Interview: National Honor Orchestra Director, Part 3

Colonel Dennis M. Layendecker, Director of Orchestral Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, will conduct the National Honor Orchestra in June 2010.

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

What effect do you foresee the honor ensembles having over the long term?

It seems to me that if a young musician has been selected to participate in an honor ensemble, he or she probably already realizes an inconvenient truth. Mastering music takes considerable time, focus, thought, energy, and committed devotion period! One does not develop into a highly accomplished musician with quick fixes, text messaging, and the kind of “instantly gratifying” pedagogy one might expect to buy off the shelf in a consumerist society. There is simply no “going around the mountain” if one is to going to excel as a musical artist. Although each artistic journey may find a different path to ascend, all paths to real accomplishment must aspire to conquer the high peaks and learn to deal with the challenges of both the ascents and the descents, frustrating, exhausting and exhilarating as they may prove to be. Undertaking this journey an individual develops strong character, self-confidence, independent thinking, and an enviable ability to express him/herself completely, even without words. However, the lessons in life climbing this path teach something equally important.

Whether or not our honor ensemble participants ultimately find careers contributing artistically through very visible musical opportunities or less visible ones, each holds within themselves the potential to become a great citizen. The American experiment continues to require citizens who are willing to embrace service to something bigger than themselves, individuals capable of cooperating effectively in society, and individuals equipped to think and act independently when necessary. Great ensemble playing demands and teaches all of these qualities. I hope that we shall continue to offer honor ensembles at both the state and national levels to help young people focus their time, efforts and energies on constructive artistic goals, group involvement, cooperation, self discipline and mutual respect. Yes, honor ensembles provide young musicians short-term opportunities for wonderful musical experiences. But more important in my view, these ensembles potentially invite each participant to examine his or her own future and to embark upon a unique journey pursuing a life in the arts that contributes to the betterment of our society.
After the honor ensembles, what’s next for you?

I am ready and willing to serve as needed. Obviously, I very much enjoy conducting ensembles, orchestras, bands, choruses of all varieties and have done so for decades. Still, I am making a mid-life effort now to return to a more active relationship with the piano! Believe it or not, I first aspired to a professional life as a concert pianist. I simply had difficulty accepting the necessary solitude of the daily work. Then, real life personal commitments and, fortunately real life opportunities came along in conducting to feed my growing family. Although it is never too late to begin anew, I think now that I would probably do well to get started again on the piano…and soon. Soon, like immediately! We’ll see how that goes. Thinking back on the path my life has “really” taken, I am reminded of a wonderful teacher with whom I studied as a young man.

While studying counterpoint (among other subjects!) at the American Conservatory of Music, Chicago I enjoyed the privilege of working with the late great Stella Roberts. The life lessons she taught me have proven more significant than music itself. She asked me one day what life’s work I aspired to do. Of course, the piano played heavily in my response. As she was already enjoying her mid 80’s, she surprised me with a bit of unexpected wisdom, dropping the proverbial lid to the shorter stick on my piano visions. She advised me that none of us ever ultimately does precisely what we planned to do in life. As in so many things, Ms. Robert’s assessment was spot on, perhaps to greater degree in my own case than I ever anticipated in spite of her gentle forewarning. Certainly, I would never have imagined the path my life’s musical journey has taken thus far.

To say the very least, things have gone far differently than I had anticipated and far better. There are very few days over the past 30 years that I might be tempted to give back. I am convinced that each musician is destined to contribute in a unique way to the greater cause of musical culture. That path may prove to be “out of the box.” Certainly, my own journey thus far has been so. Upon occasion I have wondered what opportunities I may have missed, and how my life would have gone had I stubbornly stuck to my original plans. But, then I consider the extraordinary musical opportunities I HAVE enjoyed, and the magnificent people with whom I have been privileged to enjoy them. And, I shudder to think of all of the great people, places and opportunities I might have really missed! Now, my own journey continues as I anxiously anticipate working with the likes of these people above, young musicians from all over America who will participate in MENC’s 2010 Nation al Honor Orchestra! And, I consider myself the most distinctly honored of all. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity, and I am committed to help each participant enjoy what I hope will prove a very high peak in their own musical journey.
— Nicole Springer. February 4, 2010. © National Association for Music Education.