Special topics course aims to help future conductors

Jessica Knieff

Classes for conducting music are generally only offered at the postgraduate level, but a special topics music class is giving Washburn University undergraduates the same opportunity.

Kyam McCormack is a senior music performance and music education major at Washburn University. He has always had a passion for music and conducting.

“Ever since seventh grade, I knew that I wanted to be a conductor,” McCormack said.

When looking for colleges, McCormack asked about undergraduate conducting programs and he was unable to find any offerings. He was told that he could do a conducting program for his Master’s or Doctorate degree.

Michael Mapp, director of bands/ assistant professor of music, has a similar story. When he was an undergraduate student at New Mexico State University, Mapp wanted to gain experience in conducting.

His professors allowed him to take some of the graduate level conducting courses while he was still an undergraduate student. When McCormack approached him asking for private lessons, Mapp understood the need for students to gain conducting experience early on.

“Very rarely do students have access to an ensemble to conduct…hopefully this gives them more opportunities to do that,” Mapp said.

McCormack asking for private lessons in 2013 was the beginning of what is now known as the special topics course, “Pre-Graduate Conducting Seminar.” It has only officially been in existence for three semesters.

The structure of the course reflects graduate-level conducting classes. According to the syllabus, the course focuses on advanced conducting techniques, score study, repertoire selection, and pedagogy.

“In such a competitive world as music…conducting is not different” McCormack said. He stresses the importance of getting as much practice in as he can before graduate school or teaching.

Each student receives a weekly individual conducting lesson and completes a final project of their choosing. As part of their final grade, each student has the opportunity to conduct one of WU’s top ensembles in a piece of their choice.

This course has previously had no more than four students in it at a time. This semester presents the new challenge of creating seven unique curriculums for each of the students currently enrolled, Mapp said.

Jillian Kincaid, a music education major, will graduate in May of this year. She participated in the course last semester in the Fall of 2016.

“Dr. Mapp is an anomaly (in) that he is willing to take the time with his undergraduate students to take us through this.” Kincaid said.

Kincaid expressed her appreciation for the experience she gained from the course and wishes that more students took advantage of the opportunity. She says it has reaffirmed her desire to continue on with further higher education.

McCormack and Kincaid both expressed that this course is an example of how WU faculty and the music department are committed to meeting students’ educational needs.

This course is offered each semester as a Special Topics, Independent Study class (MU400). More information can be found in the music office, Garvey 211.

Jessica Knieff, [email protected], is a junior mass media major.