Summing Up My Time At ASU

I had a wonderful, albeit brief, time talking to the ASU post-graduate orchestral conducting students. The 45 minute exchange turned out to be a concentrated and frank discussion, even by my standards…

Of all the lectures and discussions I have conducted with college students over the years, I approached this session with the least structure and preparation. Not out of any disinterest or laziness mind you, but because the subject matter was rather fluid.

In general, the topic was “leadership” and that quickly spun off to cover a handful of concentrated topics. I won’t go into too much detail as some of the subject matter is not ideally suited for a public forum such as a blog but although this session may not have had the benefit of intense preparation, it certainly produced some of best results I’ve experienced.

Perhaps most enjoyable for me was the time spent talking about how to recognize who you’re talking to in order to adopt a necessary persona without also trading your moral integrity. We also addressed a number of potentially uncomfortable and/or unpleasant subjects about some of the pitfalls that ensnare too many conductors and end up producing far too much unnecessary stress within the modern orchestral environment.

Nevertheless, these taboo subjects were well received and the students were filled with questions and what I perceived as a sincere interest to learn motivated by a desire to better themselves and allow the position of a modern conductor to continue evolving.

I received a note from Timothy Russell, Director of the ASU Graduate Orchestral Conducting Program and the individual that invited me to talk to the students, that perhaps best sums up the experience:

“Arizona State University’s graduate conducting program places a large emphasis on understanding the administrative roles of the music director as well as assistant conductors in our society today . . .. in addition to the standard work on developing musicianship, stick technique, and rehearsal techniques. It was great that Drew, someone who understands the importance of these skills, could visit with our students and reinforce the importance of this aspect of our profession in such a positive way. Many thanks! Come again soon!!”

I also had the opportunity to listen to the tail end of an ASU orchestra rehearsal and they were working on none other than the Christian Lindberg concerto for Charlie Vernon, the premier of which I had the pleasure of attending in the fall.

It sounded like the ensemble was well on the way toward mastering the intricate ensemble issues inherent to the piece. Plus, if they are lucky, Charlie will wear the same suit to his performance at ASU he wore on the evening of the premier.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “Summing Up My Time At ASU”

  1. Drew–
    I am a old friend and big fan of Tim Russell and I know his work at ASU very well. He is a fabulous teacher in the fullest and most comprehensive sense of the term. He cares deeply about the students and their real future lives as professionals. What’s more, he is committed to having them find their own “conducting voice” and so he pushes the students to know themselves completely as musicians first and conductors second. Hooray for you and for Tim!
    peter kountz

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