This past summer, upper school music teacher Susan Nace attended the residential Choral Conducting Institute at St. Stephen’s College of Oxford University through the new Vegesna Grant Program for teachers’ professional development. The institute gave conductors the opportunity to hone their conducting skills, working with James Jordan and the Westminster Williamson Voices, and James Whitbourn, a fellow of St. Stephen’s. The intensive daily program included master classes, seminars by eminent scholars, private tutoring, rehearsals and singing “Compline” at the end of the day. The institute ended with a concert conducted by attendees.
Highlights of the institute included lectures by esteemed conductors Edward Higginbottom and Stephen Darlington; singing at Sunday Mass at Christ Church Cathedral; observing rehearsals of the Christ Church Cathedral choir; inspecting centuries-old manuscripts at the Bodleian Library; and conducting music under the tutelage of the composer.
“As music teachers, we often do not get the opportunity for intensive study with deep internal reflection on and engagement with the music we conduct,” Nace said. “Working closely with professional singers on choral masterworks is a different experience from the classroom, yet afforded us an opportunity to focus solely on our conducting technique to become better communicators with those we do conduct.”
Nace added that “to receive affirmation from scholars, mentors and peers is a rejuvenating and heartening experience that teachers need but often do not receive. This experience has not only given me new perspectives on conducting but also encouragement that I am a very capable conductor and teacher as well as a mentor to other musicians.”