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5 minutes with ... James Jordan and Bramwell Tovey.

James Jordan and Bramwell Tovey share a passion for conducting. They will be the Keynote Speakers for MTNA's 2007 Conference in Toronto. Jordan is one of the nation's pre-eminent conductors, writers and innovators in choral music. He is associate professor of conducting and senior conductor at Westminster Choir College. Tovey, who has conducted orchestras throughout the world, is music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and recently completed a term as chief conductor and music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.

Can you give us a sneak preview of what topic(s) you will touch upon in your MTNA keynote address?

Jordan: I will be speaking about the complex, but necessary, aspects of one's spiritual awareness that are necessary in all aspects of music making. How we view ourselves and others, and how we can use the life we have already lived to allow the music we make to connect with others.

Tovey: Ever since I first sang in a choir at the age of 5, I was aware of the power of music. During my MTNA address I want to salute our music educators who are giving our children a powerful means of expressing themselves, thereby offering them one of the most potent forces for good in our civilization.

What practical advice would you give to aspiring young conductors?

Jordan: Several things come to mind. Take time daily to know yourself, and strive to be yourself at all times in front of your ensembles. Also, have enough belief and love of self to do what you do and not copy others. Try to appreciate and understand the power of your own musical spirit.

Tovey: Always be prepared. Never assume that you can get away with anything once you stand in front of your peers. Perhaps most importantly, do not even think of becoming a conductor unless you absolutely must--it is a very tough road.

Have you found it challenging to introduce new music to your audiences?

Jordan: Actually, not at all. New music has become a love of mine, and composers over the past years are enjoying using the choirs I conduct as their "voice." This year alone, Williamson Voices at Westminster will perform six premieres of works I feel are important: Two major works by Gerald Custer and British composer James Whitbourne. The choir will also tackle new works by Finnish composer Jaako Mantyjarvi. I feel that his works are truly astounding not only because of the sounds he explores, but his understanding of human connections in the texts he uses. Audiences always connect with music, I find, that has meaning for their lives. The work by Whitbourne, Annelies, is the American premiere of a compelling work based upon the letters of Anne Frank.

Tovey: Yes, but inspiringly so. I have tried to ensure that I introduce the music myself, or perhaps in an "interview" format with the composer. Composers (myself included) tend to drone on in a panic of self-justification. Given a "bon mot" from the stage that is relatively comprehensible to the layperson, the challenges can be overcome quite easily.

Tell us about the innovative approaches you have used in your careers.

Jordan: Laban Movement has been one of the core pedagogies on which I have worked for the past 20 years. The past 10 years have been occupied by the development of what I call Harmonic Immersion Solfege. This system treats aural training from the standpoint of hearing within harmonic structures rather than just trying to replicate intervals that are devoid of harmony. I have also been working hard to redefine the role of the choral accompanist--to move the accompanist in a rehearsal to the role of collaborator and partner in pedagogy! Marilyn Sheneberger, my accompanist for both Williamson Voices and my new professional choir, ANAM CARA, has been instrumental in using the piano in new ways to teach a choir how to hear. I find the work very exciting.

Tovey: In Winnipeg, in 1992, we began a New Music Festival (still going strong) during the barren month of January. In the first year over 10,000 attended the festival in the course of 9 days. In Vancouver we pioneered using large television screens in a major classical series, doubling our subscribers to that series. Last year we began a program called VSO CONNECTS with our education partner, TELUS, which places musicians in schools and brings students into our rehearsals. I visit about 12 schools a year under this program. In 2009 a new education center, some 35,000 square feet, will open behind the Orpheum in Vancouver, dedicated to music education and run by the Vancouver Symphony. In 2005/06 the VSO performed to over 50,000 students in our education concerts at the Orpheum in downtown Vancouver.

What is the most urgent issue facing musicians today?

Jordan: To understand that music is sorely needed in our world today to maintain some semblance of humanity in a highly technical world. I also profoundly believe that understanding what really makes music is so important. I am also on a "crusade" of sorts to have young musicians understand that there is no music worth performing or listening to if they do not understand themselves in a deeply human and spiritual way. For young musicians, this can be a very simple process. It gets more complicated as we grow older--especially if we have been making music in a state of total unawareness (which, I believe, is sometimes the case). Unawareness is the musician's greatest enemy--from unawareness of our bodies, to unawareness of sound, to unawareness of themselves. The world in which we live breeds unawareness. As artists, we must fight the temptation to exist in an unaware state!

Tovey: Same thing as always--we must practice to be perfect, yet allow just enough of our discipline to be free to exploit the moment. I am very optimistic about the future. I am not a naysayer. Less urgent, but equally important, I firmly believe that all classical music training should include instruction in improvisation.

When the curtain closes on what will hopefully be a long and fulfilling life, what pithy inscription might appear on your headstone? ("I regret that I have but one life to give to my conducting?")

Jordan: "He asked musicians to love themselves first, and then others, through the music they make. In the words of the great American Preacher, William Sloan Coffin: 'Amo ergo sum--I love, therefore I am.'"

Tovey: "'Let music enrich us!' was his daily text. It worked out in this world, now try out the next...."

Arthur Houle is associate professor/director of keyboard studies at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado and founder/director of the Festival for Creative Pianists (
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Article Details
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Author:Houle, Arthur
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Previous Article:Alfred Mann, musicologist and historian of the Baroque, dies.
Next Article:A conversation with Yefim Bronfman.

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