The 2018 All-National Honor Ensembles Conductor Spotlight: Dr. Jean Montès

The 2018 All-National Honor Ensembles Conductor Spotlight: 
Dr. Jean Montès 

Throughout the month of March, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) will be sharing profiles of the 2018 All-National Honor Ensembles (ANHE) conductors, who will lead the nation’s most elite high school musicians in Orlando, Florida, November 25-28. These exceptional musicians will gather at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort to showcase their expert musicianship and perform a gala concert celebrating music education and the arts.
Conductor Dr. Jean Montes

An accomplished conductor, educator, clinician, lecturer, and performer, Haitian conductor Dr. Jean Montès will lead the 2018 All-National Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Montès is the Director of Orchestral Studies and Coordinator of Strings at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he conducts orchestral ensembles and teaches conducting and string pedagogy courses for music education majors. In addition, Dr. Montès is the Music Director of The Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra (GNOYO), where he conducts the Symphony Orchestra, which he led in their Carnegie Hall debut and their France tour.

Growing up in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, Dr. Montès studied the cello at the Holy Trinity School of Music. He left Haiti after winning a full scholarship to pursue his bachelor’s degree in cello performance at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He then received an assistantship at the University of Akron in Ohio where he also earned his Master of Music Education. He completed his Doctorate of Musical Arts in orchestral conducting at the University of Iowa under the tutelage of Dr. William LaRue Jones. Dr. Montès is also passionate about K-12 education, and he spent four years in the Fox Valley Area School District (Wisconsin), teaching K-12 strings and conducting multiple ensembles. Read more about Dr. Jean Montès here.

When did you first fall in love with music? 

I first fell in love with music when I was in elementary school at (Ecole Sainte Trinite) the Holy Trinity School in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, where we had a daily gathering on the school yard for raising the flag and prayer, which was accompanied by a chamber group of students who performed on all instruments. Depending on the day, the string, woodwind, and brass section were featured separately. It was fascinating to me, and I wanted to be part of that group from kindergarten on.

Music is a gift of a lifetime, whether we get to make it or enjoy it. Music brings us a type of joy that can only be felt, that touches us each individually in our own way, and that is indescribable. 

What inspired you to become a conductor? Describe the process in getting to where you are today.

Becoming a conductor was a dream from an early age. I would say from the age of 12 or so, I started to take an interest in understanding how music was put together due to the fact that I was fortunate enough to have constant interaction with some amazing mentors/conductors such as Maitre Julio Racine and Dr. John Jost. Being the section leader of the cello section kept me in close proximities with these conductors and gave me a perspective that was challenging yet intriguing. I remember how I was fascinated by the ability I had to anticipate their every move and by predicting what they will ask my section or the orchestra to do as far as interpreting the pieces.

The process of getting to where I am today is quite long. I will try to give you a summarized version as I do not wish for you to have to read a book!

The process of getting to the place where I am today I think was shaped by being involved in all the facets of making music. First as a cellist, I was fortunate to have good teachers who nurtured my curiosity for the instrument. I developed the required technique to be able to reach a level where I could perform at a mature level at an early age. Being passionate about music at an early age also developed a curiosity for not only solo playing, but for Chamber Music, which I think was an essential ingredient in my development. Playing both in a chamber orchestra and a full orchestra gave me a full breadth of experience with music-making.

Conductor Dr Jean Montes
Photo: Bob O’Lary

Having tasted the rich and fulfilling life that music offered at an early age, I began thinking about the possibility of studying music one day at a university. Therefore, while attending the summer music camps of the Holy Trinity School of music in Leogane, Haiti, where we had teachers from all over the world come to teach for a three-week period, I met one of my favorite cello teachers Ms. Ariel Witbeck, who not only instilled strict discipline but was also fun and creative. I improved so much during these intensive three-week camps that I started to wonder what it would be like to do this all year around! That is when Ms. Witbeck told me about something called a campus and music school where one could study at a university for months . . . It was exciting to just imagine the possibilities of such a place without really knowing how to get there.

A bit later I met with an elder Haitian violinist, Romel Joseph, who was studying at Juilliard. He told me, yes, it is possible, but I would need to prepare by practicing carefully and that my cello could become the key that could open all the doors. This was the best advice I could have asked for. From that point on, I practiced and performed with a purpose, waiting for the day when an opportunity would arise. That opportunity came through a competition organized by Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I was fortunate enough to be accepted.

I left Haiti and moved to Duquesne University, where I received my undergraduate degree in cello performance. One of the teachers who shaped my development at Duquesne was Prof. Anne Martingale Williams. I went on to the University of Akron where I worked with Prof. Michael Haber and received my Master of Music Education. I spent a few years teaching in elementary to high school level schools in the Fox Valley Area in Northeastern Wisconsin, and performed with several orchestras in the region, including the Fox Valley Symphony and the Green Bay Symphony. I received my Doctorate in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Iowa under the mentorship of Dr. William LaRue Jones. Afterwards, I also received ongoing mentorship with Dr. Marvin Rabin.

It has been a long but very gratifying journey, and I am forever indebted to all who have shared their passion and wisdom with me as I continue to serve the music profession as an educator and a conductor at Loyola University in New Orleans, LA, and around the around the country.

What are some of the greatest accomplishments, and challenges, you face as a conductor of a large ensemble?

My greatest accomplishments are when the ensembles with which I work are able to reach their full potential through the transformative power of music. It is especially gratifying to serve as a guest conductor of an orchestra made up of musicians from various backgrounds and places. To see them come together as an ensemble through the rehearsal process and become one coherent group is one of my greatest joys in life. Just being a part of that transformative process is an honor and great accomplishment for me every time.

I look at large ensembles as a unique and multi-faceted instrument that requires certain technique and preparation to perform, but once that technique is acquired and the preparation is executed with sensitivity and attention to detail, the rest of the process is to reach the highest possible level of expression possible by the ensemble for every note, every passage, every phrase, and present a unified and convincing interpretation of the piece at hand. 

What factors do you consider when programming music for a concert or honors ensemble? What are some of your favorite pieces of repertoire? 

When programming for a concert I try to make sure that we have at least three types of pieces depending on the group.

  • A piece that is accessible to all
  • A piece that is challenging for some and accessible to the others
  • A piece that is challenging to all

In the process, all members of the ensemble are challenged and engaged. In addition, I try to keep a diverse pool of pieces representing cultures, genres, and styles from around the world.

Conductor Dr. Jean Montes
Photo: Bob O’Lary

I like many pieces in the repertoire, so this is a difficult question . . . Therefore, I will share some of the composers I cultivate. The Haitian composers like Ludovik Lamothe, Occide Jeanty, Justin Eli, Ferere Laguerre, and Julio Racine have a palette of pieces that are not always well known but are fantastic. In America, I like the music of Leonard Bernstein, John Adams, Christopher Rouse, and Michael Daugherty. In Russia, I like Peter Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich. In France, I like Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel. In Italy, Ottorino Respighi and Giacomo Puccini; in Germany Johannes Brahms, Carl Orff, and of course Bach, Mozart, and Haydn just to name a few.

To see them come together as an ensemble through the rehearsal process and become one coherent group is one of my greatest joys in life.

What excites you the most about the ANHE program? What do you hope your young musicians who attend will take away from their experience?

I am honored to have been invited to work with ANHE as I value the work that is being done to make music education accessible to all students and to be a part of the stimulating environment that ANHE provides to cultivate an inspiring experience for all motivated and talented students from around the country. I am looking forward to working with the orchestra and meeting students, parents and teachers from all over the country. It is a first for me to work with such a rich and diverse group of students from around the country. I am excited to share my passion for music with them as they represent the future of music in America and hopefully the world.

I hope the young musicians will be exposed to some repertoire that will transform their lives and instill more passion and drive for music and hopefully inspire some to look at music as a lifelong commitment either as a long-term supporter or as a career — we need both.

Why do you think music education is so important for all students?

I think music education is very important for all students, Pre-K to 12. In my view, music education is a necessity for a well-rounded education, just like the sports and all the academic subjects. Therefore, it should not be a privilege and available only to a small percentage of fortunate students. The level of discipline, self-confidence, and sensitivity it requires to play a note on time, in tune, and with some sense of expression, instills in students the concepts of hard work, patience, reward, and sensitivity that can be applied to all facets of life thus making us better human beings. Music is a gift of a lifetime, whether we get to make it or enjoy it. Music brings us a type of joy that can only be felt, that touches us each individually in our own way, and that is indescribable. Music is life! Just like air . . . we all need it if we are alive! 

Visit every Friday throughout the month of March to meet the next ANHE conductor! 

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Elizabeth Baker, Social Media Coordinator and Copywriter. March 9, 2018. © National Association for Music Education (