Igniting Students’ Imagination, Creativity, Compassion
An Interview with 2019 All-National Honor Ensemble
Symphony Orchestra Conductor Soo Han
This year the 2019 All-National Honor Ensemble (ANHE) Symphony Orchestra will perform alongside five other All-National Honor Ensembles in Orlando, Florida. Soo Han, Director of Orchestral Activities at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, will lead the 2019 ANHE Symphony Orchestra. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic, a contributing editor for Hal Leonard’s Essential Elements for Strings, a D’Addario Orchestral Strings Artist, a Conn-Selmer Educational Clinician, and the former Director of Orchestras & Department Chair of the William H. Duke Center for the Performing Arts at Carmel High in Carmel, Indiana. Here, he shares what led him into music, and what he looks forward to enjoying with the ANHE Symphony Orchestra.
When did you first fall in love with music?
Every weekend growing up, I would go to work at flea markets with my parents. One faithful Saturday morning, while my mother was driving to work, she put on a recording of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21. The music moved me so much that I started dancing to it in the car. My mother saw my joy for music and asked if I would like to learn how to play the piano so that maybe one day I could play Mozart . . . the rest is history!
What inspired you to become a conductor? Describe the process in getting to where you are today.
Even when I was young, there was something about conducting that drew me to it. I used to rearrange the furniture (and pillows, lamps, etc.) in my parents’ living room and pretend that they were different sections of the orchestra as I stood in the middle of the room pointing and “conducting” while I blasted classical music. As an adult, I think what I love about conducting is that I can combine my passion for music and bringing groups of people together to accomplish a task and help people.
Before becoming the Director of Orchestral Studies at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, I spent 15 years teaching in the public schools. I hope that through my work, in addition to teaching my students about music, I was also able to provide support, encouragement, and demonstrate my love for them. I know that they’ve taught me just as much about teaching, conducting, and most importantly, being a better person.
Leaving the classroom to pursue my dream of studying conducting was one of the hardest decisions that I had to make—it felt like I was saying goodbye to my family. Nonetheless, I now love my family at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory and feel fortunate to help the next generation of music teachers and performers.
What is more important to me is that musicians have the will and courage to tap into their humanity and share it with their musical colleagues and the audience.
What are some of the greatest accomplishments, and challenges, you face as a conductor of a large ensemble?
Without a doubt, the biggest challenges and rewards in working with large ensembles are coming together to access music as a vessel in which we communicate the things that make us human within ourselves and with our audiences. Yes, there are technical and mechanical challenges of playing in an ensemble, but what is more important to me is that musicians have the will and courage to tap into their humanity and share it with their musical colleagues and the audience.
What factors do you consider when programming music for a concert or honor ensemble? What are some of your favorite pieces of repertoire?
I consider programming one of the most important responsibilities of a music director. I believe that choosing the “right” repertoire can determine the success and failure of musical experience for an ensemble. My fundamental goal is to program music that is relevant, necessary, and relatable for the group, for myself, and just as importantly, for the audience. This manifests itself in programs that are diverse, challenging, and of course, fun.
Music ignites our imagination, creativity, and our sense of compassion. I cannot think of anything that is more urgently needed in our world today.
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’m excited about the incredibly high caliber of musicianship and artistry that the musicians will bring to the ensemble. I’m excited that musicians from all over the country will gather together to create art and the energy that generates from that diversity. I’m excited to be reuniting with many musicians that I may have worked with in various all-state and honor ensembles and creating new musical memories.
What advice would you share with young aspiring musicians?
My advice to young aspiring musicians would be not to fear, be ashamed, or think of yourself as inadequate. I believe that as long as you are humble, kind, hard-working, and willing to make sacrifices, anything is possible!
As for specific advice in regard to auditioning, of course, work on mastering the “mechanics” and technical aspects of the audition materials, but for me, that is just the beginning. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the aesthetic and emotional elements of humanity that I wish to communicate to the listeners?
- Am I showcasing my versatility as a performer and as an artist?
- If an excerpt from an ensemble piece: What is the CONTEXT in which the passage is pulled from? What are the contrapuntal voices/materials that are occurring simultaneously, and how does it relate to my material? (I can almost ALWAYS hear if musicians are playing their materials with other voices in mind and when they are not!)
- Practice with a metronome.
- Secure the best quality recording device.
- Record your performances over multiple days!
- Play for as many people as possible.
- Secure a location with great acoustics for your recordings.
Why do you think music education is so important for all students?
There is a saying that subjects like math and science teach us the mechanics of life, but art and music teach us WHY. Through genuine music-making, we are forced to come face-to-face with things like courage, humility, harmony, balance, fear, isolation, love, triumph, and all of other spectrums of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that make us human. Music not only expresses and reflects these things, but it also feeds it and brings it to life. It ignites our imagination, creativity, and our sense of compassion. I cannot think of anything that is more urgently needed in our world today.
The deadline to apply for the NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles is May 3, 2019. Learn more and apply today.
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