By Cynthia Wang
Occurring in the same time as the Taipei Track Meet and the BEIMUN conference, this year’s AMIS Honor Band and Orchestra Festival at Singapore was another celebration of music, right on the heal of the APAC music festivals. With a chamber string orchestra, a symphony orchestra, and an honor band, the 2018 festival is one of many changes to the program itself, therefore providing students with varying takeaways and experiences.
Conductor Howard Williams of the chamber strings ensemble had some comments on the program as a whole. As one of Britain’s most experienced international conductors, Mr. Williams has had plentiful opportunities to work with young musicians, stating that, “it is something I do a great deal elsewhere, mostly in the UK.” When asked about his introduction to AMIS, he admits that he was “completely overwhelmed” by the sheer amount of people involved. Though only given three days of rehearsal, Mr. Williams believed in the potential of the students. He gave the string ensemble “some music that was very demanding and very complicated and sophisticated,” and ultimately provided them with the experience of “playing together at a high standard [and] making music together as a large group,” something that the students as individuals didn’t have much of before. As the festival came to an end, Mr. Williams believes that as a conductor, he “will be taking away yet another experience of discovering what young musicians are capable of,” a reward that’s most certainly different from those of the musicians themselves.
Subsequently, we interviewed several SAS Pudong musicians from the three ensembles of varying ages and instruments, asking them for their insights on the festival.
Freshman Jessica Pu, a violist in the chamber string orchestra conducted by Howard Williams, is a veteran to AMIS festivals. Having participated in middle school AMIS, Jessica is surprised by several things in the high school AMIS festival. She stresses the difficulty of the music, saying that “the music selection was more about the music itself rather than trying to find something that’s “the perfect level” [for the students].” When asked about conductor Howard Williams and what he sought to teach the students, Jessica says that she has learned that “music is a multi-faceted thing, it’s not just trying to play as fast as possible, or being with the conductor.” With lessons learned and a brand new experience in the rigorous high school AMIS, Jessica is exhilarated and cannot wait to audition for next year’s festival at Salzburg.
Sophomore Michael Ying, a clarinetist in the honor band conducted by Travis Cross, also compares his experience in high school AMIS to his middle school AMIS years and APAC band experiences. Michael speaks of the diversity of high school AMIS, as both middle school AMIS and APAC are limited to Asia. He says that “the diverse student and adult population of this festival make it much more exciting and memorable compared to localized festivals like APAC.” When asked about his conductor Travis Cross, Michael reminiscences the conductor’s various jokes, playfully bringing up memories of Dr. Cross “mocking some social group or living in his dreams of having a “rock-hard six-pack.” However, he mentions Dr. Cross writing tips on the whiteboard, frequently working with the band in sections, and conducting singing warm-up activities, concluding that however ridiculous his jokes may be, “everyone learned something new from Dr. Cross.”
Senior Rebecca Shen, a violinist in the symphony orchestra conducted by Peter Stark, reaffirms the unforgettable “collaboration between students from all different schools” that AMIS offered. As a senior who will soon be departing for college, Rebecca believes that all the music festivals that she’s been to have allowed her to “refine [her] own skills as a musician and develop a stronger passion for music.” She animately details her two main takeaways from conductor Peter Stark: “music truly does come from the soul and to always listen.” She believes in the collaborative spirit that music instills in people, saying that being in an orchestra is “not about playing the best and the loudest but playing in a way that helps enhance the group as a whole.” We are sure that this cooperative energy that music has given her will continue to enhance her future in the best ways possible.
Lastly, conductor Howard Williams has some conducting advice for the young, aspiring musicians around our school community. He believes that the essentials for becoming a conductor include “determination, [the] ability to communicate verbally and physically, musicianship, and a little conducting technique.” Mr. Williams stresses that although the only thing that could truly be taught is technique, to “know the music better than anybody else” is what earns any musician’s respect. Finally, the conductor emphasizes “an ability to be creative within all of those aspects…Because what an orchestra or choir need and work for is somebody who gives them something different.”
We all have something that we could take away from each event that intercepts our lives. Howard Williams has provided us with a few general guidelines on what it takes to become a conductor; perhaps we as students of varying interests could implement such guidelines into our own lives.