Fine Arts to hold eleventh conducting symposium

Waynesburg University’s music department will be holding its eleventh annual conducting symposium on Jan. 31 to Feb. 1. Participants in the event will be given the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge of conducting and gain experience playing alongside other musicians.

The symposium took a hiatus after its first eight years, which means that this is only the third time the current Waynesburg University seniors are able to participate. 

The symposium is offered for an Act 48 credit, which is a continuing education credit for teachers in Pennsylvania.That credit can also be translated to other state departments of education.

Usually the conductors that attend the symposium are area high school, middle school and elementary school band directors; however, a college professor that wants a refresher in conducting skills will occasionally attend as well.

For the symposium, there are eight conducting spots, and each conductor is given two times on the podium to conduct for 15 minutes. The clinician, Dr. Warren Casey, will work with each conductor alongside the live band. Casey, the Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, holds a Master of Music Education and a Doctor of Philosophy in Music Education from the University of Oklahoma.

“The band is learning and growing, plus all these conductors generally play as well, so our band goes from 35 to 50 or 60. It winds up a pretty nice sounding symphonic band,” Dr. Ronda DePriest, professor of instrumental music and the director of the music program, said.

The Waynesburg symphonic band that plays this event is accompanied by guest musicians, creating what is called the clinic band. For the Waynesburg students playing in the symphonic band, this event is a huge learning experience. The student players will only have six rehearsals to prepare the music for this event.

“We’re slamming information at them really fast,” DePriest said. “Our kids are really resilient. We’re largely what I call a volunteer army.”

The different conductors will give the students more experience with different conducting styles and make them more flexible while interpreting. This will give them the ability to play for more conductors with ease.

“The people that get on the podium may take different tempos than I take. They may do something that [the students] have never seen before and we have to be able to work together,” DePriest said.

Watching eight different conductors in one weekend helps the students to closely observe and  to catch differences in conducting patterns. This allows each student to work toward becoming better musicians.

“You can tell when a conductor is connecting with a band,” Harrison Scott, a senior at Waynesburg University who is participating in the conducting symposium for a third year. “You can tell when a conductor is engaged or is simply waving their arms. It’s a testament to the power of body language and eye contact.” 

Scott said learning this has even helped in personal interactions with others and even in professional interviews.

“I look forward to this weekend every year because I see our symphonic band really grown in the course of two weeks,” DePriest said.

The music that is learned in the conducting symposium will also be used for the Waynesburg University symphonic bands mid-winter concert on Feb. 12. This gives the band enough time to put the music together for their own voicing.