The Hybrid Approach to Teaching Conducting

In this post, conductor, professor and author, Paul Hostetter describes his journey into conducting and teaching; and how his experience in the classroom and concert hall inspired him to author a web-based conducting methods textbook.

The desire to author a conducting text was the culmination of numerous life experiences that were not in any way synchronous; this is of course representative of all of our lives, none of which seems to go on the straight line as we plan! However, the steps that led to the construction of OnMusic Conducting: Connect to the Sound may prove interesting, particularly since the path to its formation was slightly unconventional.

To start, and as background, I had the privilege of performing with a tremendous number of ensembles in New York City professionally for over 10 years before I even gave conducting a serious thought. During that time I usually brought a score to rehearsals and, as a percussionist/timpanist, used the rests to watch what conductors were doing that was both successful and ineffective – and I saw a lot of both!

When I finally began to change my career from an instrumentalist to that of a conductor in my 30’s, most of my friends thought I was crazy! However, my conviction to make the move was facilitated by the kindness of many mentors and musicians who were encouraging despite the odds we all know (a few of these are James Levine, Larry Rachleff, Eric Stern, Brad Keimach, Robert Shaw, and Richard Woitach). After conducting professionally for several years and after winning a few jobs, I decided to calm my life down a bit from the constant travel required and won a full time faculty position at Montclair State University before taking my current job at the Schwob School of Music, Columbus State University.

When I began my academic work, I taught basic conducting virtually every semester for 10 years and through that process, used a variety of texts, from Hunsberger to Labuta to Green. I also reviewed countless books about conducting in all shapes and sizes, from McElheran to Schuller to Wittry to Colson to Miller to Watkins to Battisti to Farberman and others, never mind countless autobiographies and biographies of great conductors.

As I continued to teach and think about how conducting is communicated, I began to see that at the basic level, the main goal I had was getting students to connect their physical movement to the sound in a manner that was responsive to what they were hearing both externally and internally – that tricky combination! It seemed to me that a text would need to have greater flexibility and offer deeper opportunities for dynamic interaction outside of class than what was currently available if I was to achieve the results I thought possible, even though so many I had read and used possessed tremendously valuable information. But they were delivering in a static environment with too much detail than could be accomplished in a semester, and my sense was that there might be a better approach.

Through this process, I also had an opportunity to teach music appreciation to college students. I had used a variety of texts before being introduced by my colleague, Dr. Fred Cohen, to Connect for Education (C4E). Once I had a look, I decided to use a turnkey online text of theirs called OnMusic Appreciation and found it to be terrific, eliciting very positive outcomes from students. It was from that experience that I began to seriously think about writing a conducting text, since the use of a similar platform in conducting would provide options that were interesting. The thought of collaborating with them entered my mind.

From here I began to think about using the C4E interface, but perhaps in a hybrid fashion, since it would give me a chance to:

  1. Offer video components for review both in demonstration and in the upload of student work. Seeing what others do and what you are doing yourself is of immense help as all conductors know. The C4E Acclaim tool provided a specific opportunity for interactive dialog and enhanced learning outside of class. And it’s integrated and easy to use.
  2. Create modules that can be adapted by professors. Any text has material with which individuals may not agree, since conducting is such a highly personalized art form. The ability to remove or add material that complimented sections which were consonant with a teacher’s approach would allow a more personal class-based delivery.
  3. Create the opportunity for implementing changes. Faculty who teach the course will have insight to share along the way, as one person can’t see all angles. We have the ability to update our text at any point without going through another printing, and this was very attractive.
  4. Offer automated testing outside of the conducting assessments, reducing the work load of teaching faculty, thus giving more time for individual assistance as the physical side of conducting is developed, and this needs attention.
  5. Provide relationships with numerous entities, including the NY Philharmonic score archive as an example, which shows students marked scores and parts. My sense is that we could get the rights from many vendors with whom we could collaborate, offering students video and narrative resources.
  6. Create a dynamic learning environment, where prep tests and questions could be presented in an interactive format, all geared toward the manner in which students are learning today.
  7. Create a web based calendar that is easy for professors to follow and manage.
  8. Offer everything under one umbrella at one location, from a grade book that automatically configures weighted percentages to information that is sequenced in weekly, digestible form, to all manner of video information.

These are a few of the elements that I thought would function better in a hybrid format.

The course moved forward after a meeting with Dongsook Kim, the visionary CEO of Connect for Education over dinner at a Houlihan’s, and then was consummated after a meeting with Dr. Carlos Maldonado, C4E’s chief learning architect (and an accomplished musician/conductor). I came to realize that their entire team was creative, accomplished, responsive, honest, and perceptive, fully collaborating in the design and delivery of every element in this text. My former student (and now colleague) Michael Mahadeen created arrangements that fit with my conception for the assessments (including transposed instrumental scores), and finally, I drew on the conversations I had engaged in through 25 years as a professional with countless musicians, educators, administrators, and talented students, all of whom provided remarkable insight into the teaching of conducting.

What I have seen so far is truly wonderful: OnMusic Conducting helps students to develop a somatic sense that is connected to the sound on emotional and technical levels – the hybrid approach combined with thoughtful pedagogy works beautifully. This has made the journey so very gratifying, and I am confident that your experience will be similar using this text. I wish you all the best!!

Paul Hostetter
This post is by Paul Hostetter, conductor, professor and author of OnMusic Conducting: Connect to the Sound

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