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Summer Institute at Southwestern Gives Conductors an Opportunity to Gain New Skills

Now in its 35th year, Conductors’ Institute gives choral conductors professional instruction in the great choral/orchestral works of classical music.

In the world of music, young violinists practice in the privacy of their rooms, rock musicians take it to the garage, but where do conductors practice?

One answer is the Conductors’ Institute at Southwestern University. Now in its 35th year, the institute gives choral conductors professional instruction in the great choral/orchestral works of classical music.

“Composers such as Bach, Handel and Mozart created musical scores for choirs and orchestras, but many choral conductors do not have previous experience conducting both choirs and orchestras,” says Kenneth Sheppard, professor of music at Southwestern University and institute director. “This program is fostering generations of conductors who are more proficient doing large choral-orchestral practices.”

Each year, the Conductors’ Institute selects a well-known musical score for rehearsal and performance. This year, George Frederic Handel’s famous oratorio, the Messiah, will be played. On June 24, conductors from around the country will gather at Southwestern to take classes and rehearse the piece for five days.

The conductors who are taking advantage of this opportunity are from as far away as California. In the past, conductors have traveled from China, Taiwan, Mexico and the Virgin Islands to take part in this program. This year, the 18 participants will include high school and college choral conductors as well as church musicians.

The program will be divided into day sessions and evening sessions. During the day, the conductors will take master classes from conductors Kenneth Sheppard, Brad Bouley, and Ellsworth Peterson. Lectures and conducting laboratories focusing on baton technique and manual conducting will be given. In addition to group lectures, Sheppard and Bouley will give individual instruction. In the evening session, orchestral members and selected soloists from Chorus Austin and the San Gabriel Chorale will meet with the conductors for rehearsals.

The five-day institute will culminate in a public performance by an orchestra of professional players, Chorus Austin, San Gabriel Chorale and vocal soloists on Thursday, June 28, at 7 p. m. in the Lois Perkins Chapel on the Southwestern University campus. It is open to the public, and is free of charge.

The concert will differ from most because the performers will be dressed casually and a different conductor will lead each section of the oratorio.