Jennifer: 26:35
Now, Chaowen, you can verify that. But I’m, like, now super aware of how my music not only looks on the page, because that’s also very important, but also like even having it clear in its construction, because conductors study scores, and they have their own mapping systems. And, you know, I learned this a lot through like Tonya Mitchell Spaldin, she was also a guest. And she’s looking at our maps, and she was encouraging these conductors to have like, descriptive words and energy graphs. And I was like, this is really smart. And I’m like, I actually use some of this as a composer. So I’m glad I’m doing that. But other things like, now I’m thinking tempo and like really being sure about time signature and really being sure about the gesture. So yeah, the two things are I’m really now cognizant of time signatures. And now I’m like, cognizant of tempo and also gesture.

Chaowen: 27:33
Yeah, I did not know Mark said that, because that was also interesting to hear. Because my teacher after Mark, Neil Varon at Eastman, he had a different range. So he would say, okay, when everything is around 60, then it’s really hard to keep the tempo because you want to rush, I think it’s probably like the same thing, [just said in] a different way. And he said, [for] anything that is below 50, you want to subdivide it, because that would help you to keep the tempo steady while a lot of the younger conductors and also the younger ensemble players would have real difficulty to really keep the tempo. But another sacrifice when you subdivide beats is that you sometimes break the flow. Because a lot of times, composers write such slow and expanded phrases at that speed because they are looking for a certain way that the sound is structured, it’s usually longer and expanded. And when you’re just there kind of waving your arms one and two and three and four and one and two or 123 223, you can really break that flow.

Jennifer: 29:05
I will say, for lack of a better explanation: Western music sucks at rhythm and time. Our notated music is pretty great. But when it comes to time and rhythm and rhythmic analysis, we suck at it, and it really does depend on the composer. This reminded me of my former composition teacher, Steven Harkey, he tends to have these like bigger, I will furthermore say like medieval time signatures, and I think that’s because he was a boy soprano when he was a child, and they sang a whole bunch of medieval music. He’s told me that the reason why he chooses the time signatures that he does is because he wants more of like, a greater concept of the time. And in the medieval era, they didn’t think of time signatures as the way we do now. They thought more [in what] they called mensurations. So it’s just a more of an elongation of phrases. And that has affected his work. It really depends on the composer. And again, that’s why score study is important just to understand what they’re trying to convey through time signatures.

Chaowen: 30:06
Yeah, I think it’s also something that’s been missing in instrumental education in general, because we are trained to read and decipher the notation very quickly, and decide how we are going to execute [and] how we are going to produce a sound at the right time and that the right pitch, while we don’t emphasize as much the listening part and the give and take between your ensemble partners, and that was really interesting. Like yesterday when I was in rehearsal, we were doing this new composition, where there are speaking parts from the different players — they have to speak, three, four sentences, and then everybody has to play off that. And everybody was stunned; they didn’t know what to do, because it was not part of their training to play just by listening to something else or someone else. They are counting and wanting to come in right together, while this choral experience, as you described, like a give and take and you breathe and you watch, is something that’s more difficult, I would say, than ensemble playing. And it takes a little bit of training to understand the style.

Jennifer: 31:11
I also think in the context of an ensemble, you think that you need to come in at the same time? So there’s just a lot of barriers there.

Chaowen: 31:20
So now you’re more, let’s say, aware of the conductor’s movement, in general, when you are composing. So that’s kind of an additional layer, right? Because I assume that when you were composing, you were thinking about how they’re going to play it. Now, on top of that, you’re thinking about how the conductor is going to put all the pieces together physically and mentally, like how we study it. Yeah, and I’m curious [to know] if you study your own score differently from if you are composing it, if it requires two totally different mindsets?

Jennifer: 31:49
You know, I’m going to say no, because I feel like whenever I look at a score, I always try to see it from the composer’s point of view. So I guess, for my own piece, I think I’m just more of like a composition teacher being critical at my past self, if that makes sense. I’ll be like, Jenn, why did you do that? You should know better. [Then] I’ll be like, Well, I know better now. Well, I can’t do anything about it. So I’ll try to correct it.
An example of this: yesterday I was conducting “Blue Glacier Decoy”–the contemporary music ensemble at Texas Tech is going to do it. And Dr. Eric Allen–again, I’ve just had really supportive people. And he’s like, why don’t you conduct your own piece and run rehearsals? I’ve also told him that like, for me to help advise, like to have my two cents, I said, I want to conduct a piece every semester. So again, I’m just committing before I can change my mind. So I’m conducting. I’m doing the rehearsals for my own piece, because I actually can’t make it to my own show, which is a little disappointing. But anyway, I realized that the way I hear music coming from a pianist’s point of view [is that] I hear an instantaneous decay. So I did a similar thing in the piece “Light Way”–so I have these eighth notes that dissipate. But I realized that as soon as they are done playing their eighth note figure and they have a held note, they need to get off it; they need to decay right away. And I did the same thing in “Blue Glacier Decoy” because I was not aware I was doing this. So I’m like telling the performers: “Here’s something that I did not put in the piece that I’m now aware of and will do it in my future writing music and conducting. Can you please diminuendo and do this.” So I’m aware of, I guess more technical things to watch out for [in] my own pieces. Which is great, because then I can talk intelligently to other people, like, If you want to perform my music, here are some rehearsal issues that you might encounter.

Chaowen: 32:20
I had a conducting mentor, Colin Metters, he used to teach at the Royal Academy of Music in London. So he was sharing his experience, [and] I think it also was different because he was conducting the premiere. So he just finished writing a piece [and] was still in that creator’s mode. And he had to go in and rehearse, and it was a disaster as he described it, because he was still thinking about the creation and then the players were not realizing what he had imagined. And he was probably also kind of a little bit in in the revisional stage: “Okay, maybe I should have written it differently, so it would be more clear to the players,” or “Maybe I should have written it in a different way”. Two or three days into the rehearsal, he realized, Okay, I was in the composer mode, I need to switch to the conductor mode. Now my job is to put things together and help players to perform a successful performance.

Jennifer: 35:26
I have not had that experience, that type of thing. If I were asked to conduct the premiere of my own piece, that would terrify me. I would want more conducting experience first. Because not only [were] the mind spaces overlapping, like when I go to a second rehearsal of my music–never ever go to the first rehearsal! I am still seeing if things work. When I write a large ensemble like for orchestra or wind ensemble, I am like 80% confident it’s going to work. I’m very aware that the playback in the computer is not the same. So I just use it as a tool for rhythm and pitches, and timbre. I’m doing my best guess. The more pieces I have performed, the more experience I gain in that realization. So, 80%. Probably about 10 years ago, I was hitting up 70. So I’m better now. But I’m still trying out some balance issues.

Jennifer: 36:30
And especially in the wind ensemble world, all wind ensembles are different. So it’s different having, like, three clarinets play the beginning of a piece of mine versus an acre of clarinets. It’s just different. So that sounds terrifying. I think that if I were in that situation, I would have to really be confident in myself, like, not only just do it, but just like, be very confident in my composer decisions. So that I can have that space to then articulate, via gestures, what kind of sound I want. That sounds terrifying, Chaowen. Like, I can imagine it being a disaster, because your mentor was not 100% sure, and I relate to that. Because I’m never 100% sure. I allow myself the luxury of having rehearsals to make some quick adjustments if needed, before it goes out. And then I like making those adjustments before I sell a piece of music of mine. So yeah, I’ll let you know, if I ever have to conduct a world premiere [for a piece] of mine. That sounds terrible.

Chaowen: 37:45
But that’s actually [how] some of my composer/conductor friends started conducting because they wrote a piece that was too complicated to put together without someone beating time at first. And they wanted the performance, they wanted the premiere. They found a few friends and paid them with pizza, which we all did pre-COVID. So then they decided that okay, someone needed to step in. And sometimes the musicians would request it, [because] they were under rehearsed. That happened so much back then. And I think it still is that you wanted someone there, [and] maybe [they] can give you a cue or tell you to wait, hold those two more bars, and that kind of thing. So a lot of people actually start from a different route, that okay, they they kind of started because they needed it for practical reasons. But I like that. You mentioned something about being confident because as you say, like when you’re just joining us, even if you are starting small, you are having really supportive and friendly cheerleading friends and musicians that want to help you out. And you’re saying yes to everything and commit[ting] and mak[ing] yourself accountable. So you can’t back off. But what about this current part? Like, do you still shake inside your mind? Okay, I’m not sure what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m clear enough. I don’t know if it’s my fault or their fault, even though I’m pretty sure it’s their fault. I was being as clear as I can. Like, how do you overcome that confidence part when you’re stepping up onto the podium?

Jennifer: 38:26
So jokingly, I told my primary care physician that I was going to start conducting and she gave me beta blockers. So there’s my security blanket, I actually haven’t used them. I was afraid I was going to get very nervous for the high school performance. But fortunately, my years as a performer [were] like, Oh, this is a performance. So I actually was not shaky. Now, I still doubt myself, especially in rehearsal. Like I catch myself afterwards, where I’m like, Oh, it was probably me, you know. I need to stop doing that. But what I’ve learned is conducting is a practice. It’s like, I think you should approach it like practicing an instrument. Podium time helps you develop this practice, which will help you get more confident. I actually used to get very nervous for performances of my music, which made no sense to me, because I’m like, I’m just sitting in the audience…but I think what made me nervous was the lack of control. But over time, going to performances of my music is fine now. It used to be that rehearsals would make me nervous, but because I’ve had opportunities to go to multiple rehearsals of my music, I now know what my job is as a composer. In fact, what I get nervous about is like, what if I’m not hearing something right? Or, even better, maybe my music sucks. And that’s what I’m hearing, you know, there’s that that fear. So I’m noticing the more that I’m conducting and running rehearsals, that the more confident I am, [and not just] in my musical decisions, which is universal, right? Musicians and conductors and composers [all] have musical decisions. But also my gestures are then getting more confident too. So in rehearsal, this piece, I had to beat a four pattern because I wanted those eighth notes even. And I couldn’t really make it musical. Also, I had to listen to the ensemble. So I gave myself permission to not think about the gestures yet. My job was to listen, actually know where I am in the music, and cue. After a while, after like this is, I think the third rehearsal I’ve had with these players, I’m more confident. I know who they are. I know what they’re going to sound like, I let them tune now before rehearsal–that’s a plus, forgot about that. But then, I have more confidence in my gestures. I know the piece. I’ve actually practiced conducting the piece through rehearsals. And so with practice, you get more confident. I still doubt myself, I doubted myself yesterday, and I made a self-deprecating joke to Eric Allen–I [was] like, Well, that was…better. And I even made a joke to the performers. I said, Don’t worry about it. I said, In the performance, you’ll have a much better conductor. And I’m like pointing to Eric, you know, through my hand. And he’s like, No, they’re sounding better. They’re sounding more together. And, you know, I was like, the purpose of rehearsal is that they learn to play as an ensemble. And then it’s my job to fix things. And then my gestures will follow.

Chaowen: 42:39
Yeah, I think it’s great, what you just said. And it’s really funny, you talked about this controlling thing, because as control freaks, the two of us, you actually chose things that you have the least control over, like composing and conducting. You are giving yourself up in a way that you’re able to realize and to produce the sound that you want, while you have no real power over how they’re doing it.

Jennifer: 43:12
Yes, you have to trust your players.

Chaowen: 43:16
Yeah, I like the what you just said: the the conducting comes in phases. So don’t think that you’re going to nail everything at the very first conducting experience: that you’re going to show all the styles, also cue, also show phrases and keep a steady tempo, and all the transitions will be perfect. That is not the case. But really, identify small tasks for each rehearsal. For each time you get on a podium, like you’ll say, Okay, this time I’m focusing on getting the rhythm right and the tempo right. Everything is together, [and] people know when to come in. Once you pass that, you feel a little more natural and the gestures are coming natural[ly], you don’t have to even think about it, then move on to the next thing. Maybe you start cuing with more styles in your hands. Or if you’re showing phrases, if you let go some beats when they don’t need you and they don’t freak out.

Jennifer: 44:17
Yeah, my goals for yesterday’s rehearsal, my only goal was to get from 4/4 conducting to 2/2. And that was my thesis for the whole rehearsal. So I did it in four. [I] still need to work on eighth notes being even, asked for a different articulation. And I said, All right, we’re going to connect it in we’re gonna just run it because we’re at the point where they need to hear the whole piece of music with an ensemble. So yeah, that was the goal.

Chaowen: 44:47
And I just want to put it out there, because I know some audience members might feel like, Okay, Jenn has this long story, which a lot of us don’t have, because she has an ensemble that she can rehearse, [and] she can grow with them. While when you’re starting as a conducting student, just getting your feet wet, you’re often only given 5 minutes or 10 minutes here and there, [so] you want to be the best; you want to impress people. But I would really encourage you: don’t worry about impressing others, but really focus on what you’re doing, what you’re achieving. I always think that the goal for any rehearsal is that we get better at the end of the rehearsal than [at] the beginning of the rehearsal for the players and for yourself too. It’s all these little things and small actions that we do every single day and every single rehearsal, which led to this seemingly overnight success: someone won another competition and the career took off. But there were all these little things before.

Jennifer: 45:50
Okay, I want to get more confident. I think that’ll fix a lot of things for me–not that I’m conducting badly; I don’t think I am. I just think I can be better and clearer. So I want to be more confident in my musical decisions and my past musical decisions. And I would also [like to work on giving] better cues. I actually have more experience [with choral conducting]. Like I said, I know where, like, sopranos, alto, tenor basses are. So with my cues–and that includes not burying my head in my own music. That’s not great. I feel like I will do better with score study. And I’ll be a better student. And if I’m more prepared, I’ll be more confident. And I think that will help with a lot of things.

Chaowen: 46:43
That is also true. We also grow as we learn our scores or learn our score studying skills. That’s kind of a funny thing to think about. We actually become a smarter student in our own way, so we can learn faster and better. But I really have to say, I felt wind ensembles rely on contractors cuing a little more than for orchestras in my experience, because a lot of time they freak out if they don’t cue. Like if they don’t see a cue, they doubt themselves, even if they’re counting, and they’ve played this piece 100 times. They’re like, Oh my god, am I wrong? She’s not cuing us. And so they will stare at me.

Jennifer: 47:22
You’re right. So one more thing I keep forgetting about this, just because I guess like, I’m in my fifth decade of my life now. But I did a composer conducting seminar at the Bard School of Music [that] they used to have every summer. I basically signed up for it because I was like, I need a chamber orchestra piece to include in my portfolio for doctoral programs. So I conducted in front of a string quartet. So I think that has more of an orchestral idea, especially when they were like, Do not conduct every beat, people can count to four, but it just is more of like a bow stroke thing. [The fact] that wind ensembles want more of like a cue–I wonder if this was something they learned in schools, because there’s very much this educational imprint with that type of conducting.

Chaowen: 48:12
Now my experience is [that] it’s both: it’s how they were trained, because the music education system, especially in the United States, has a specific way of training our teachers. So when they go to wind ensembles, growing up in middle school, high school, or in marching band, they are very used to seeing all the actions. They want to see all the beats, they want to see all the cues–while choirs, for example, they probably don’t need all the beats; they want to see breathing, they want to know like, sometimes even for text, okay, so this text is sung until here, how you deliver the words, and then you breathe together, so if there is a split second or two, [and it’s] not right on time, it’s totally okay. We still know where we are, as opposed to string players, [who] very often to not think about breathing, because that is not part of their music making, but they’re thinking about how to move their arms.

Jennifer: 49:12
Right, even though they could breathe. And also with singers, you have to tell them where to like, end their consonants. So I actually noticed in my conducting gestures the other day, I went, “ding”–I was like, articulating what a “t” would sound like to the vibraphone and piano, because I wanted a “ding”, you know. So I found myself articulating like a choral conductor would, but you’re absolutely right, Chaowen.

Chaowen: 49:39
Yeah. And then that’s all part of the learning. So don’t freak out if you’re conducting a different ensemble, and suddenly, the players are telling you totally different things: “Hey, we don’t want to see all the beats” or “Why are you not giving us all the beats?” Just don’t let those comments affect your confidence, because you’re a good musician, and you’re a good conductor-in-training. Don’t think that you’re so great that you don’t want to take any advice, but we are all in this together.

Chaowen: 50:09
Jenn, I am so happy to have you here on the podcast. Do you want to share with us your social media handles and your website? I’ll of course link it all in the show notes, but I want people to hear it from you.

Jennifer: 50:26
Absolutely. So my website is www.jenniferjolley.com. I’m also on Instagram as @whycompose, And my Twitter handle is @jennjolley. And like Chaowen said, she’ll put it in the show notes.

Chaowen: 50:44
Great. Please go ahead and follow Jenn everywhere and I have to say her blog, Why Compose?, is a must read. It’s so funny and so interesting. She has such great insight on a lot of things about the business, the music, and the musicians, and this crazy world. And I love her dearly.

Jennifer: 51:04
Yes. Thank you, I love you too. Take care.

Chaowen: 51:11
So my friends, if you are still not sure about conducting, itโ€™s really time to wave your arms in the air like you just donโ€™t care. If you are just starting out, take from Jennโ€™s experience to audit a conducting workshop before moving on to participating in one that welcomes newcomers. You want to find your cheerleading friends–if you are shy or donโ€™t want to tell your close friends yet, I can be your cheerleader! Just tag me on social media–I am @tingchaowen on Instagram, and @chaowentingconductor on Facebook. When you are just starting out, try to find a low-risk and small ensemble to work with. This can be younger musicians or in a school program, where everyone is also learning themselves. Getting your basics down before working with professional ensembles will serve you well. And lastly, if ever possible, say โ€œyesโ€ to every opportunity quickly before you have the chance to think twiceโ€ฆ.. Learning how to put oneself out there, trial and error under pressure, and making peace with the risk of failure are all part of being a conductor.

Chaowen: 52:31
Continuing the topic of stepping onto the conducting path for the first time, next week we will discuss how to find the right conducting teacher for you, and what you should be looking for with your first conducting teacher to set a great foundation with Talia Ilan. Talia has taught conducting for over 20 years, and the episode is full of wonderful information. I hope todayโ€™s episode gave you a bit more courage, and if you were listening from the car or at the gym, you can always find all the info in the show notes at chaowenting.com/7. I will see you again next week: same time, same place.

Chaowen: 53:16
Oh, and if you havenโ€™t subscribed to the podcast, I encourage you to do it right now. You can subscribe on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, or any platform that you are currently using. I donโ€™t want you to miss any new episodes! Take care, and bye for now!